Several of you have asked what to do in preparation for voting, assuming I might be able to help. I have spent most of my professional life as a professor of journalism, specializing in media ethics. I am also a freelance journalist. I will draw on this experience, as well as my training in theology and spirituality, both of which blend with the professional. In these limited words, I run the risk of oversimplifying what is a complex issue but let’s give it a shake, shall we?
First, I take from my religious training that being an informed citizen is a mandate for wholesome spirituality. When Jesus said, “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s,” He was saying more than pay your taxes and pray. In fact, since taxation of the poor was overwhelmingly unjust in his day, Jesus spent much of his life calling out the hypocrites of faith and government leaders. So, what does it mean to be informed especially as a person of faith?
It means you read many newspapers and news outlets. Print journalism is very careful not to be exclusive in its publications even though your perspective might suggest that this is not the case. Yes, many papers lean either liberal or conservative but print journalism has certain federal regulations to follow as the Fourth Estate, and for the most part it does so. If you read several sources, you get to know intelligent and deliberate writing that will expand your thinking on an issue. Read books as well. Not gossipy palaver, but thoroughly researched books or books that present the experience of a respected writer or leader. An informed consumer means that while you may watch cable television news, you should know whether or not you are watching cable that is owned by a wealthy individual who funnels his or her ideology through the programming you are watching. Or, are you watching a news outlet free of personal control? Both television and radio should also adhere to the Federal Communications Commission regulations because the air they use to broadcast is owned by the consumer only, not the news corporation.
I believe the ugliness of attitude toward the press has multiplied with two recent realities: the popularity and proliferation of far right talk radio, and social media. I suggest public radio as a reputable source of information because it is heavily dependent on funding from the listening public and not advertising. Any media that is to the extreme, and this would include certain websites, is not worth your time. However, you cannot fall victim to what I hear a lot these days, “I don’t listen to the news because it’s so bad!” Well then, how do you know what to pray for? How can you empathize with what is reported? This is like stuffing ear plugs into your ears so you won’t hear the captain or the sirens yell for safety if your ship is sinking.
On one of my visits to El Salvador during that country’s civil war, I visited the major newspaper for San Salvador, the capital city. The headquarters had been bombed several times in an effort to destroy the printers and mechanics of daily production. In a darkened corner of the print shop some journalists were praying in front of a statue of Mary, the Mother God, asking for protection as they went out to seek and spread truth. Simultaneously, in the streets, flyers dropped by helicopters, floated in a blizzard toward the earth. They read, “Be a citizen. Kill a priest. Kill a journalist.” In other words, choose propaganda over truth, evil over goodness. Historically, in every single country that has fallen to a dictatorship, the press was the first voice to be annihilated.
Examine your consumption of news. Your decision as you vote is dependent on how much you know, not how much you want. It is also dependent on the good of the wider community, the national conscience, the hubris of a nation that has a purpose beyond its own borders in global outreach.
Spend some time meditating on Jesus’s quote about rendering to Caesar, found in each of the synoptic gospels. Matthew gives a short and tidy narrative in Mt 22:21.
Ask yourself: Do I take my responsibility to vote wisely by becoming informed and even letting go of what might cloud my vision for the good of the whole?
Do I see the influence of my faith for the good of the whole and not self-interest or the exclusive, one issue interest?Am I praying enough for guidance and openness?