Today, people working to advance Catholic social teaching often find themselves in opposing camps, divided along party lines. But the church’s political work is about putting back together what has been torn apart by a highly partisan culture. In his encyclical Laudato si,’ Pope Francis proposes integral ecology as a new framework for reunifying the church’s mission of public engagement.
Faith in the Public Arena
Have you noticed how rarely all dimensions of Catholic social teaching coexist peacefully in the political engagement of many Catholics? How often are “social justice Catholics” working at cross-purposes with “pro-life Catholics”? Catholics who devote themselves to protecting the unborn or defending marriage don’t always see eye-to-eye with Catholics who prioritize serving the poor or caring for the natural ecology, and vice versa.
To be sure, the “life issues,” because they typically involve intrinsic moral evils, must have a certain priority in our social and political engagement. But to achieve short-term wins on the life issues, many are prone to dismiss concern over environmental destruction or the well-being of immigrants because those issues do not compare with the destruction of life brought on by abortion or assisted suicide.
Other Catholics emphasize the concrete needs of people in their midst and how to meet them. They are unpersuaded by what seem like moral abstractions — precisely because the life issues are often framed as mere opposition to some immoral action, not as a defense of the human person in light of the web of relationships in which we exist. And yet, isn’t there something common to the two perspectives? Isn’t it the very same “throwaway culture” which now populates our prisons, our landfills, and our graveyards? Our culture’s tendency to discard whatever — or whoever — is old or inconvenient is rapidly polluting both the earth itself and the human community. We need a more integrated way of approaching all the social issues as Catholics.
At the Minnesota Catholic Conference, our policy positions do not fit neatly into the polarized, left-right framework that still dominates the political landscape. Instead, on our bill tracker (mncatholic.org/actioncenter), you will find positions opposing assisted suicide and abortion, but you will also find support for clean water funding, and opioid epidemic response, immigrant driver’s licenses, and others.
This is not arbitrary. Nor is it the “mushy middle,” a way of pandering to both the right and the left. Rather, it is reflective of a consistent ethic of life that puts back together what our political culture has pulled apart. American politics have become disintegrated, and even while both parties get it right on some issues, neither has a consistent vision of social life capable of building a truly just society.
In light of these difficulties, we can look to Pope Francis, who offers a new way of looking at Catholic social teaching in Laudato si.’ In it, he proposes “integral ecology,” which means helping the natural and human ecologies to flourish while respecting both.
A vision statement for integral ecology could be the chorus from Laudato si,’ “everything is connected.” When one aspect of our lives is out of sync with Gospel principles, whether in our personal lives or in our public engagement, the whole “spiritual organism” suffers.
It is the same way with the political ecosystem: We cannot address a social problem in a narrow or isolated manner, because our problems arise within a society of broken or disintegrated relationships and the failure, in some instances, to live our relationships with others well. That’s what the tradition means when it refers to structures of sin. And those structures can be dismantled only through personal conversion and addressing how they affect a whole ecosystem of social relationships. To get at downstream effects, we must see the source of the problem “upstream.”
Because of the significance of integral ecology for public policy engagement in the life of the church today, the bishops of Minnesota have approved the publication of a brand-new document by the Minnesota Catholic Conference titled “Minnesota, Our Common Home.” This resource is intended to help all of us grow in cultivating integral ecology within our families, in our daily lives, and in our call to be faithful citizens — all right here, in our home state.
You can download or order your own copy by visiting www.mncatholic.org/ourcommonhome. As you read and pray through this document, we pray you are challenged and encouraged in your call to care for our common home, whether in your own backyard or on Capitol Hill.
Sarah Spangenberg is the communications associate of the Minnesota Catholic Conference.
Minnesota’s students deserve to attend schools that meet their individual educational needs. Parents, as the primary educators of their children, need to be enabled to enroll their children in the school that they feel best meets those needs. The good news is there is now legislation, the Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit (SF 1872), that will provide families with access to the schools of their choice and ensure we have educational freedom in Minnesota. Let your senator know that you support opportunity scholarships for our kids! It only takes a few minutes to contact your legislators, and it will make a positive difference in the lives of our children. You can visit our action center (www.mncatholic.org/actioncenter) to send your senator a message asking for the support of the Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit (SF 1872). You can also reach them on the phone by calling the Minnesota Senate’s main line at (651) 296-0504.