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Rev. Robert Sirico

On the question of religion and politics, it seems like the Christian community is forever sliding between two errors. On the one hand, there is a long tendency to eschew politics as too worldly and unbecoming to Christian piety. If we place our hopes in the afterlife, why should we dedicate ourselves to political change now? This is the error of quietism, which calls for quiet contemplation and prayer and totally eschews any action. Yet God calls some to a political role in the hope of making a difference in the world. There is nothing wrong with this. Indeed, our faith calls for a cultural transformation. It is not satisfied with individual piety alone.

On the other hand, there is the opposite tendency to place all hope in worldly transforming, to build a pure City on a Hill, to bring the kingdom of God to earth by our own political efforts. This occurs on the left and right. The left-wing view has sought to create perfect social utopias where the structures of poverty are completely eliminated and there is no equal holding of wealth. On the right, we see a tendency for some to use the state to stamp out every manner of vice.

Both positions will lead to despair. The refusal of Christians to engage in any political activity surrenders the entire sector over to secularist control, which often leads to disastrous results for believers. Christians have an important contribution to make to public life and they should not be shy about making it, even if it means running for office and engaging in political activity.

On the other hand, we must always be aware that Christ's kingdom is not of this world. The only perfect society is found in Heaven. As a former generation of conservatives used to say, the eschaton cannot be “immanentized,” especially not the through the power of the state. The use of power is particularly dangerous for Christians. The use of the sword is almost always linked with abuse. The mixing of state and religion has ended in the corruption of religion above all else.

In the last twenty years, we've seen these tendencies ebb and flow in the Christian community, which has placed its trust in princes and has been disappointed. This has produced a counter-reaction that leads people to a mistaken belief that involvement in political life is nearly always futile and even contrary to the gospel.

I would like to stake out a moderate position. Those who feel called to political involvement should not hesitate. We should defend life, property, and freedom as among the foremost political and moral values. At the same time, we should avoid the temptation of putting trust in any particular leader merely because he or she professes the same faith as we do. All people have a tendency to fall into sin, and I dare suggest that the political class may be even more prone to particularly destructive forms of compromises.

What about party affiliation? Political parties are part of the fabric of democracy and are unavoidable. However, no party should be able to count on the “Christian vote” lest that be taken for granted and otherwise ignored. If any group of people should be willing to consider itself politically independent, it is Christians, who should carry with them the realization that it was political state that prosecuted and executed our Lord and his followers. To be inextricably attached to a particular party is as much an error as believing that a particular form of government can be the answer to all our woes.

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Rev. Robert A. Sirico received his Master of Divinity degree from the Catholic University of America following undergraduate study at the University of Southern California and the University of London.  During his studies and early ministry, he experienced a growing concern over the lack of training religious studies students receive in fundamental economic principles, leaving them poorly equipped to understand and address today's social problems.  As a result of these concerns, Fr. Sirico co-founded the Acton Institute with Kris Alan Mauren in 1990.