27 Ordinary B – October 7, 2012 – Moral Issues and the Election
Do you ever feel like some people use God talk to make you feel guilty; that God is going to punish you for doing this or doing that? I recently saw a book review written by Barbara Brown Taylor that said, “the author is one of the few people I trust to write about faith without using God to clobber me.” I never think of God as treating us harshly. Today’s psalm said God blesses and protects us. Lately, though, some of the political and religious rhetoric makes it sound like if you do not vote for a certain candidate you would be committing a grave sin or that you are a morally irresponsible person.
Today’s gospel about divorce and remarriage could be one of those “make me feel guilty” texts. Perhaps some clarifications might be helpful. The gospel of Mark was based on oral traditions and written some sixty-six to seventy years after Jesus. The sayings attributed to Jesus reflected the male centered traditions of Jewish Palestine.  In the Mediterranean culture divorce was unacceptable because marriages bound groups together to make them stronger.  A divorce of two people meant the divorce of two families which frequently led to bloody battles.
Further, it was believed that in a divorce the honor of the man was at stake; women’s reputations did not matter. Although women could file for divorce in Roman law they could not do so in Jewish law.  Tested by the pharisees Jesus was offering an egalitarian ideal and not a new law. He was saying the rights of both parties matter.
In our time prenuptial agreements and short-term-renewable-marriage contracts challenge the phrase “until death do us part,” (And, have you ever heard someone say: I didn’t think he’d live this long!) Nevertheless, living good, long, healthy and productive years with another person, the same person, is an ideal in our society.
When a relationship goes bad however something has to be done to help couples. Because divorce is painful enough hitting the couple over the head with God talk and stringent laws is not constructive. It also does not help to deny access to sacramental sustenance in these moments of despair and stress, the precise times when people need comfort and community.
Understanding the teachings of our religion, the Catholic religion, is an important responsibility today. It is apparent, however, that for many, these directives can be a source of anxiety, confusion and division. For example, various studies and polls point out that significant numbers of Catholics disagree with church teachings on divorce and remarriage, right to life issues (51% favor pro-choice) and same sex marriages (54% in favor). Overwhelming numbers disagree with the teachings on birth control. 
Note: One non-partisan source is: the Public Religion Research Institute
Today is Respect Life Sunday. Each year we are asked to reflect on the many moral teachings of our religion. In this election season we ask further how does each political platform measure up to church teachings. The application of principles and doctrines to all moral issues in our lives requires prudence and the formation of a good conscience.
In this regard, our bishop, Howard J. Hubbard, has written a helpful pastoral letter in our diocesan paper, The Evangelist, where he refers to the American Bishops’ instruction “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.“  One of the many points our Bishop makes is that it is unlikely that there will ever be a candidate for public office or a political platform that will agree entirely with every moral stance of the Catholic church. The American bishops then affirm It is not enough to vote for your party of choice or to cast a vote because of a single issue. A responsible voter has to do some homework.
The purpose of religion is not to use God talk to deal with us harshly or control our thinking. It is the role of religion to help us establish a loving relationship with God, one another and all of creation. That’s hard work. The teachings of our religion like others can provide invaluable guidelines for living. Making decisions that affect our daily lives, however, requires prudence and well formed consciences. (To be continued before Election Day, November 6, 2012)
1 Crossan, John Dominic. The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant. (San Francisco, Harper) 1992, 301
2 Pilch, John. The Cultural World of Jesus, Sunday by Sunday, Cycle B. The Liturgical Press. 1996. 142-144.
3 Attridge, H. (Ed.) The HarperCollins Study Bible Revised Edition (San Francisco: Harper) 2006, 1743
4 For example, the Public Religion Research Institute
5 Hubbard, Howard . “At Election Time, Let Principles Guide Decisions.The Evangelist, October 4, 2012, 1