On Church Involvement in the 2022 Elections: Fraternity, Social Friendship, and Politics

[DADITAMA Recollection for Davao Clergy and Diocesan Pastoral Workers. March 9, 2022:  8:30 – 10:30 a.m.]

For some, elections are a time to race for power.  It is an investment of personal energy and assembled wealth to gain enough power to make the investment pay off. 

It is a time for exploiting democracy and its electoral system as a pathway to personal or party power.   It is a time to win, no matter the cost.  (One wins only if one can pay the costs!).  It is a time to fight, no matter who gets hurt.  (Hurt, or be hurt!)  To win, use all the means necessary, whether legal or illegal, moral or immoral.  (Just don’t get caught!)  All funds are welcome, whatever the source. Funds from big business, from public funds, from drug lords, from traffickers of drugs, guns and humans.  The master is the politician who plays dirty but appears clean.  Politics is cool and calculating.  It is violent and dirty.  But it smiles at you cynically.

“Politics is Dirty”

“Politics is dirty.” That is why many stay away from politics.  No matter what politicians say about serving the people, serving the masses, fighting injustice, establishing social justice, securing the common good, the winged words lie; the reality is they seek power by manipulating these terms and the voting population to achieve power for private ends.  You play to win. You cheat to win.  You kill to win.  If you don’t win, you’re a loser.  If you’re a loser, you’re pitiful.  

Decent, moral, clean people find their roles in society outside of politics.  Decent people don’t get involved in politics.  It’s dirty.  It’s dangerous. 

Inhumane Social Structures Remain Unchanged

The result is that structures in society which do not recognize the ultimate dignity of the people remain in place.  There are no advocates, no thinkers, no innovators, no fighters for the inalienable dignity of the people.  Instead, a productive system and concomitant culture remain in place; these exploit people when they are useful for production, but marginalize and discard them when they have worn out their usefulness.   

Vicious Consumerism

The important thing is to keep the production machine going by continually increasing the consumption of the people.  In feeding the consuming needs of people, their consumption needs are increased, but these increased needs turn into unbridled consumerism.   For instance, the productive system provides the consumer a cellphone, but in doing so awakens a need for a better cellphone, then creates in the consumer a relentless need to purchase the latest and most expensive of cellphones.  Interacting with other consumers through social media one’s joy in a cellphone turns into chronic unhappiness that one does not have the latest and the best.  This consumerism covers the cars people drive, the houses people inhabit, the foods people enjoy.  Consumerism is the fuel of what Francis calls the technocratic paradigm which discards people irrelevant to the production system and disrespects our common home. 

How are Inhumane Social Structures Ever to Be Changed?

The question is how are such as this productive system which disrespects the dignity of people but are at the heart of our economy ever reformed or changed?   How is the inhumanity of this economy called out, criticized, and eventually overcome, especially when the keepers of the economy, the owners of production, the technocrats that serve it are always those called upon to give “true” advice on the state of our society?  In a world where politics is considered dirty, biased and unreliable, we run ironically to the economists and the for-profit, “socially responsible,” educated businessmen they represent to give us clean and reliable advise on how to manage our society.  But the advice they give protects their production systems and their profits, does not care about the huge numbers of people left out of the social benefits of their production, and throws them away. 

Fratelli Tutti:  We are All Brothers and Sisters

I think this points to the heart of Francis’ 2020 Encyclical on Fratelli Tutti, whose key insight comes not only from St Francis’ view that created by God in his goodness we are all brothers and sisters, but from Jesus’s declaration that unlike the irresponsible political leaders, the self-seeking and corrupt shepherds of Israel described in Ezekiel 34, he comes as the Good Shepherd “to bring life, life to the full”, even to lay down his life for his sheep.  Created by the Father and redeemed in the Lord’s love we are all brothers and sisters in fraternity.  We promote fraternity in social friendship.  Good politics is part of social friendship. 

