Two Catholics vying for the vice-presidency will meet on a stage in Kentucky Thursday night for a debate whose stakes are quite high. Vice President Joe Biden and Congressman Paul Ryan will face each other in the first major political event since last week, when Mitt Romney crushed a tired and seemingly deflated President Obama.
This is the first time in our nation’s history that two Catholics will share this stage, and I wonder if either candidate will cite their Catholic faith as a source of wisdom in addressing the many issues they will discuss. (I addressed some of these issues here).
If I were able to ask a single question to these devout Catholic practitioners, I would forego the obvious confrontational barbs (How do you, Joe Biden, square your support for abortion and same-sex marriage with the bishops’ teachings? And Paul Ryan, how do you as a Catholic defend slashing the social safety net to provide tax relief for the wealthy?) and instead ask how their Catholic faith shapes their formation as leaders.
The grayness of the Catholic faith sustains me. That is, there are truths we hold sacred, but Catholics at our best approach our unique places in the world in our current contexts with a sense of humility and wonder. We don’t believe the Bible to be literal and our history is so expansive that while we affirm those things we got right, we are forced to confront the times we get it so wrong. We rely on teachers, scripture and other writings, tradition, ritual, meditation, prayer, and saintly lives for guidance, insight, and wisdom, and then are compelled to apply what we discover to concrete, real-life situations. Ours is a big church, so the conclusions can vary widely. But this is an asset, not a liability. There should always be a process of discovery and application, and I wonder how these two candidates pursue that.
When the president asks for advice, how does Biden and Ryan’s faith help determine the answer? What do they draw from their faith tradition for guidance on complex issues such as poverty, war, reproductive medicine, and immigration, among others? Both men publicly tout their Catholic faith on the campaign trail. How does it influence their roles as leaders in a diverse, secular, polyvalent society?
What would you ask?