In every relationship, no matter how contentious, there is common ground. Sadly, the most obvious commonality between the far left and far right in both politics and religion seems to be a belief that people must be perfect, with no deviations from the definition of perfect established by their “side.”
It should come as no surprise that people aren’t perfect. Each of us has our great qualities, and also those that we confess on a far-too-regular basis as we continually strive to overcome our own worst tendencies. We are all capable of saying the wrong thing, doing the wrong thing, or making a plethora of mistakes on any given day.
Our Catholic theology provides ample space for us to seek forgiveness for our intentional failures while encouraging our best attempts to be Christ-like. Yet even among Catholics, we are often guilty of turning our backs on those who don’t live up to our expectations. Thus, Catholics with left or right political views (there aren’t “conservative” or “liberal” Catholics, we all share the same teachings. We use those teachings to lean in one direction or the other in our politics) may treat their fellow Catholics on the opposite side of the spectrum as somehow less “Catholic.”
There are legitimate discussions about policy and political priorities that need those who lean left and right to bring their disparate ideas to the table to find the path that leads to the common good. Doing so, however, requires that we can all be at the table together. Determining that someone is not “worthy” of joining in the conversation because they disagree with our point of view eliminates any possibility for even basic dialogue, and therefore any opportunity to find that path forward.
In the political sphere, “the common good” has become a charged phrase that suggests socialism, for good or evil depending on which side of the political spectrum one falls. But in Catholic teaching, it is our Baptismal call that insists that we seek good for all of our brothers and sisters in Christ, across borders, across politics, across continents.
Because of our faith’s teachings, it’s very distressing to witness situations in which people of faith label each other apostates, heretics, or worse when they seek to put Gospel teaching into action. Rather than assume the person who prioritizes one area of Gospel action over another isn’t as righteous as those who share our point of view, perhaps we might assume the person has discerned where they can best use their God-given talents to bring about the common good. One Catholic may be very uncomfortable pronouncing Catholic teaching on the death penalty, while another may similarly struggle in the realm of abortion. Neither is better or worse than the other. Both hope to put Gospel teachings about the value of life into practice in the modern world. Neither should be derided as less than Catholic by the other.
Overcoming our cultural propensity to sling mud is not always easy, especially in the internet age where slung mud travels faster and farther than ever. One option is for parishioners to gather with people from different backgrounds for conversation, fellowship and facilitated discussions that challenge our assumptions and biases. This takes time and effort, first to build trust within the group so that real conversation can happen, and then to ensure members come to the table with more than vitriolic Twitter quotes. The effort is quintessentially Catholic: Jesus didn’t exclude Judas from his table, he didn’t call tax collectors or prostitutes “unworthy;” he touched the unclean, cared for the despised, and welcomed the stranger. We should strive to do no less.
Jean Hill is director of the Diocese of Salt Lake City Office of Life, Justice and Peace. She can be reached at email@example.com.