In comments on a prior post, I suggested a reader -- who claims I am a bad priest because I won't support a particular political candidate as the blocking maneuver against another candidate -- read the Book of Jeremiah. Another reader asked what I meant. Here's what I had in mind.
Jeremiah was called to his prophetic ministry in a time of great peril for the Kingdom of Judah. After the invasion of Assyria destroyed the northern kingdom in 722 B.C., Judah is hemmed in by contending great powers. Now the threat comes from Babylon.
But Jeremiah's message to the people, the king and the priests is that the nation's true problem is apostasy from God; and God's judgment will take the form of Babylon's coming destruction of the temple and the city they have defiled by injustice, immorality and false worship.
In this crisis, many say that the answer to the peril of Babylon is to seek the help of Egypt; but through Jeremiah, God warns against that expediency:
And now, why go to Egypt,
to drink the waters of the Nile?
Why go to Assyria,
to drink the waters of the River? (2:18)
How frivolous you have become
in changing your course!
By Egypt you will be shamed,
just as you were shamed by Assyria (2:36).
Now, it's important to understand how the sacred texts present the nations surrounding Israel. They are presented not merely as places to go, and political powers that interacted with Israel; they are also presented as expressive of worldly values that compete with the covenant with God. Thus when the children of Israel end up in Egypt, during the famine described in Genesis, Jacob (i.e., Israel) makes his son, Joseph swear that he won't bury Jacob in Egypt: When the time approached for Israel to die, he called his son Joseph and said to him:
“If it pleases you, put your hand under my thigh as a sign of your enduring fidelity to me; do not bury me in Egypt. When I lie down with my ancestors, take me out of Egypt and bury me in their burial place.”
“I will do as you say,” (Joseph) replied.
But his father demanded, “Swear it to me!” So Joseph swore to him. Then Israel bowed at the head of the bed (Genesis 47:29-31).
So what does all this have to do with our upcoming election?
Lots of good folks are rightly anxious about the peril represented by one candidate winning -- and so argue that this means all good people must -- must -- cast their lot with the other candidate. Because I think they are both too flawed, and therefore, I won't vote for either, I was told I'm a shepherd who "cops out on his sheep and leaves them to be ravaged by wolves, or by satan in a pants suit." Take a look at Jeremiah to see what people said about him when he counseled not to rely on Egypt, but to trust in the Almighty.
The parallel is inexact; I do not claim it is sinful to vote for one of these terrible candidates. The bishops have said, in Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, that it is licit to vote for the lesser of two evils; but it is also acceptable to refuse to vote for any such candidate. Here are the relevant paragraphs, with key sections in bold:
35. There may be times when a Catholic who rejects a candidate's unacceptable position even on policies promoting an intrinsically evil act may reasonably decide to vote for that candidate for other morally grave reasons. Voting in this way would be permissible only for truly grave moral reasons, not to advance narrow interests or partisan preferences or to ignore a fundamental moral evil.
36. When all candidates hold a position that promotes an intrinsically evil act, the conscientious voter faces a dilemma. The voter may decide to take the extraordinary step of not voting for any candidate or, after careful deliberation, may decide to vote for the candidate deemed less likely to advance such a morally flawed position and more likely to pursue other authentic human goods.
37. In making these decisions, it is essential for Catholics to be guided by a well-formed conscience that recognizes that all issues do not carry the same moral weight and that the moral obligation to oppose policies promoting intrinsically evil acts has a special claim on our consciences and our actions. These decisions should take into account a candidate's commitments, character, integrity, and ability to influence a given issue. In the end, this is a decision to be made by each Catholic guided by a conscience formed by Catholic moral teaching.
There's a lot more to be said about all this, but here's my point. Given a choice between the hammer and the anvil, I think the best answer is to do as Jeremiah kept begging God's People to do: return to the Lord:
Call to me, and I will answer you...
I will restore the fortunes of Judah and Israel, and rebuild them as they were in the beginning.
I will purify them of all the guilt they incurred by sinning against me;
I will forgive all their offenses by which they sinned and rebelled against me.
Then this city shall become joy for me, a name of praise and pride, before all the nations of the earth, as they hear of all the good I am doing for them.
They shall fear and tremble because of all the prosperity I give it (33:3, 7-9).