Encouraging civility this election season

Design by Doug Puller/Bread for the World.

By Krisanne Vaillancourt Murphy

I had the privilege of joining over a 1,000 Catholic religious sisters last week at the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) Assembly in Atlanta, Ga. – the annual meeting of the heads of women’s religious orders around the country.

Ahead of their conference, the sisters unveiled a powerful letter to presidential candidates calling on them to be civil in public discourse. Similarly, just last week Bread for the World released its Election Platform, which includes a section encouraging candidates to be civil and respectful in our democratic process.

I count myself as one among many whose life’s journey has been formed by the witness of religious sisters. There was Sister Meg Guider, a missiology professor and my academic advisor at Weston Jesuit School of Theology now known as Boston College’s School of Theology and Ministry. Guider reshaped my conceptions of the global church and took special interest in developing me as a social justice lay leader.

Sister Margaret Mary Kimmins, congregational minister to the Franciscan Sisters of Alleghany, was a close Bread colleague for six years. She ministered to me and many other staff as a friend, spiritual mentor, and guide. 

These two sisters represent dozens more who have impacted me along the way. Perhaps you have transformative experiences of religious sisters that impacted your journey? 

For many people Catholic religious women stand as guideposts pointing to what really matters because of their witness to a fuller embodied vision for what God’s intends for the world.  So I listen closely when religious women speak – and religious women in the U.S. have spoken on what’s really important in the 2016 elections.

The letter sent to the presidential candidates was signed by nearly 6,000 of the 40,000 religious sisters of the LCWR.  The letter called for “civility in our discourse and decency in our political interaction that promotes the common good.”  It also stated: “Unfortunately, we live in a time when our politics is too often marked by self-interest and demeaning rhetoric. We seem to be caught in a political system paralyzed by ideological extremism and hyper-partisanship.”

LCWR’s statement echoes Pope Francis’ 2015 speech before Congress: “You are called to defend and preserve the dignity of your fellow citizens in the tireless and demanding pursuit of the common good, for this is the chief aim of all politics,” he said.

How we need to hear these words now more than ever! This election season, Bread is working to ensure that the next president and Congress put our nation and the world on track to end hunger by 2030.  The rancor and divisiveness of this election season prompted Bread to include core values language on civility and respect in its Election Platform such as “Respectful, decent treatment of all people, including those in need as well as political opponents.”  

If our political leaders cannot talk to one another, how can the U.S. get on with the urgent work of ending hunger?

As people of faith, we know that retreating from political life and its respective duties is not an option–even when political rancor and division run hot. Engaging the political process is our God-given right and sacred duty. I am grateful for how the Catholic religious women and Bread remind us of what is really important.

Krisanne Vaillancourt Murphy is senior associate for national Catholic engagement at Bread for the World.

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