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Faith, Citizenship and Elections 2000

  A Martyr for Justice

  Faith and Citizenship

  Elections 2000



After a civil-rights march in Frankfort, Kentucky, 36 years ago, I heard Martin Luther King, Jr., say: “The law can’t make a man love me, but it can keep him from lynching me!”

His statement implied, for me, that our Christian mission is twofold. Our mission is not solely to change hearts, such as by persuading people to love each other. It is also to transform our social system—to create laws that protect sisters and brothers from oppression and abuse.

King’s spiritual vision paralleled similar developments in Catholic social teaching. Both were coming to the same conclusion: namely, that our Christian mission embraces the dual calling mentioned above. We are called not only to “save souls” and convert hearts, as important as that may be. We are also called to change society and any laws and practices that hold people in bondage. In so doing, we help to build a more just world.

The Catholic community put this vision into words at the 1971 World Synod of Bishops, Justice in the World, when the Synod declared: “Action on behalf of justice and participation in the transformation of the world fully appear to us as an essential dimension of the preaching of the gospel.”

A Martyr for Justice

Martin Luther King, Jr., gave his life trying to build a society of greater justice. As a matter of fact, King’s name was recently submitted to the Vatican by the U.S. bishops as an example of a 20th-century Christian martyr.

The Vatican is planning an ecumenical Jubilee Year service May 7 at Rome’s Colosseum to honor thousands of 20th-century Catholic and non-Catholic Christians around the world who shed their blood for Christ. Some time back, the Vatican asked Church officials around the world to supply names of such 20th-century martyrs.

By submitting the name of the Rev. Dr. King, a Baptist minister, for this Jubilee event, the U.S. bishops were clearly saying that they see King’s work for justice as an integral part of the preaching of the gospel and of the mission of Christ.

Faith and Citizenship

When the U.S. bishops issued their pastoral letter Faithful Citizenship: Civic Responsibility for a New Millennium last fall, they were operating out of the same perspective. “This dual calling of faith and citizenship,” they insist, “is at the very heart of what it means to be Catholic in the United States.”

They are clearly saying that we cannot separate our mission of being a good Christian from that of being a good citizen committed to creating a more just society.

As the bishops put it, “For Catholics, public virtue is as important as private virtue in building up the common good. In the Catholic tradition, responsible citizenship is a virtue; participation in the political process is a moral obligation. Every believer is called to faithful citizenship, to become an informed, active and responsible participant in the political process.”

Elections 2000

The immediate focus of the U.S. bishops’ pastoral Faithful Citizenship is the political campaign—now moving into high gear—and “the election of those who will lead our government into a new century and a new millennium.”

U.S. citizens who come from strong faith traditions—and most of us do—have a lot to contribute to a society that sometimes appears to lack a moral compass.

Feeling no need to apologize for our political involvement, the bishops say: “Our nation is enriched and our tradition of pluralism enhanced when religious groups contribute to the debate over the policies that guide the nation.

“As bishops, it is not only our right as citizens but our responsibility as religious teachers to speak out on the moral dimensions of public life.”

At the same time the U.S. bishops make it clear that they are not trying to form a “religious voting bloc” or “instruct persons on how they should vote by endorsing or opposing candidates.”

Their expectation, rather, is that “voters will examine the position of candidates on the full range of issues, as well as on their personal integrity, philosophy and performance.” The bishops see the new millennium as a new opportunity to seek “liberty and justice for all.” They believe that the candidates, as well as their policies and platforms, “should be measured by how they touch the human person; whether they enhance or diminish human life, dignity and human rights; and how they advance the common good.”

As Christians, we are called to faithful citizenship—to exercise faithfully our right to vote and participate in the political process and thus help create a society of greater justice.J.W.

You can read the U.S. bishops’ pastoral, Faithful Citizenship: Civic Responsibility for a New Millennium, on the Internet at or order it or its summary in print by calling 1-800-735-USCC. Also, Catholic Update has published a popular condensation of the pastoral under the title, “Faithful Citizens: Bringing Moral Vision to Public Life” (C0300). Individual reprints can be ordered by sending $1 and a self-addressed envelope to Faithful Citizens, St. Anthony Messenger, 1615 Republic St., Cincinnati, OH 45210. Bulk discounts are available by calling 1-800-488-0488 or in our online catalog.




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