Fraternity:  Open-Ended

Francis does not freeze “fraternity” in an exhaustive definition.  He points to it, describes it from many viewpoints, intending that we ourselves discover it and what it demands for society in our particular historical situation.   Fraternity comes from our being related to one another as brothers and sisters with compelling responsibility to one another from within; it is not just being “associated” with one another, juxtaposed to one another.  It is the calling from within that demands the Samaritan not pass by the wounded man, beaten, robbed and left by the wayside to die, but to stop, stoop down, give him time, and provide for him not only with his treasure but with his care (cf. Luke 10:25-37).  Fraternity is that interior calling that the Jewish priest and the Levite ignored in passing by the wounded man, in being too busy with their sacred office or their godly concerns to hear the call of the suffering person by the wayside.  It is the shared interiority and human dignity that binds brothers and sisters to one another whether they are born in the USA or in South America, in Europe or in Syria, in Israel or in Palestine, in Ukraine or in Russia, in Manila or in Mindanao. 

Politics:  a Manifestation of Social Friendship

Social friendship is the love, the determination, the drive, the commitment that overcomes obstacles, borders, and limitations (cf. 99) to promote fraternity, the good common to all brothers and sisters.  Francis says:

“Recognizing that all people are brothers and sisters, and seeking forms of social friendship that include everyone, is not merely utopian.  It demands a decisive commitment to devising effective means to this end.  Any effort along these lines becomes a noble exercise of charity.  For whereas individuals can help others in need, when they join together in initiating social process of fraternity and justice for all, they enter the field of charity as its most vast, namely political charity.  This entails working for a social and political order whose soul is social charity.  Once more, I appeal for a renewed appreciation of politics as a lofty vocation and one of the highest forms of charity, inasmuch as it seeks the common good” (180).

Clearly, Francis is not naïve to the ill-uses or mal-uses of politics.  He is not blind to bad politics that gives politics its odor of evil and filth, something that clean company avoids.  But he also understands that against godless and loveless inhumanity in the world today, only a God-fearing, loving humanity can be raised to change it powered by a vision of and loving imperative for humanity from within.  In Fratelli Tutti, this is fraternity and the decided imperative in social friendship, social love, to establish it in our world today.   

What is Your Understanding of Politics?

The question for us today may be:  what is your conception of politics?  Better, what is your experience of politics?  An evil?  A necessary evil?  A distraction from a core mission to evangelization?  In relating to the people whom you shepherd at this time of political ferment, how do you look at politics?  What is the relationship you see between political choice and fraternity?  Between political choice and the Gospel that you represent?

Political Concerns relevant to Mindanao

In the DACS Advocacy Commission, we have attempted to articulate a set of political concerns relevant to Mindanao against which we thought that we might test evaluate our candidates for their readiness to serve Mindanao.  We called them the six E’s.  Let us consider images of each of these needs and assess them in the light of fraternity and social friendship.

Enduring Peace

  • The Muslim who is looked down upon as a second-class human being or as a second-class Filipino because s/he is Muslim
  • The Muslim who hears, “The only good Muslim is a dead Muslim,” and the non-Muslims who repeat this. 
  • The Muslim and the Lumad pushed of their land because of settlement policies of Manila and the imposition of laws foreign to Mindanao that deprived Islamized and non-Islamized lumad of their lands.
  • The Muslim who because he is Muslim  cannot get a job In Metro Manila, cannot rent a decent apartment, cannot buy a house in a “normal” subdivision.
  • The Muslim who is deterred from practicing  his faith and traditions in the overpowering context of prejudiced Christians
  • The Muslim woman who is pressured not to use a hijab because of a Christian milieu.

Empowered Ethnic Communities

  • IPs who are pushed off their land for mining
  • IPs in the crossfire between government troops and revolutionaries.
  • IP’s unjustly red-tagged, tagging red even the term “Lumad”, thereby categorizing all IPs in Mindanao as red.
  • IPs whose schools are turned into centers of ideological propaganda
  • IPs whose free, prior and informed consent is undermined  through manipulation of information, bribes, and false or incomplete narratives
  • IPs whose higher education entails alienation from their ethnic communities
  • IPs whose cultures and cultural artifacts are trivialized and trafficked by tourism or stolen by groups through laws foreign to the IPs.

