Opposing the death penalty: “common ground” for conservative and liberal Catholics

The idea of “common ground” seems to have become a victim of the extremism all around us these days.  In the worlds of politics and religion, we hear regularly about the lack of civility, the dearth of bipartisanship, and the recalcitrant conflicts between those who have different perspectives on almost every issue.

Instead of focusing on what separates, the concept of common ground asks us to look for those areas in which we agree in order to make some progress and do some good. The fact that such common ground must be searched for in the first place means we already know, and likely know all too well, the areas in which we disagree.  It recognizes that progress on those issues of conflict may not be possible right now … but surely there is something we can do, some common ground we can find, in order to make this world a better place.

In the Catholic world where conservatives and liberals have conflicts no less strident than those on Capitol Hill, why can we not come together on the issue of our collective opposition to the death penalty as a place to start?

Recently, Pope Benedict XVI praised the advocacy efforts of some Americans from Chicago representing a group whose name needs no explanation: Illinois Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.

If American Catholics from cathedra to pew could find this common ground, at least two benefits could ensue. First, we might be able to help our fellow citizens see that our words about human dignity and the value of human life are words with meaning. We would put into practice what we preach when we say our faith calls us to respect the dignity and value of every person. Second, achieving a goal with someone typically seen as “the other” would surely open our eyes even more, helping us see the humanity in “the other” whom we can sometimes readily dismiss. Perhaps  we might understand more fully why they cling to what they cling, even when we cling to something different.  Common ground forces us to see one another not from a distance, but up close.

Perhaps that’s not such a bad thing to do, especially during this Advent Season when we celebrate our belief not in a distant and disinterested god, but in a God who took on the common ground of our own humanity and invites us daily to do the same.

Your thoughts? Would love to know.

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