In my travels throughout Colorado, I have experienced the goodness of the people of our state. We are a generous, welcoming and kind people. This coming Nov. 6, the country will be voting on our political leaders and key issues that will impact us for years to come. As we approach that moment, it is imperative that the good people of our state do not stay on the sidelines but make their beliefs known. A sad but instructive true story makes this need apparent. In 1964, a tragedy occurred in New York City when a woman named Kitty Genovese was brutally assaulted and murdered. The crime itself was shocking, but the New York Times revealed a deeper level of human failure when it reported two weeks later that 38 people heard or saw the 30-minute attack and only one person reported it to the police, after she was discovered dead.
After hearing about this case, social psychologists Bibb Latané and John Darley began investigating what causes people to fail to intervene in an emergency. The result of their research was the introduction of the concept called “the bystander effect,” a phenomenon in which no one intervenes because responsibility for the event is perceived to be spread across the number of people witnessing the event, accompanied by the impact of what’s known as social influence, where people determine how to react by observing the reactions of others.
Colorado is at a crossroads on several issues that make this election a serious matter that every person is responsible for acting upon with their vote. We cannot be bystanders. Instead, people of faith must be an active part of elections, strengthening the fabric of our society and enriching it.
The issues that will be dealt with by our next Congress and state legislature are numerous, but here are some of the most important.
First and foremost, the health of our nation depends on a deep respect for human life from the moment of conception until natural death, and the future of our society depends on how we protect that right. Every Catholic should keep this in mind as they decide how they will vote. Candidates, regardless of party, can differ greatly on the matter of the unborn, whose innocent lives are in danger.
Included in protecting life is determining which candidates respect the lives of those who come to our country as immigrants. In the parable of the final judgement, Christ himself says, “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me…” (Mt. 25:35). Consider whether the candidates running for office truly work to welcome the immigrant and seek to pass laws that correct the confusing and inefficient system for legal immigration we have in place. Immigrants, like all people, have a God-given dignity and should be treated as Christ. As Jesus explains in the parable, ‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me’ (Mt. 25:45). We urgently need new laws in this arena that balance the need for our country’s security with the Gospel imperative to welcome the stranger.
The protection of the freedom of conscience and religious liberty within our laws is another issue that must be considered by voters. As many of you know, Jack Phillips, a cake baker from Lakewood, is being investigated by the State Civil Rights Commission a second time, after he successfully won at the Supreme Court this past June. Jack had to endure losing 40 percent of his business, lay off more than half of his employees and receive death threats, all because he declined to use his artistic skills to celebrate an event that conflicted with his Christian faith.
People of faith should not be compelled to act against their beliefs, but our current Colorado Civil Rights Commission thinks otherwise. This makes the Colorado governor’s race especially important, since he will appoint four new members to this commission of seven people.
Finally, our state and federal legislatures will be considering bills that impact the poor and vulnerable whom we serve through many of our ministries. This includes apostolates like the Samaritan House homeless shelter, our Archdiocesan Housing program and our Catholic schools, to name a few.
This past week, Risen Christ Parish held a voter education event, and at that gathering a man from Africa told a moving story that offers some perspective on the privilege of being able to vote. After materials on how to vote and be involved in the election process were presented, this man stood up and shared how in his country he had seen people die when they were attacked in the process of casting their ballots. He and his countrymen considered it such an honor and privilege to vote because they knew people who had risked their lives to do so and because they understood the impact that their vote could have on their future.
The same is true here in the U.S., even though we don’t face the same dangers at the polls. I encourage you to pray about your vote, to form your conscience, to bring your faith and values with your vote, and to re-engage in the electoral process if you have become disconnected. We must not be bystanders but people of faith willing to take a stand, just as every person does who votes. May God guide and bless you with his voice as you help determine the future of our state and country!
Archbishop Aquila – The Most Rev. Samuel J. Aquila is the eighth bishop of Denver and its fifth archbishop. His episcopal motto is, “Do whatever he tells you” (Jn 2:5).