By Deanna Howes Spiro, Vice President of Communications, AJCU
Every two years, we dedicate our October issue of Connections to civic engagement and voter outreach programs on Jesuit campuses. While this is the first time that such programs are being held primarily online, the sense of optimism and desire to participate in the democratic process remain the same.
For many members of Generation Z (who comprise the majority of our undergraduate student populations), next month’s election will be their first to cast votes for a president. Some Jesuit universities, including Rockhurst University and Saint Peter’s University, have focused on encouraging students to vote by hosting voter registration drives and community events. At Loyola Marymount University and Xavier University, administrators are helping students to look beyond the election, and learn how to engage in constructive, civil discourse with individuals of opposing political views.
On a broader level, our colleagues at the Ignatian Solidarity Network and the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States are encouraging all members of the Ignatian family (including parishioners at Jesuit churches) to apply Ignatian principles of discernment and contemplation to their decision-making processes during the election season. You’ll learn more about their efforts in this issue of Connections.
There is an additional document that we encourage our readers to consider in advance of November 3: Fratelli Tutti (“On Fraternity and Social Friendship”), a new encyclical issued by Pope Francis on October 3. Through this letter to the world, Pope Francis asks all of us to consider our relationships with each other and ourselves, with particular attention paid to the concepts of “Liberty” and “Freedom”:
“Fraternity is born not only of a climate of respect for individual liberties, or even of a certain administratively guaranteed equality. Fraternity necessarily calls for something greater, which in turn enhances freedom and equality. What happens when fraternity is not consciously cultivated, when there is a lack of political will to promote it through education in fraternity, through dialogue and through the recognition of the values of reciprocity and mutual enrichment? Liberty becomes nothing more than a condition for living as we will, completely free to choose to whom or what we will belong, or simply to possess or exploit. This shallow understanding has little to do with the richness of a liberty directed above all to love.”
We join all Americans in praying for a peaceful election on November 3, and for a continued commitment to liberty and justice for all.
To learn more about voting-related events at Jesuit colleges and universities, please visit ajcunet.edu/alumni-events.
By Mike Jordan Laskey, Director of Communications, Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States
Rev. Pat Conroy, S.J. has a unique ministry that brings together two spheres one is not supposed to discuss in polite company: He is the chaplain of the U.S. House of Representatives. As each session of debating and lawmaking begins, he leads those assembled in prayer.
“How do you follow Jesus of Nazareth in the contentious atmosphere of politics? Hopefully, you do it with great charity and great wisdom and great sincerity while respecting every voice that you hear,” Fr. Conroy once explained in an interview with America. “Impossible? Well, that’s why I’m praying.”
Fr. Conroy’s service came to mind as I worked with a team from across the Ignatian network on a new document from the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States: “Contemplation and Political Action: An Ignatian Guide to Civic Discernment.” Fr. Conroy stands at the intersection of Catholic faith and politics, a locus that can be filled with tension and misunderstanding. But the teachings of the Church and our Ignatian values invite us to make a home there anyway: to bring our commitment to social justice to the halls of power in Washington, D.C. and Ottawa; state and provincial capitals; city and town halls. It’s a blessing and a privilege to be able to cooperate with Christ’s ongoing work of compassion in the world this way. And that’s what “Contemplation and Political Action” is all about.
The document grew out of conversations that took place last year between Jesuit Conference President Rev. Tim Kesicki, S.J., and Rev. Ted Penton, S.J., Secretary of our Office of Justice and Ecology (OJE). With big elections scheduled for 2020 in both Canada and the United States, they wondered what sort of resource might the Jesuit Conference offer to voters?
From the start, we wanted to do something different from a “Jesuit voter guide.” The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) already publishes an authoritative and helpful Catholic voter guide every four years called, “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.” It didn’t seem to make sense to reinvent the wheel, to go social issue by issue, and offer guidance.
But what about a reflective document rooted in Ignatian spirituality? Something that might help members of the Jesuit family discern why and how to be involved in politics? And something not focused simply on electoral politics, but one that looks at our engagement in civic life more broadly? That seemed to make more sense and to fit the spirit of the moment. So, Fr. Penton tapped me to help and, together, we gathered a broad-based group from around the Ignatian network and got to work.
