Pell Center

The Pell Center for International Relations and Public Policy at Salve Regina is a multidisciplinary research center focused at the intersection of politics, policies and ideas.

The Significance of “Faithful Citizenship” in the Voting Booth and Presidential Debate Watch II

On Tuesday evening, Oct. 17, 2012, the Pell Center co-hosted a lecture and presidential debate watch with The Mercy Center of Spiritual Life and the Religious & Theological Studies Department in Bazarsky Lecture Hall.

The featured lecturer, Dr. Peter Steinfels of Fordham University, discussed Faithful Citizenship in a Partisan World. Dr. Steinfels defined the meaning of faithful citizenship; explored the conflict between religious faith and political affairs; and connected the relationship between faithful citizenship and theological-political debate to illustrate the anxiety of how today’s voters must make decisions about their informed involvement and their personal stances on moral issues.

To give a brief secular definition, faithful citizenship means being politically informed and engaged in civic activity, such as joining advocacy groups. Dr. Steinfels emphasized that “active participation” was the key element involved in faithful citizenship. The more religious definition of faithful citizenship, according to the text of Catholic bishops, means “drawing on depths of understanding with the help of Scripture.”

Dr. Steinfels identified citizenship, faith, morality, conscience, and prudence as the five elements necessary to shape political view.  Faith, in the context of religion, means examining Scripture, but secular context means examining personal faith—our faith to make decisions based on what we believe.  In regards to morality, Dr. Steinfels made an interesting observation about the issue of morality among college students based on observation of his own students at Fordham University. The role of the media, sexuality, religious upbringing, and “discrete personal action” are the four most common subjects that students refer to when discussing the issue of morality.

Conscience, the notion of what is right or wrong, is, as Dr. Steinfels described, “a gold-plated word in American culture.” Americans value this freedom of conscience, the freedom to choose, because we view our ability to choose as a right. The religious definition of conscience written by the Bishops says it is a “judgment of moral reason […] made after seeking the truth through Scripture.”

It is evident that the bishops stress the integration of Church teachings and how those teachings from Scripture, should impact the shaping of political opinions. For over 40 years, bishops have tried to reverse Roe v. Wade, but it is still in place.

Dr. Steinfels argued prudence as the most important virtue, because it is with prudential judgment, the insight and perception, which aligns the other virtues that voters exercise during the election. Dr. Steinfels believes “faithful citizens would employ prudence” when deciding which presidential candidate to vote for.

Dr. Steinfels also examined how the doctrines of the Catholic Church affect the voting booth. He used the issue of abortion as an example to illustrate the moral tensions not only between Democrats and Republicans, but also the tension of deciding where religious views fit in the legal system. For example, if the Church supports pro-life, should the law decriminalize abortion? The pondering of religious influence on politics lead to the question that has been asked by many for years—If abortion is made illegal, is it the responsibility of the state or the federal government to regulate the issue?

The most important take-away from the lecture was when Dr. Steinfels claimed that citizenship pervades everyday life by being politically informed and actively participating in civic activities. More importantly, it is a responsibility that should be exercised on a consistent basis—citizenship must extend beyond the presidential election in order to be considered a faithful citizen.

After the lecture, attendees enjoyed popcorn and refreshments in the O’Hare lobby before watching the debate. The second presidential debate between Gov. Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama, held at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., was moderated by CNN political correspondent Candy Crowley. Regardless of political party, it should be noted that President Obama gave a more energized performance compared to his approach in the first presidential debate held October 3rd.

There were some technological malfunctions to poll the audience prior to the debate watch, but polls taken after the debate revealed that the audience majority believed that the second debate only confirmed their presidential candidate choices (55%). The majority also believed President Obama won the evening debate (53%) against Romney (33%). Obama was the most supported among the audience (47%), but Romney had a large minority (43%). There were still some individuals who were either undecided (6%) or choosing another candidate (3%).

The Pell Center will be holding the last Issues Forum and Presidential Debate Watch on October 22, 2012 at 8:00 pm in Bazarsky Lecture Hall in the O’Hare Academic Center.

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