Ecological Sustainability

  • Unmitigated use of fossil fuels (e.g. coal-fired power plants) by energy providers who profit from this, endangering coastal settlements with inundation and Mindanao with overheating.
  • Mindless skyscraper construction by profiting real estate developers on soil conditions that cause urban sinking (e.g. Manila, Davao?)
  • Monocrop farming killing biodiversity (e.g. pineapple, palm oil) and killing local cultures dependent on biodiversity. 
  • Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) killing the native productivity of the soil, creating dependence on purchasing GMO fertilizers
  • Cutting down ancient trees to accommodate commercial farming (e.g., Makabol forest)
  • Large-scale open pit mines (e.g. Tampakan mines) disturbing the ecosystem of an archipelago
  • Hazardous small-scale mining that uses mercury to process gold
  • Commercial fishing that destroys the ocean ecosystem and decimates fish population without allowing recovery.

Educational Reform

  • Instead of universal access to quality education, a system of expensive quality education for a few and access to poor education for the many
  • Lack of taxpayers’ support for quality private schools vs over-support for mediocre public schools.
  • Lack of consensus into what the “complementarity” of public and private HEIs mandated in the 1987 Constitution means:  e.g. state school offer courses that private schools offer
  • State-funded Islamic education in the BARMM vs prohibition of state funding for confessional schools due to the separation of Church and state. 

Equitable Economic Recovery

  • Build! Build! Build! that benefits the economy driven by consumption
  • Unrelenting buy-in into the “technological paradigm” decried by Francis in Laudato Si’
  • Recovery that benefits Manila and the Manila elite first and deprives regional clusters like Mindanao of its ability to develop. 
  • Continuing traffic in Mindanao of guns, drugs and human beings
  • The poor person who cannot get cheap credit for investment and is subject to expensive credit for urgent needs.
  • The internet divide driven by private enterprise that provides commination to the haves and effectively denies it to the have-nots
  • Hazardous mining prioritized over the development agriculture and tourism and the protection of our fresh water systems and our agricultural capability
  • the people in our communities that are still poor, cannot find stable jobs

Eradication of COVID 19

  • inequitable global distribution of vaccines
  • inequitable national distribution of vaccines among regions
  • corruption in purchasing and processing of vaccines
  • lack of a national capability to make vaccines

Effects on Fraternity and the Need for Social Friendship

Of course, in an electoral context such as our current one, there are many other breaches in fraternity on a national or international scale beyond Mindanao that we can consider in practicing our political love.  For instance, the Chinese incursions on the West Philippine Sea.  Or, the once vibrant democracy of Myanmar stolen by its own military.  Or even the Russian invasion of Ukraine because of our bonds in humanity with the victims of vicious aggression.  Whether the sins against fraternity are local or global, it is politics – good politics – that must change this, a politics that is not the lackey of the dominant economic system, nor of the elites that control and benefit from this system, but dares to confront even the economy in order to achieve greater fraternity.  Wherever we start, in our GKKs or in the United Nations or in the battle with boots on the ground to defend our cherished values, we are in need of a politics that will truly change the trajectory of global development towards fraternity, i.e., the common good of all human beings.  We are in need of a political culture that will truly listen to people on the level of the GKKs, on the level of the barangays.  We need to “walk with” people in social friendship listening to them on a shared journey towards genuine fraternity.

Particular Programs Fall Short of Fraternity

No individual or political party adequately expresses the demands of universal fraternity.  No individual or political party or particular socio-economic program adequately expresses, much less realizes, the Kingdom of God which is being fulfilled – or ignored – in the actions of people on earth but ultimately fulfilled through Jesus as our Redeemer and King.  This comes with our call as clerics to publicly identify with what we by vocation and mission absolutely proclaim – that we are redeemed through faith in the suffering, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus who shall return as just Judge and King of heaven and earth (cf. Mt 25:31-46).  Any political program which we as clerics may support to respond to a challenging temporal situation does not compel the absolute obedience of our proclamation.

