Today and tomorrow at the University of Notre Dame, an ideologically diverse group of Catholic leaders is gathering to discuss how political polarization affects the Catholic life in the United States. Under the theme, "Naming the Wounds, Beginning to Heal," the conference has the potential to start conversations, improve thinking, and change the tone of political engagement by laypeople, priests, and religious.
Though I am not Catholic, I am increasingly convinced that, compared with secular political ideologies and other churches' political teachings, the Catholic Church's social teaching is the most comprehensively and authentically "Christian" ethic, and the one most oriented to the common good. The Catholic Church is at the heart of ecumenical Christian consensus on political issues.
Other ethical systems are much more bound to specific eras, locations, and political or economic frameworks. Yet Catholics, like all Americans, experience the effects of ideological and partisan polarization. It's too simplistic to naively hope that a Christian Democrat party will magically emerge in the United States. (Would today's partisan Catholics support a "Catholic" party even if one existed?)
Our two-party system is a reality that is unlikely to change any time soon. Party loyalty is strong, usually fixed by early adulthood and relatively stable across the life span. Partisanship is much more strongly correlated with ideology than with ethno-religious identity, as in the past. Catholics must figure out how to be faithful citizens in a partisan framework that challenges them more acutely than it challenges many other religious adherents.
Conservative evangelicals can be faithful Republicans because their churches affirm social/sexual conservatism but are mostly weak (if not silent) on matters of economics, deferring to markets and accepting (if not outright sanctifying) the way The Market distributes resources in society. Mainline Protestant denominations' political teachings line up neatly with the Democratic Party's platform across a range of issues.
Orthodox Christians, black Protestants, and moderate evangelical traditions also cut across the two major parties. But since the Catholic Church is the largest and most universal, I am especially interested in how the Notre Dame conference shapes Christian engagement with the realities of partisan and ideological polarization in the Church.
I am not very proficient at Storify, twitter essays, or even blogging, but here are some preliminary thoughts.
I may not have the opportunity to write more about the #UnaEcclesia conference. But I send my best wishes to all who participate. I look forward to studying and discussing how Catholics embrace (and challenge) partisanship.