One key question I kept coming back to as the group drafted and redrafted the document was: How might someone formed in Ignatian spirituality and a “faith that does justice” participate in civic and political life differently from someone who doesn’t have such a background? What could distinguish us? What gifts do we bring with us to the public square? In the document, we tried to highlight a few Ignatian concepts and resources that are relevant to civic participation. Here are three of my favorites:
- Ignatian Detachment. There’s no question we are living in polarized times. Often, our political allegiances shape our faith and morals instead of the other way around. One of the great lessons of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola is that to have true spiritual freedom, we have to ask God to help us resist “disordered attachments”: attachments to certain persons, things or even ideologies that keep us from growing in faith, hope and love. In considering our document, we wondered: What if we prayed for the grace to be detached from our own partisan preference? Might that free us to enter into conversations with those who disagree with us, open to the idea that we might not always be right? That someone on the other side of the aisle could have something valuable to offer? What a huge shift in paradigm that could provide.
In a recent podcast interview that I conducted with noted Jesuit writer, Rev. Tom Reese, S.J., he suggested another way of applying Ignatian detachment or indifference to political life: What if we were truly indifferent to our own self-interest, and voted and advocated for policies based on how they would affect others, especially the most vulnerable? It’s easy to let our own self-interest drive our civic engagement instead of keeping those on the margins of society in our hearts and minds. With Ignatian detachment, this can become a regular habit.
- The Universal Apostolic Preferences (UAPs). The Society of Jesus has adopted four UAPs to guide all Jesuit ministries across the world for the next decade. They are:
a. To show the way to God through the Spiritual Exercises and discernment;
b. To walk with the poor, the outcasts of the world, those whose dignity has been violated, in a mission of reconciliation and justice;
c. To accompany young people in the creation of a hope-filled future;
d. To collaborate in the care of our common home.
All of the UAPs have clear connections to our engagement in public life. The second one – to walk with those on the margins in a mission of reconciliation and justice – is especially important. It reflects Pope Francis’ image of a “culture of encounter,” in which we get to know persons and communities on the margins of society, develop authentic relationships with them, and then collaborate together to build a more just world. Political engagement disconnected from the reality of those who are oppressed, poor and vulnerable doesn’t live up to the Gospel values at the heart of the UAPs.
- Discernment of Spirits. A hallmark of Ignatian spirituality is the discernment of spirits, which is more than just carefully considered decision-making (though discernment certainly includes careful consideration). “In discernment of spirits, we notice the interior movements of our hearts, which include our thoughts, feelings, desires, attractions and resistances,” writes Rev. Kevin O’Brien, S.J. (now president of Santa Clara University), in his book, The Ignatian Adventure. “We determine where they are coming from and where they are leading us; and then we propose to act in a way that leads to greater faith, hope and love.”
We can bring questions about political participation and important social issues to prayer and reflection – praying, in the words of Protestant theologian Karl Barth, with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. Our decisions about whom to vote for, or how to get involved in working for a more just world, are big ones and benefit from real discernment.
As Election Day approaches here in the U.S., I hope you’re able to spend some time reading and discussing “Contemplation and Political Action.” And I hope this document helps the whole Ignatian family in our quest to find God in all things – even politics!
By Carol Costello, Journalism Lecturer at Loyola Marymount University & Creator of Project Citizen
What are the odds that a Baby Boomer from Trump Country and a Gen Z-er from Southern California could carry on a civilized conversation about politics and other topics that would seem to divide them? Actually, what are the odds of any progressive really listening to anyone who says anything positive about “the other side?” And vice versa?
Better than you might expect—at least when two people are willing to speak honestly, hear each other out and acknowledge their differences, as they did in a 20-minute podcast that I moderated recently, featuring a Loyola Marymount University (LMU) student and an advertising executive from my home state of Ohio.
