MCC’s Adkins: With the election over, Catholics need to roll up their sleeves

| November 9, 2016 | 2 Comments
A sign directs St. Paul residents in Ramsey County to cast their votes at Holy Spirit in St. Paul. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

A sign directs St. Paul residents in Ramsey County to cast their votes at Holy Spirit in St. Paul. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Donald Trump’s win of the presidency and the Republican party gaining a majority in Congress stunned the U.S. in a historic election Nov. 8.

In Minnesota, Republicans grabbed a majority from the Democrats in both legislative chambers.

The changed political landscape doesn’t alter the mission for Catholics in politics, said Jason Adkins, executive director of the Minnesota Catholic Conference. A St. Paul-based organization, MCC is the public policy voice of the state’s Catholic bishops and works to further the common good in Minnesota and beyond.

Adkins spoke with The Catholic Spirit Nov. 9 about what this year’s election results mean for Catholics. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Jason Adkins, executive director of the Minnesota Catholic Conference, stands on the steps of the Minnesota Capitol in a Catholic Spirit file photo. Dianne Towalski / The Catholic Spirit

Jason Adkins, executive director of the Minnesota Catholic Conference, stands on the steps of the Minnesota Capitol in a Catholic Spirit file photo. Dianne Towalski / The Catholic Spirit

Q. You’ve spoken a lot before the election about the idea of “political homelessness,” [the idea that Catholics in both major political parties feel uncomfortable, because neither party has a platform that aligns well with Catholic social teaching]. Did that seem to resonate among Catholics you spoke with as the election approached?

A. I think it did. The people were not crazy about either one of these major presidential party candidates. They were not particularly excited about the state of the political parties and what’s being offered as choices.

The difficulty with that is, if you’re only given a narrow set of choices, it’s hard to get out of that box. Even if Catholics are politically homeless, where is the home that is being offered?

The hope is that the parties will say, “Gee, we need to be looking at how we’re serving all Americans. Are we serving all Americans?”

Q. Tell us about MCC’s efforts moving forward after this election. How do the results in the Minnesota House and Senate affect your approach?

A. The great thing about being Catholic is that our principles never change. We come to each Legislature and look at it as having both challenges and opportunities. A lot of the same issues we worked on the last session will continue to be important priorities, [such as] educational choice — making sure that more students, particularly the socio-economically disadvantaged, have access to a good education.

We are certainly concerned about life issues like assisted suicide, and whether or not Minnesota is going to create a commercial surrogacy market that would have the potential for exploiting women and commodifying children. And we definitely want to make sure that our social safety net catches up with realities of poverty in 2016.

Q. From here, how do we influence our elected officials to pursue the common good?

A. A lot of politics, sometimes at the national level — like we saw in this election — but especially at the local level, is about who shows up.

Let’s show up, let’s have a conversation, let’s build relationships with our elected officials — particularly in our State Legislature. They are extremely helpful, and they want to hear from you.

We have a lot of new legislators this year who want to hear your perspectives. I think Catholics have an important responsibility to reach out.

We try to make it easy with tools like the Catholic Advocacy Network. We have a big event at the [State] Capitol on March 9, 2017, called “Catholics at the Capitol,” which we’re going to be talking more about in the coming days, kind of what’s next in terms of Catholic engagement in the public arena.

Q. Many people feel worn out by politics. What advice do you have for the Catholic that just wants to disengage or take a break from politics?

A. If by politics we mean politics as entertainment — watching it on MSNBC or FOX News — then yeah, I think everyone should take a break.

But if politics is really about civic friendship and public service, maybe we need to rethink where we’re directed with our energy, and rethink the importance of politics in our own backyard where can actually make a difference, where God has planted us to make a difference.

Q. For Catholics intensely disappointed with the election results, what advice do you have?

A. It’s important to recognize that no political party has a monopoly on what serves the common good and human dignity.

To the extent issues arise, whether they be on the matter of immigration, environmental conservation, the dignity of workers, you name it, it’s important for those people to have a voice in that conversation and make sure that the political parties, no matter who’s in power, are attentive to the desires of the reasons of constituents.

There’s certainly no time to sit on the sidelines with this, especially to make your voice heard in that conversation on these important issues.

Q. It looks like the partisan divide will remain strong again nationally and locally. How can we encourage our elected officials to work together effectively and make decisions for the common good?

A. Catholic social teaching has an important role to play in transcending the polarization, transcending the partisan line, and bringing core values of economic participation and social justice, but at the same time [emphasizing] the sanctity of life and the defense of basic institutions like religious liberty and the family.

We have a lot to offer in this conversation and hopefully this is a moment of renewal and rebuilding and not one that deepens the divide and the polarization of America. Catholics have an important role in bringing the principles of Catholic social teaching and finding a way to say, “How do we get past this gridlock and this polarization, and come together as a country around something that could unite us all?”

Q. What are ways beyond politics that Catholics can make a difference in the important issues of our time?

A. We know that the body of Christ, when it works in the public arena and works in our communities, it walks with the two feet of charity and justice. Politics focuses on primarily on the work of justice, but the other foot of charity needs to be active as well if the body is, so to speak, to move forward.

I encourage Catholics to say, “Let’s walk with the two feet of charity and justice,” recognizing that justice is the proper sphere of politics. But certainly enlivening the body, enlivening our communities with the love of Christ and the works of mercy is an important thing that happens every day regardless of what happens in the political arena.

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  • Charles C.

    I really would not care to have Mr. Adkins’ job. Yes, he can go to legislators and say “The Catholic Church’s position on issue X is such-and-such,” but once he’s done that he’s played pretty much all of his cards.

    First, Catholics don’t agree on what the Catholic position is on most, if not all, issues. For example, when asked if an unmarried man and woman living together romantically was an acceptable way of life, only 11% of US Catholics said that it wasn’t. (Pew Poll, Sep. 2015) When asked the same question about a same sex couple living together romantically, just 25% said it was unacceptable. There is no unified army of Catholics supporting a position, even a Catholic one. That means politicians will have to do what they have always done, look at public opinion polls.

    Second, some of the positions described as Catholic positions seem, to many, to have little if any bearing on the Church. Indeed, some of them seem to fall outside the Church’s competence. My example would be man-made, catastrophic, Global Warming. It is a highly controversial subject, muddied by fraud on the part of its supporters, and appearing less and less significant every year. Unfortunately, the Pope’s expressed concern about it tends to distract from actual issues and problems, diluting his authority.

    So, I wish Mr. Adkins well with his very difficult task. He should remember that though he might be expressing the position of Catholic bishops, he can not be sure he is describing the beliefs of Catholic voters. Voters, after all, are what politicians listen to.

    (Oh, and concerning the recognition of Gay marriage which the Catholic Church opposed, unsuccessfully, in Minnesota? US Catholics split 46% – 46%.)

  • tschraad

    I believe that the Church leaders should focus on the spiritual life of the Church and leave the social problems to be the concern of charity.

    How about an easy subject. Killing the unborn; If the Bishops cannot agree that this is an intrinsically evil act a very sinful, and cannot get 100% of the Catholics to agree, then they excommunicate those who support this evil act. They should ask themselves, Do we want a faithful Catholic church or just a cafeteria church. How are you going to unify the church if you cannot get them to agree on a easy issue. Bishops should teach the faith to all who are interested. But overlooking a person who is living in sin and approving it, is wrong.

    In my opinion, Jesus would tell them “sin no more”