On Election Day, November 6, 2012, I picked up an August issue of the National Catholic Reporter from amongst the reading materials on my night-stand. In an article about the National Black Catholic Congress, these words stood out:
“We believe the Church in her newness is evolving. It is browner and poorer, more feminine, more collegial, more concerned about charity and justice, more multilingual and polycentric. The Church in its diversity, reflects God’s Trinitarian life. Our task is to recognize and facilitate God’s spirit acting in this birthing of the new.”
The same article reported that “The black Catholic Bishops were not part of this statement.”
Like the GOP, the Bishops looked out on their congregations and failed to see the reality of the lives of people in the pews.
On election night I heard in the re-election of the 44th President, a re-affirmation that the lives of ordinary people matter.
I heard what the Catholics call “a preferential option for the poor” in the re-election of a President who fights for struggling families and speaks of them the way his challenger never has.
I heard voters choose as their President a man who has known personal struggle and who has embraced the very American– and very Catholic –notion that we have an obligation to one another.
I heard women make it clear that they will not stand by quietly and let their reproductive rights and freedom to make their own healthcare decisions be taken away.
I heard voters affirm the equality of LGBT families.
I heard them choose the President’s determined push for peace over blustering and a reckless readiness to go to war.
The election was a triumph of facts over the most shameless kind of lies and mis-representations, untethered to any sense of shame or personal integrity. Lies that the Bishops could have repudiated, but did not, even as they chose to issue pastoral letters urging parishioners to vote Republican.
I heard voters choose authenticity over expediency; character over carnival.
Catholics, faithful and fallen away, appear to have been moved by the example of the Nuns on the Bus, not the hectoring of the Bishops. The sisters had issued a public invitation to the GOP Presidential candidate to join them and meet the communities they serve: people who would be affected by GOP cuts to food stamps, the promised repeal of Obamacare and the elimination of other social services. That invitation went unanswered. Catholics would have liked to hear the Bishops encouraging the GOP candidates to accept the invitation of the sisters.
Catholics did what they always do: on voting as on contraception, marriage and other life issues: they followed their conscience. Catholics grow up learning a lot about grace. They know when they encounter it.
I heard Hispanics decline to “self-deport.” Instead they cast their vote and it mattered. It mattered greatly.
I heard voters say they were not persuaded by the mocking of a President who worries about rising waters and a planet in need of healing. Voters appear to want a President who believes in science.
But in the months leading up to this election, I also heard the sound of money that could have been spent on feeding the hungry, on healing hurting communities, housing the homeless and helping struggling schools, devoured by political campaigns with their insatiable appetites.
Yet billionaires without the courage to be seen in the light of day could not buy the election. That attests to a refusal to be cowed that is one of the virtues of the American spirit. The constant refrain of “American exceptionalism” can grate. But the election—and re-election—of President Barack Obama in the stormy, difficult economy of 2012 is a testament to that “exceptionalism”— and this truly exceptional President.
On election night, President Obama spoke of hope, as “that stubborn thing” that drives us forward because we believe that something better lies ahead. As someone who comes from a younger, more fragile democracy, I hope we will always be able to vote, as President Obama suggested the American people have, “for the chance to argue” about all the things that matter. Throughout President Obama’s campaign we heard the refrain: “we’re all in this together.” There should be room for everyone.
That is as true for the Catholic church as it is for nations. If the nation is bound together by its constitution, Catholics are joined together by the Gospel. We are a diverse people, drawn to Life in the Word. And yes, “our task is to recognize and facilitate God’s spirit acting in this birthing of the new,”nourished by that other stubborn thing: that thing we call faith.