Different Roadmaps to Fraternity

Different political roadmaps to achieve social fraternity are proposed for our human society, some stressing the importance of a strong state with an authoritative central government “to get things done”, others stressing the importance of strong personal initiatives that are innovative and respectful of freedom and liberty.  Some stress the urgency today of protecting and conserving the environment, others the importance still of drawing forth from the world God created the means by which the needs of human beings are met.  Some marry government to faith-based communities to ensure that human society is God-fearing and moral, others divorce faith-based communities from the state to keep divisive religious convictions with their absolute imperatives out of rational politics in the ordering of temporal realities.  Some prize data and science in policy planning and decision making, others advance myth, charisma, and emotion to galvanize and mobilize the people’s political will.  Some shape political conviction by painstaking appreciation of such as poverty, exclusion, powerlessness, corruption and the like.  Others shape it by clericalism – the claim that the cleric’s partisan political position is specially true because it is argued by a cleric.

Political Choice

Which roadmaps, of varying merit and adequacy, are travelled depends on personal values, historical-social insight, and personal and collective political choice.  In the PH, under its 1987 constitution, it depends on its citizens making this choice through democratic election.  Citizens representing different political persuasions, some thought-out carefully, others fully charismatic, compete with each other through parties or individual politicians.  Which party or person is elected by the majority of voters governs.  Francis would say – or hope – that it governs in social friendship through good politics in order that fraternity under the limiting conditions of the current historical situation of the world might be best achieved. 

The Role of the Cleric In the Electoral Process

Here I would like to address the role of the cleric in the democratic electoral process, the ordained priest or presbyter, who as such represents the Church and the Gospel it proclaims.  For convenience I refer to the article “Chair and Rock” by Fr. Ranhillo Aquino which was distributed by Archbishop Romulo Valles prior to this recollection.  It succinctly assembles relevant statements from the Church’s tradition, wisdom and law pertinent to the role of clerics in democratic elections.  This role of clerics must be addressed because the cleric, the ordained deacon, presbyter or bishop, in the eyes of most believers represents the Church and its gospel whether the cleric is speaking officially from a pulpit or is engaged in personal conversations with people during table fellowship.  From this perspective, especially in predominantly-Catholic Philippine culture, it is difficult to separate the cleric as ordained to preach the compelling Word of God and the individual who lives the Word of God in his personal spirituality and practice by making fallible options. 

No Proper Mission in the Political World

First, from the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World: “Christ, to be sure, gave the Church no proper mission in the political, economic or social order.  The purpose which he set before her is a religious one” (n 42).  “She is a sign and a safeguard of the transcendent character of the human person” (n 76).  She, the Church, is not bound by any political system, not even by democracy itself, no matter how imperiled it may be perceived. She is not wedded to a corrupt liberal capitalist economy, nor fulfilled in a reformed liberal capitalist economy.   For centuries she was dubiously married to authoritarian monarchies and absolutist empires governing by “divine right.”  Her mission as Church is not exhausted in nor confined to any one political, economic or social order of the modern world, even though in pursuit of God’s Kingdom laypersons of the Church are tasked to directly address the concerns of the temporal social sphere. They are to seek the common good or fraternity in a plurality of possible options, where fallible choice must be proven true in the crucible of history, where human beings without exception flourish most in a segment of history.

Mission to Proclaim Christ

Second, as Benedict XVI assured China that the Church’s mission was not to change the structure or administration of the Chinese-socialist State but to proclaim Christ to men and women as the Savior of the world, so too the Church in the Philippines cannot claim the competence to order political affairs by anointing candidates and endorsing them to the electorate.  This does not mean that those who would receive the Word of God in faith in China could not address the injustices or inhumanity of the State in social friendship, nor does it mean that Christians in the Philippines cannot correct lies, misinformation and malevolent distortions of history in mainstream and social media, themselves entrenched in a history of historical neglect and educational failure, that skew the political judgment of citizens.  Clerics however must take care that their correction of lies is not subtly dependent on people having under their pastoral influence to make the same political choices that they publicly model.   