The podcast series, “I Hate Your Generation,” is part of a larger initiative that I started at LMU last year, called Project Citizen, which focuses on the importance of civil discourse in the democratic process. The series takes on tough topics — fading patriotism, dirty politics, intersectionality and police brutality, as well as the connection between race and sports.
The fact that our guests come from different generations, and sometimes different parts of the country, isn’t a coincidence. Project Citizen reflects my belief that we can have more meaningful interactions and find solutions to problems through constructive and candid conversation.
It is crucial that we learn to listen to one another. In a divided nation that urges us to take sides, I encourage students to reject the temptation to retreat into like-minded camps. Rather, we must stay in conversation with one another in order to safeguard our democracy. Bringing disparate people together is my way of helping to repair what has torn us apart.
Part of the democratic process is voting and with that right comes civic responsibility. That means it is imperative to understand the issues from all perspectives, not just your own. Without that 360-degree view, a fully informed decision and the opportunity for compromise are impossible. The only way to be a truly informed voter – and a truly informed American – is to get to know people “outside of your bubble.”
Project Citizen began as a course in Summer 2019 before expanding to include the podcast, “I Hate Your Generation.” The class focused on getting students “outside of their bubbles” to engage in deeper conversation and collaboration between students at California-based LMU and my alma mater, Kent State University (KSU), in Ohio.
For six weeks, we split our time traveling between the LMU campus in Los Angeles and Kent State’s campus near Cleveland. Together, our students explored why our country is so bitterly divided. We invited guests to talk with us, including Homeboy Industries founder, Rev. Greg Boyle, S.J., KFI radio host Mo’ Kelly, Hollywood executive Steve Mosko, journalist Annie Zaleski, and the editorial staff at the Youngstown Vindicator, located in the rustiest of Rust Belt Ohio. We also talked with voters across the political spectrum: Trump supporters and resisters, pro-choice and pro-life activists, supporters and counter-protestors at a LGBTQ pride rally. We even sat down for dinner with an Amish family in Ohio, who explained their choice to live a simpler life.
Early in the course, I asked the LMU and KSU students to write what they thought of each other: the California students came up with stereotypes about Midwesterners, and the Ohio students came up with stereotypes about West Coasters. Not pretty.
But as they spent time with each other and in their respective states, they found those stereotypes didn’t hold. The students produced video projects on civil discourse and, in the process, established friendships, mentors and a greater understanding of their country.
I came up with the concept for Project Citizen because of my experience covering the 2016 election for CNN. Although I love my former employer, CNN, along with other cable news outlets fanned the flames of division in our country. Project Citizen is my small way of dousing the fire and rebuilding what was broken.
The coronavirus pandemic prevented the Project Citizen reciprocal course from being taught in Summer 2020, but its success led to the development of the “I Hate Your Generation” podcast, with support from the LMU community. LMU students and alumni have helped identify the topics, create the graphics, conduct research and produce some of the episodes.
Students who agreed to be interviewed were engaged and open to tough and sometimes uncomfortable conversations, just like the one between the 19-year-old progressive LMU student, and the conservative 58-year-old Ohio man, who argued over whether Gen Z or President Trump was more adept at cancel culture: the practice of withdrawing support for, or “canceling,” public figures and others after they have done or said something objectionable.
While my guests discovered areas where they disagreed on this topic, they ended their talk with a mutual respect for one another. When I asked them what they’d learned, their responses were encouraging. “It’s so easy to paint the other side as a one-dimensional person or one-dimensional belief,” the student told me and her fellow guest. “The fact that you listened,” he replied, “gives me hope.”
I’m looking forward to bringing together disparate students from LMU and KSU when we can safely travel again. We have big plans, including a partnership with YouTube and a trip to Washington, D.C., so that students – progressive, conservative, independent, socialist – can better understand the people who pull the political strings in our country, for better or worse.
By Tim Linn, Assistant Director of University Relations, Rockhurst University
Rockhurst University is said to be “in the city for good.”
The informal motto works on two levels — it’s a pledge for longevity and a commitment to seek the greater good in service to the community.
