My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Folks here in central Illinois are certainly familiar with the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858, which were a series of seven debates between Abraham Lincoln, the Republican candidate for the United States Senate from Illinois, and incumbent Senator Stephen Douglas, the Democratic Party candidate. Although Douglas won re-election to the Senate that year, the debates set the stage for the presidential election two years later in which Lincoln emerged victorious.
Looking back at the content of the Lincoln-Douglas debates, what is noteworthy is that the main issue discussed in all seven debates was slavery in the United States. Modern observers of political debates would have a hard time imagining candidates being so focused on one issue. In fact, if a candidate tried to concentrate such attention on a particular issue today, he or she would be accused of being a single-issue candidate. Yet, in the mid-nineteenth century, the nation as a whole was so preoccupied with the question of slavery that a candidate who did not speak primarily about this topic would have been seen as ignoring the most pressing issue of the day while wasting time on trivialities.
For Lincoln, slavery was a moral issue that was dividing the nation. In his famous “House Divided Speech,” which Lincoln gave on June 16, 1858 at the Old State Capitol in Springfield upon accepting the nomination as the Illinois Republican Party’s candidate for the United States Senate, Springfield’s most famous citizen quoted the Bible (Mark 3:25 and Matthew 12:25) in saying, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”
Lincoln believed that the threat of expanding slavery came not from the slaveholding South but from Douglas’s popular sovereignty position — allowing the territories to decide for themselves whether they wished to have slavery. Fundamental to Lincoln’s argument was his conviction that slavery must be dealt with as a moral wrong. It violated the assertion in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal.” The “real issue” in his contest with Douglas, Lincoln insisted, was the issue of right and wrong, and he charged that his opponent was trying to uphold a wrong.
I mention the Lincoln-Douglas debates because they highlight how far our political discourse has strayed from addressing the defining moral issue of the time. In Lincoln’s time, the defining moral issue was slavery; in our time, the defining moral issue is abortion. Yet most of our politicians, the media and apparently most citizens would rather not talk about abortion, either pro or con, wasting their time instead on petty distractions.
The Catholic Bishops of the United States teach that Catholics are not single-issue voters, yet “if a candidate’s position on a single issue promotes an intrinsically evil act, such as legal abortion, redefining marriage in a way that denies its essential meaning, or racist behavior, a voter may legitimately disqualify a candidate from receiving support” (Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, n. 42). On the level of the presidential election, both Hillary Clinton and Sen. Tim Kaine, the Democratic candidates for president and vice-president, respectively, both hold stridently aggressive positions that promote intrinsically evil acts “such as legal abortion” and “redefining marriage in a way that denies its essential meaning.”
In this regard, Eric Metaxas, host of the nationally syndicated Eric Metaxas Show, recently wrote an op-ed piece in which he said, “It’s a fact that if Hillary Clinton is elected, the country’s chance to have a Supreme Court that values the Constitution — and the genuine liberty and self-government for which millions have died — is gone. Not for four years, or eight, but forever. Many say Mr. Trump can’t be trusted to deliver on this score, but Mrs. Clinton certainly can be trusted in the opposite direction” (“Should Christians Vote for Trump?” The Wall Street Journal, Oct. 12, 2016).
Although the official Democratic Party Platform vigorously pledges to “stand up” for Planned Parenthood, fund abortion nationwide and around the world, vows to “overturn” state and federal restrictions on abortion, proposes cracking down on pro-life sidewalk counselors, and affirms abortion as a “core” right, not all Democrats subscribe to those positions. Here in Illinois, we have some very devoted pro-life Democrats and some “pro-choice” Republicans, so voters must look at the positions of individual candidates and not just their party affiliations.
People who vote for pro-abortion candidates are cooperators in evil. Whether such cooperation in evil is morally culpable as sinful depends on a variety of factors, such as the voter’s intent in choosing to vote for such a candidate and whether the candidate’s positions or actions are a remote or a proximate cause in bringing about the killing of unborn babies. Catholics who are unsure of the moral implications of their election choices, especially with regard to abortion — the defining moral issue of our time — should discuss these matters with a priest in the sacrament of penance in order to form their consciences properly as faithful citizens, or to be absolved of their sins, as the case may be.
May God give us this grace. Amen.