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Deborah Plummer Headshot

The Fundamental Error in Defining a "Catholic Vote"

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It began over a month ago with a two- to three-line invitation in the bulletin to attend a "non-partisan" meeting on the presidential election and its significance for the Catholic vote. Then, in last week's Sunday bulletin, a full one-page flyer inserted in the bulletin entitled "The Catholic Vote" urged all Catholics to consider the church's teaching and pointed out the concerns with the current administration in regards to this teaching. This past Sunday's bulletin included an even more detailed and extensive insert comparing the two candidates on issues important for the "Catholic vote." My husband, who often attends Mass at a different parish, reported that the "Catholic vote" message at that church actually came from the pulpit. A friend who also attended that same Mass detailed that the message named certain "non-negotiable issues" for Catholics and accordingly encouraged the direction in which Catholics should vote.

I am what they call a cradle Catholic. Baptized within months of my birth, I was "catechized" on Catholic doctrine and socialized on Catholic practice well into my adult years. I attended a Catholic elementary school, Catholic high school and a Catholic college. I was educated by gifted and talented nuns. The priests that I knew were dedicated, inspiring men who never surfaced as pedophiles during the clergy sexual abuse scandal. I spent 13 years as a nun in a religious order of women who remain exemplary in their value-centered living and dedicated social service. All in all, one could safely say that I have had an overall positive Catholic experience. Yet, I am also African American with Caribbean and Central American heritage; I am a heterosexual woman who is a LGBT advocate, and a psychologist, an educator, author, and a diversity management professional. And it is from these multiple identities that I take issue with my church on what they have deemed to be the "Catholic vote."

The fundamental error in defining a vote as Catholic is that it assumes that I have only one identity that governs my thought process and that determines my behavior. Even more simplistic in its reasoning, a Catholic vote assumes that my identity as Catholic must trump all other aspects of my being. Yet even more unrealistic, it assumes that religion (an aspect of my identity that I have chosen) can rule over the truth derived from the reality I experience from my inborn human aspects (race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age). These dimension make up my core identity and cannot fundamentally change.

We all have multiple identities out of which we choose to express ourselves and by which we relate to the environment. Every day I wake up a middle-aged, Black woman. That reality does not change. Sure, my religion can influence my core but it cannot fundamentally change who I am. Contemporary diversity management research indicates that demographic categories as a means for understanding behavior have been replaced with psychographics -- ways of knowing that transcend geographical boundaries and cut across the many dimensions of diversity. As a result, I can express liberal thoughts and values while being conservative in my behaviors. In another situation, I can be conservative in my thinking and values while liberal in my behavior. God did not make me a programmed robot, but a human being wonderfully capable of diverse thought and expression in an increasingly multicultural, complex world.

The church operates as if these identities are dichotomous variables that can be separated as we make decisions and determine our actions. I can no more separate my race from my age from my sexual orientation from my gender from my age than I can change a tire on a moving car. The phenomenon of treating human dimensions as discrete variables only happens in research and in flat, static reports.

I am not naive to the fact that the church is asking that we act first and foremost out of our Catholic identity when we vote. I even believe that the Catholic Church's governing body (wildly absent women, sorely absent people of color, and suspiciously absent gay men) considers it their responsibility to educate the flock on their duties as Catholics... even in the arena of voting where there should be a separation of church and state. However, like many baby-boomer-generation Catholics, as I have gotten older, I have become stronger in my faith and weaker in the practice of religion. As we age, recognizing and accepting that multiple realities exist is considered a hallmark of emotional maturity. Knowing what choices to make in good conscience and in good faith is a sign of spiritual maturity.

I imagine this coming Sunday with only two days from the election, there will be an even more direct communication defining what the Catholic vote should be, perhaps even including a completed ballot as a sample. I won't need it. My vote will be mine and represent the multiple identities that I fully embrace.