For more than a century, Rockhurst students, faculty and staff have lived out that commitment in a variety of ways, including community service and efforts to engage more deeply with neighbors in its surrounding Kansas City, MO. In 2020, however, students, faculty and staff are leading an on-campus effort to promote civic literacy and engagement in hopes of fully living out that motto — both before and after the November 3 election.
Christened RU Voting — half a question, half a statement of purpose — the initiative is built around nonpartisan voter education and voter registration to engage young people in a highly watched election, and to build broader civic engagement efforts after the ballots are counted.
College students have a bit of a reputation when it comes to civic life — though they are a potentially consequential slice of the electorate, they don’t go to the polls nearly as often as older voters. It has led to them being dismissed as unengaged, apathetic, or worse.
The reality is more complicated, said Tom Ringenberg, Ph.D., assistant professor of political science and a member of the committee planning RU Voting activities. “Like a lot of groups, whether college students vote often comes down to a cost-benefit analysis because of the complexity of the rules and the time commitment necessary to vote,” he said. “Any way that we can lessen those costs of getting informed or figuring out the processes, the better that cost looks.”
Some factors work against student voters — there is a patchwork of rules from state-to-state regarding practices like absentee or mail-in voting, a particular challenge for a population that comes from all over the country. Add in further uncertainty due to COVID-19, and a lot of students are looking for answers. The RU Voting effort is meant to help connect students to information they need to make sure they are registered and know their options for voting, starting with voter registration drives and a Voting 101 event to answer their questions.
There is no doubt that plenty of students are interested in the election. Ringenberg, who was teaching at Rockhurst during the last presidential election cycle, said there are always lively conversations in his classes. But, generally speaking, students seem a little more eager to engage in the process this year. “People are paying attention,” he said.
Margaret Gerards, a senior who is also executive vice president of the Student Senate and one of a number of student representatives on the RU Voting committee, said that the last presidential election was an eye-opening experience in showing her the importance of voting. “I was engaged with the political discourse occurring, but I was a few months too young to vote [in 2016],” she said. “I realized how important my voice is in political matters — my vote is my ability to take action toward what I believe in.”
The Student Senate and the Student Activities Board have been sponsoring watch parties for some of the candidate debates, inviting students to learn more about the local and national issues at play. As a leader of one of several student organizations helping to lead the effort, Gerards hopes to be able to inspire not just a commitment to voting by her peers, but a genuine sense of wanting to have conversations and work for the “greater good” in the community where students live, both ideas very much in keeping with Jesuit traditions.
“I feel that the Jesuit core value of Magis is central to the voting initiatives taking place at Rockhurst,” Gerards explained. “These initiatives are encouraging students to think of the effect their votes could have on themselves and their community. The act of voting is doing more, giving more and being more.”
Crucially, the efforts to do more in the spirit of Magis do not stop on November 3. A second phase of RU Voting will focus on continuing civic engagement: a team is developing and scheduling events and opportunities with community partners aimed at increasing students’ awareness of and investment in issues facing the Kansas City area.
Another student member of the RU Voting committee, Abbragale Blaine, a sophomore nonprofit leadership, psychology and pre-medicine major, is helping in this effort. She said that getting students interested in what’s happening both electorally and beyond is similar to what she already does as service chair for Voices for Justice, a campus social justice organization.
“It is my job to come up with service events that correlate with the topics we are talking about,” she said. “By doing this, I am helping students gain exposure on issues that are close to home, and show them that there is change that needs to happen.”
Voting is one way to make it happen. But deep, sustained engagement with community members is another that could have long-lasting impact. More than that, as Ringenberg explained, the act of participating in civic life is an important part of the largely unspoken compact that institutions make with the communities they call home. And it’s a way to live out the Jesuit values that Rockhurst is built upon.
“In some ways, it’s an act of service,” Ringenberg said. “But if universities are going to be part of community life and be anchor institutions, this is the kind of work we should be ready to do.”
By Doug Ruschman, Associate Vice President for Marketing and Communications, Xavier University
“The challenge is great. The time is now. We’re ready to Take It On,” says Dr. Rachel Chrastil, professor of history and one of the academic leaders behind Xavier University’s new Take It On campaign.