Temporal Questions Left to the Judgement of Each Person

Third, the doctrinal note of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on the participation of Catholics in Political life (Nov 24, 2002):  “It is not the Church’s task to set forth specific political solutions – and even less to propose a single solution as the acceptable one – to temporal questions that God has left to the free and responsible judgement of each person.  It is however the Church’s right and the duty to provide a moral judgment on temporal matters when this is required by faith or the moral role.”  Fr. Aquino emphasizes “the trust that the Church must repose in the capacity of the people to decide for themselves in the manner afforded them by universal suffrage.”  Political love in social friendship is not the monopoly of social elites. 

Not to be Confused with the Political Community

Fourth, from the Catechism of the Church: “The Church because of her commission and competence, is not to be confused in any way with the political community.  She is both the sign and the safeguard of the transcendent character of the human person.  ‘The Church respects and encourages the political freedom and responsibility of the citizen’” (n. 2245). 

Not to Have and Active Part in Political Parties

Fifth, Canon Law: “[Clerics] are not to have an active part in political parties and in labor unions, unless, in the judgement of competent ecclesiastical authority, the protection of the rights of the Church and the promotion of the common good requites it” (Canon 287 π 2).

In this context Fr. Aquino says, “The Church’s vigilance over the right of the people to choose their leaders is a concomitant of her concern for the common good – but it is precisely because she must uphold the autonomy and freedom of the individual to choose that she cannot, in any way, stand in the way of free choice whether directly or by unmistakable insinuation.  … In a country where politics is terribly divisive … it certainly stands in the way of pastoral solicitude for bishops and priests to align themselves openly and publicly with one political candidate or one party. 

Engage in Dialogue and Discernment

At the end of his Pastoral Letter of 25 February 2022, Bishop Pablo Virgilio David, as CBCP President writes: 

“…we call on you, Brothers and Sisters – especially the Youth, to examine carefully what is happening in our quest for a true and just society [= fraternity].  Engage in dialogue and discernment.  Listen to your conscience.  Be the ones to decide.  We trust in your capacity to discern what is true and good.  We all seek the common good.  And, in the light of the Gospel of Jesus, let us follow the path of truth, goodness, justice and peace – not the path of violence, vengeance or evil. 

“Let us not give up on our search and defense for truth – by way of reason and faith, by common dialogue and discernment, prayer and action.  Let us have faith as we persevere in overcoming evil with goodness.  (Romans 12:21).  May truth unite us all.

“It is our sincere prayer that we find the Truth, who is none other than Jesus – the Way and the Life.  For if God is with us, who can be against us” (Rom 8:31). 

Some Concluding Considerations

In summary, I invite you to consider the following:

Inadequacy of All Political Programs

As Christians we are invited all to work for fraternity through social friendship.  This entails good politics.  But no particular roadmap to fraternity in the temporal order exhausts its demand, since fraternity is ultimately fulfilled in love and justice at the Heavenly Banquet through the power of the King of heaven and earth.

As Clerics We are Identified with Christ’s Message of Salvation Not with the Message of Any Political Program

As clerics we stand for and identify ourselves with a message of salvation, our Gospel, that transcends the well-being any political party may offer for the temporal world.  We do so officially and personally.  We ought not endanger or compromise our message by confounding its truth and authority with the promise of any political program for the temporal world which promotes necessarily only a limited aspect of fraternity. 

Distraction from our Mission as Clerics

The assessment of the current political situation as dire and the conviction that one’s partisan political conviction is truth may distract clerics from their mission as proclaimers of the Gospel to all and as pastors for all through different political seasons and a diversity of political systems and choices.  The graced identification of the cleric with the gospel he proclaims liberates him from the compulsion in a dire situation to identify with a temporal political program. 

