A Vote of Faith
I vividly remember the first time I voted. I pushed back the curtains, entered the little booth, flipped open the booklet, grabbed the pen, and made a perfect little black dot next to the name of George Washington. It was a tough choice over Abraham Lincoln, but I walked out with my ballot, confident in my decision. I was 7 years old. I had accompanied my mother to the local polling place where they had a child-sized set up for aspiring voters like myself. I still recall proudly wearing my “I Voted” sticker for the rest of the day.
As I’ve grown older, that pride and passion for voting have turned into dread and discouragement. Issues are complicated, candidates are multifaceted, misinformation is rampant. I still hold my vote with the same esteem - but the choices have become more weighted - requiring more time, research, and prayer.
Circulating social media are numerous memes and quotes of those claiming that “faith has no place in politics” or that “your religious beliefs shouldn’t dictate my life”. Many of these come in response to recent statements by current Vice President Mike Pence and Supreme Court Justice nominee Amy Coney Barrett, who have cited their faith as the reason for supporting certain laws and agendas. While it is understandable why one may disagree with the particular political stance they hold, as a Roman Catholic Christian, I struggle to fathom - how do I vote or engage in politics without my faith, when my faith and my religion directly influence everything I do?
My love and curiosity for God’s creation spurred me to be a scientist. My invitation to share God-given gifts led me to become a teacher. My commandment to help the less fortunate encouraged me to work at a free museum in south-central Los Angeles. My faith not only influences these major life decisions, but even small ones, like being more eco-conscious, supporting Black Lives Matter, spending time in service, and countless others.
My faith motivates everything I do. How am I supposed to leave my faith out of politics?
The answer - I don’t. I can’t.
Recently, IFYC offered me the opportunity to participate in a webinar and discussion with Josh Dickerson, Faith Engagement Director for Biden for President. I was so excited for this opportunity to wrestle with this expected divergence of faith and politics alongside another person of faith, whose job it is to talk about faith while working for a person of faith! Among the many insights that Josh shared during the discussions, I was left reflecting on three ways that my religious beliefs influence my political involvement.
- The first is why I vote. One of the many reasons I vote is the direct statement in the Seven Themes of Catholic Social Teaching. This document outlines seven broad areas of Social Justice and why Catholics should support them. The second theme reminds us that we are not meant to live alone, but within a community. Voting is just one way to participate and engage with our community to make a difference! Additionally, Rev. Jim Burklo, Associate Dean of Religious Life at the University of Southern California, speaks often of voting as a ritual. Before my first opportunity to vote in 2012, he asked me why I attend mass every week. I responded because I believe it benefits me and my community, and I want to praise Jesus! To that he said, “well, doesn’t voting? Why don’t we treat it with the same intent and reverence?” I have voted in every election since - national or local - in order to benefit me, my community, and to praise Jesus!
- The second is how I vote. Voting as a Catholic is no easy feat. As I often say, the Catholic Church is not a political party; no candidate will perfectly align with Catholic Social Teaching. Additionally, Catholic leadership has been contradictory with Pope Francis affirming that all Social Justice issues are equally sacred, and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops saying that prolife issues are the pre-eminent issue. Recently, I held a discussion with my Catholic Young Adult Group trying to navigate this confusion - how do we form a conscience with divisive national politics and religious division? During this discussion, we talked about separating out the issues of Catholic Social Teaching and comparing each candidate's support issue by issue. However, many felt they would be forced to compromise their faith to vote for one social issue over another. During the webinar, Josh offered excellent advice. In addition to focusing on issues the candidate supports, focus on the morals and values displayed by that candidate. Make a judgement on how they will lead and make decisions, not just what those decisions might be. As I look over my ballot for the upcoming election, I am taking this advice to heart. As a no-party-preference voter, it is not easy marking that little black dot. This is when I pray. I trust the Holy Spirit (also known as “my gut”) to guide me in making decisions and following God’s Will - not just for me, but God’s Will for the country and the world. Lastly, I acknowledge that my endorsement is not a mandate; it’s a vote of faith. It is not saying “I think you are perfect”, but it is saying, “I think you will do the most good of my available options.” And you’d better believe that no matter who I vote for, I will continue advocating that administration for a better America.
- Third, is how I navigate political differences as a person of faith. Numerous studies show that Catholic voters are split within the United States. Within my own church, there are people who I disagree with on political issues and more. Our instinct may be to distance ourselves from those people and surround ourselves with like-minded folks. Floating through social media, I see many comments along the lines of “unfriend me if you do/do not support this issue”. Josh Dickerson advised us otherwise and encouraged us to enter into relationships with those different-minded people. While it may be uncomfortable, and we may not change their minds, we will find ourselves changed by those relationships. Once again, I am reminded of my faith and Jesus’s command to love your neighbor, regardless of who your neighbor is. I’m also reminded of Fr. James Heft, founder of the Institute of Advanced Catholic Studies, who often says - “I will love my neighbor, but that doesn’t mean I have to like them”. In our discussion, Eboo Patel offered a similar encouragement. He said that cooperation is like a potluck, you want everyone to bring different dishes, but it doesn’t mean you’ll want to eat every single one. My faith and my years of interfaith engagement have taught me that “unfriending” is not the answer. I have personally seen so much good come from focusing on what we do agree on, and I would never want to lose a relationship based on unaligned views. So don’t unfriend me either!
As I look back at my younger voting self, I realize that some things haven’t changed. I still treasure my right to vote, despite the deliberation and grappling it requires. I still wear my “I Voted” sticker with pride - maybe with even more - knowing how much investment went in to earn that decal. As I cast my votes this year, I will do my best to keep the spirit of little Elaine alive. I will give my ballot a little kiss and say a little prayer - a prayer of gratitude for this right and privilege, a prayer entrusting my vote to the larger forces at work, and a prayer of hope for a better America.
Elaine is a Roman Catholic Christian residing in Los Angeles, CA. She works as Lead Educator of the California Science Center, and also as Confirmation Coordinator at Our Savior Parish. Elaine holds a master's degree in Marine Biology with an emphasis in Science Visualization from the University of Southern California. In her free time, Elaine enjoys outdoor activities, embroidering, animating, and swing dancing.
If you are looking for a way to become an interfaith leader, work for racial equity and build bridges, please check out our free curriculum "We Are Each Other's" and start your interfaith leadership today.
more from IFYC
The opinions contained in this piece are solely the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Interfaith Youth Core. Interfaith America encourages a wide range of views and strives to maintain a respectful tone with a goal of greater understanding and cooperation between people of different faiths, worldviews, and traditions.