While the faith that informs our morals never should be removed from our political decision making, certainly it remains true that political and social life are complex, and that religious faith is beneficial in political life when it is a source of healing, rather than division. In good conscience, people can reach different decisions about difficult issues. It takes nothing away from any faith conviction to acknowledge this, or to see disagreement as an opportunity to persuade people, rather than an imperative to silence them.
These thoughts are especially timely because of two recent events. Fifty-four percent of Catholics voted for Obama in 2008, and two recent polls reveal that a majority of Americans now identify themselves as anti-abortion rights. If the number of anti-abortion rights voters is growing, yet comfortable majorities will elect a pro-abortion rights Democrat, we can say that voters appear to be increasingly willing and able to welcome the complexity of our political problems.
This is potentially disastrous news for the Republican Party, which has rested comfortably on anti-abortion rights voters —- especially, Catholics —- since 1980. It is no better news for Catholic bishops who have wedded their political influence so closely to opposing abortion above all other issues for just as long. Probably, these implications can explain the shrill tenor of the last two months.
American Catholics must choose whether they are with the shouters or those who will engage in dialogue. The irony is, as Father Jenkins made clear last Sunday, neither side appears to be any more pro-life than the other. Indeed, the whole Notre Dame affair demonstrates that there are many ways to express a pro-life point of view in our political system. The next electoral cycle will tell us whether the trend away from the shouters will continue. We should all hope that it will.
Steven P. Millies is an assistant professor of political science at the University of South Carolina Aiken.