The campaign’s organizers believe that colleges and universities can do better at promoting civil discourse. Students should seek out differences with the aim of listening, respecting and being open to learning from each other. Exploring common ground when discussing controversial topics offers a way for students to learn to engage in difficult dialogue with others in a civil, productive manner.
Chrastil explains, “As we head into the 2020 election season, political division and polarization has become more intense both on a national level and in our local communities. We often avoid and demonize those who disagree with us. This project encourages the Xavier community to seek difference, encourage engagement, and explore common ground to overcome obstacles that keep us from greater understanding and collaboration.”
The goals of the Take It On campaign include:
- Building campus capacity for constructive, reflective dialogue.
- Creating spaces for engagement on difficult issues.
- Proactively preparing for challenges in 2020 (particularly with regard to the election), and building capacity to be responsive to those who seek to break our community bonds.
At Xavier, this work began last spring, to provide faculty with the skills they would need to facilitate difficult conversations in the classroom. The University brought in a nationally-renowned speaker, Kathy Obear, who hosted sessions on ways to identify disrespectful comments and behaviors; understand their negative impact on individuals and groups; and find ways to engage and seek support.
The University then identified ten shared commitments for deepening and broadening the bonds of the campus community. Some were rooted in Jesuit principles, including:
- Curiosity: Invoking cura personalis (care for the whole person), care and curiosity share the same root. One way that we show care for others is by being curious about their thoughts and feelings, desires and needs. When we are present to others and listen attentively to them, we demonstrate that they matter, and that they belong to the Xavier community. Curiosity helps us to explore differences and appreciate them: we should not fear or avoid disagreement.
- Compassion: We do not know what burdens other people carry, and some may be heavier than they appear on the outside. Compassion desires to alleviate suffering: it is essential for healing the wounds that divide us. Compassion also involves a certain level of accountability: we should consider the impact that our words may have on others.
- Reflection and Discernment: In our efforts to foster a culture of encounter, integration and wisdom, reflection and discernment help us to learn from our experiences so that we can embrace what is fruitful and revise what is flawed. Reflection and discernment help us to take note of our thoughts, feelings, desires and needs, so that we may thoughtfully and intentionally proceed in a way that promotes freedom, support, mutual respect and responsibility, and sets the conditions for all members of the Xavier community to participate fully and to flourish. Reflection and discernment help us to evaluate our progress, reexamine our goals, and recalibrate our strategies toward a shared commitment to build a more robust community.
Xavier’s Director of Government Relations, Sean Comer, is among the leaders of Take It On. He says, “This has been an exhausting and tense election season, but some time on or after November 3, we’ll elect a President, members of Congress, and leaders in our local communities. We still have to care for our collective responsibility to govern after this election. That requires supporting one another and learning from each other. It requires sincere, open conversations.”
Comer encourages students and employees not only to vote this November, but to consider contributing on Election Day in other ways, such as serving as poll workers, a task that may be especially critical in this pandemic year. Xavier is supporting these efforts by holding classes remotely on November 3 and by supporting employees who would like to serve as poll workers.
Dave Johnson, Xavier’s Associate Provost for Student Affairs, says, “We are proud that our Xavier student leaders have encouraged voter registration and are planning events modeled on restorative justice to bring together students from a variety of political perspectives both before and after the November 3 general election.”
Click here to learn about all events being sponsored by Take It On this Fall.
By Angeline Boyer, Assistant Director of Media Relations, Saint Peter’s University
“For a better tomorrow…for my child’s future…to change the world…for justice for all…for my future…
to be involved…to use my voice for positive change…because all votes really do matter.”
These are just a few of the reasons why participants in this year’s New Jersey Ballot Bowl Kick-Off Celebration plan to vote. Held on September 22 in celebration of National Voter Registration Day, the Ballot Bowl was hosted virtually by the Guarini Institute for Government and Leadership at Saint Peter’s University in Jersey City, NJ.