Our Political Choice Not to be Confounded with the Gospel We Proclaim

Identified with the Gospel, we teach values of truth, justice, human dignity and fear, i.e. love, of the Lord that are relevant to citizens, and especially to citizens who share our faith, in making their political choices.  With the Gospel shedding light on our temporal situation, we make our own personal political choices.  But we ought not allow our fallible partisan political choices to be confounded with the infallible Gospel whose proclamation is our mission.  We must not insinuate that our personal partisan political judgement is anything more than just that, having no added argumentative weight because it is pronounced by ourselves as clerics.  We who have access to the confessional must also take special care that we do not pass moral judgement on the character, the benevolence, the motivation of all candidates because we are convinced of the goodness of one or of the perfidy of another.

The Cleric as Mediator of Discernment

As clerics we can exercise a powerful role as mediator of political discernment, i.e., that combination of weighing experienced reality in the light of the Gospel, prayer, and purposive conversation in order to attempt to find not just an individual’s critical political will but God’s discerned will obeyed in political choice.  This role is necessarily dependent on the mediator being discreet about his personal party-political choice in order to help a citizen make his or her discerned choice, which may be validly different from one’s own. One does not help people to discern by saying, I, your priest who represent the Gospel have made my choice for Candidates A and B.  Now you discern your choice.  I will help you find God’s will for A and B.  If you come to the same choice I have come to, I will confirm the validity of your discernment.

No Catholic Vote; No Catholic Block

We have been warned not to act as though we have a hold on the Philippine electorate because Filipinos/as are in majority Catholic.  From experience, the more we act as if we did, the less influence we have on the Philippine electorate.  There is no Catholic vote, and there should be no Catholic vote.  Instead, we urge people of diverse religious convictions and of diverse political persuasions to offer themselves for service to the common good through good politics. We ask citizens to choose their leaders in this diversity in social friendship.

A Type of Clericalism

The clerics’ partisan political position is not privileged in persuasiveness because it is the position of clerics.  This is a type of clericalism we need to avoid in a synodal church.  Instead, we need to listen to the citizens who may not be voting as we do; we must allow our perceptions and convictions to be challenged by those who live and think differently from ourselves.

+++++++

You have been very patient.  Last Sunday, while I was still preparing for this talk, I meditated on the Sunday Gospel from St. Luke 4:1-13.  The Gospel discloses the temptations of Jesus which afflicted him not only in the desert but throughout his life culminating in his agony in the garden of Gethsemane; it is about Jesus’ struggle with his mission and his temptation to misuse his power separated from his mission.  It ended in Jesus’ words spoken in blood, “Not my will. Your will be done.” (cf. Lk 22:39-46, esp. 44).

Three Temptations

In this recollection you may consider this.  A cleric’s engagement in partisan politics is similar to Jesus’ temptation to reduce his mission to the temporal sphere and by misusing his power to turn stones into bread. Facing this temptation Jesus said, “One does not live by bread alone” (4).

Or, a clerics’ engagement in partisan politics is similar to Jesus’ temptation to acquire all temporal power and glory, but just worship Satan.  It is a temptation to disengage from the proclamation of the power and the glory of the paschal mystery as willed by God in order to engage in a political solution for a messy world. Jesus responded, “You shall worship the Lord you God, and him alone shall you serve” (8)

Or, like the temptation of Jesus to throw himself down from the pinnacle of a temple, a clerics’ engagement in partisan politics is reckless with the transcendent content of the Gospel and a presumption that the angels of God will save it from this recklessness.  Jesus’ response:  “You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test” (12).

Why Are You Terrified, O You of Little Faith?

Let me end these reflections with an invitation for you to consider the story of the disciples in a boat buffeted by a violent storm.  They were afraid they would sink, even as Jesus was asleep.  Panicking, they woke him up: “’Lord, save us!  We are perishing!’  He said to them, ‘Why are you terrified, O you of little faith?’  Then he got up, rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm.” (cf. Mt. 8:23-27).  Does this evoke for you fears you have relative to our elections? a dread that we are perishing? Are you anxious that the Lord is asleep?  Not aware of what we are going through?  The good news is that even if he is asleep he is God with us.  He continues to reign.  This must be our steady message as clerics as different parties scramble to address the sinking boat due to the wind and the waves.

About Joel Tabora, S.J.

Jesuit. Educator
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