The New Jersey Ballot Bowl is an annual statewide non-partisan voter registration competition that is overseen by the New Jersey Department of State and led by and for students. This year, teams from twenty-six New Jersey colleges and universities entered into competition against one another to recruit the most students from each campus to register and pledge to vote in the November 2020 election. The competition began at the kick-off celebration and continued through the voter registration deadline of October 13.
The event featured a keynote address from New Jersey Secretary of State Tahesha Way, as well as commentary from New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy and a special guest appearance by Nate Solder, an offensive tackle from the New York Giants. Participants included students, faculty, staff, administrators and mascots from colleges and universities throughout New Jersey.
In a message to students, Governor Murphy said, “Helping others to register to vote is an act of service to your community and our democracy. For the past three years, Ballot Bowl teams across New Jersey have helped us to register literally thousands of voters, most of them young people like yourselves. By joining us this year, you and your classmates can play a crucial part in expanding our electorate and helping more citizens make their voices heard.”
The coronavirus pandemic changed the way that the Ballot Bowl teams would operate compared to previous years. Secretary of State Way explained that thanks to online voter registration and mail-in ballots, registering and voting has been easier to do than ever before. She also shared some inspiration for students to get registered and vote. “I am not just your Secretary of State: I am a mom of four daughters, including two young voters,” explained Way. “I firmly believe in the power of young voices and young voters because I see and hear you each and every day. Thank you for strengthening my faith and hope in your generation and our shared future.”
The Guarini Institute for Government and Leadership at Saint Peter’s was honored to be selected as the host for this important event that serves to mobilize young voters. “I would like to congratulate all of the students at all of the universities involved, because the work that they do in registering people to vote is so important,” said Ginger Gold Schnitzer, J.D., Executive Director of the Guarini Institute. “Voter registration is a critical first step in participating and we know that when more people participate, it makes our democracy stronger.”
The event was a special occasion not only because it was held on National Voter Registration Day, but because it marked the 55th anniversary of a visit to Saint Peter’s by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who received an honorary degree from the University in 1965.
“During his visit, Dr. King stood before students and educators, inspiring them to unleash their ideas, think for themselves and, like him, pursue their dreams,” said Eugene J. Cornacchia, Ph.D., President of Saint Peter’s University. “In his wake, he left an unwavering legacy and a presence that can still be felt on campus. For the past 55 years, Saint Peter’s has been dedicated to living out the mission of Dr. King, who fought courageously for the rights of many. Hosting the Ballot Bowl is one way we can do so.”
Dr. Cornacchia also left participants with some words of inspiration to get them started on their mission to register and pledge to vote. “I wish all of the schools the best of luck, and may the best school win,” said Dr. Cornacchia. “However, in my mind, when we can get everyone to participate in our democracy, we all come out as winners.”
The winner of the Ballot Bowl will be announced officially in late October. The complete kick-off celebration can be viewed on the Facebook page of the Guarini Institute for Government and Leadership at Saint Peter’s University.
By Kelly Swan, Director of Communications, Ignatian Solidarity Network
In August 2020, the Ignatian Solidarity Network (ISN) launched the Voting is an Act of Love campaign, to encourage the Jesuit and broader Catholic network to exercise the right and responsibility to vote for candidates and issues that support the common good and show concern for the most vulnerable people in our society.
The campaign launched on the 55th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965: landmark federal legislation prohibiting racial discrimination in voting. The name, “Voting is an Act of Love,” is inspired by these words of St. Ignatius of Loyola: “Love ought to show itself in deeds more than words.” The campaign encourages the “deed” of voting as an act of love—a way to live out the greatest commandments of loving and serving God and neighbor.
Voting is an Act of Love provides practical tools for voter mobilization, including a voter registration portal, voting pledge, and training and tools to mobilize school and parish community leaders. A host of resources are also offered for formation and discernment, including one-pagers on issues like immigration, environmental justice and criminal justice; stories on the real impact of the 2020 election from members of the Jesuit network; and prayer and reflection tools to understand civic responsibility through the lens of Ignatian spirituality.
Beth Ford McNamee, assistant director of campus ministry at Saint Joseph’s University, spoke about her campus’ engagement with voter mobilization and formation in the lead-up to this year’s election. “It is vital for students at a Jesuit, Catholic university to be engaged voters,” she shared. “Our student voter ambassadors are giving presentations, sharing registration links, and explaining how to request and return mail-in ballots. They are encouraging their peers to discern and vote for the common good, keeping in mind those who are experiencing marginalization and oppression.”
Gabriella Jeakle, a member of the Class of 2023 at Loyola Marymount University, has been deeply involved in civic engagement and voter mobilization efforts on her campus. “Jesuit education has always been about active involvement. It’s a faith that does justice, and in our political system, a lot of that justice comes through policy,” she said. “All I had to do was turn 18, and I was given the right to vote. For me, Catholicism is about seeking justice for historically marginalized people. Mobilizing my peers who have the privilege of voting eligibility is my way of serving those who do not have that ability because of systemic voter suppression.”
“We are called by our faith to bring Gospel values to our political system, by participating as voters and by encouraging others to do the same,” shared Christopher Kerr, executive director of the Ignatian Solidarity Network. “Pope Francis reminds us that, ‘good Catholics immerse themselves in politics by offering the best of themselves so that the leaders can govern.’ The Voting is an Act of Love campaign challenges all of us to bring the value of love for all God’s creation—our neighbor and our Earth—to the forefront of Election 2020.”
ISN has partnered with When We All Vote to provide voter registration resources on its website. When We All Vote is a non-profit, nonpartisan organization with a mission to increase participation in every election, and close the race and age voting gaps.
By Jenny Smulson, Vice President of Government Relations, AJCU
Please note: This essay is re-published here with permission from the National Seminar on Jesuit Higher Education (original source: ConversationsMagazine.org).
As tensions run high before the November election, you may find yourself having to navigate conversations with people whose politics you strongly oppose.
If so, welcome to my day job.
As an advocate for all U.S. Jesuit colleges and universities, I am charged with engaging members of Congress on both sides of the aisle about things that matter to the institutions I represent. This means I regularly find myself in conversations with people who don’t embrace or support the policies that I’m responsible for promoting. From increasing the federal investment in student financial aid, to protecting the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, to just laying out the distinctive value of Jesuit higher education for someone who may not understand, it is a formidable task.
But armed with facts and conviction, and with an Ignatian toolkit for meeting the challenges of disagreeing agreeably, I stand ever ready to engage with others as constructively as I can.
Among the tools in my kit is the very Jesuit notion of being a contemplative in action. I slow down, give the conversation my full focus, and approach my interlocutors as valued partners in an exchange of ideas. Taking the time to stop and reflect with them, and consider other perspectives, I find we’re both engaged in a deeper, more fruitful dialogue.
Because I work with public servants—people who, like me, seek to serve the common good—I’m also committed to applying the “Ignatian presupposition” in our exchanges. This means following St. Ignatius’ straightforward advice to be “more ready to put a good interpretation on another’s statement than to condemn it as false.” It requires that I listen thoughtfully—always seeking to exhibit a generosity of spirit, disagreeing with respect and humility when necessary.
Finally, I’ve also added to my Ignatian toolkit an ecumenical note borrowed from a piece by Rev. Jim Wallis in Sojourners Magazine: “It is in our common moral values that we can find underlying areas of agreement.” This means that, as I make my way from one meeting to the next, I work to identify points of agreement or shared perspectives at which I might start the next conversation.
Do these tools always work? Honestly, no. Still, the more I use them, the more I feel like I’m doing my small part to contribute constructively to American democracy.
Democracy is fertilized through prolonged, honest, respectful exchange. And a healthy democracy requires us, in the words of the late John Lewis, a moral compass of the U.S. House of Representatives, “to take a long hard look and just believe that if you’re consistent, you will succeed.” In the end, democracy is the everyday work of caring, engaging, agreeing and disagreeing, learning and holding firm to a commitment to a better world. And it only works if we all keep at it.
The run-up to this year’s election will put many of us to the test, but our Ignatian toolkit is handy. If we use it, those fraught conversations might just become opportunities to embody the best of democratic engagement, and show signs of hope for the future of our democracy.