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Fr. Jenkins discusses faith, politics and civil discourse

| Wednesday, February 3, 2016

University President Fr. John Jenkins discussed faith, politics and civil discourse at “Pizza, Pop and Politics,” a platform for political engagement sponsored by NDVotes ’16, Tuesday afternoon in Geddes Hall.

Jenkins’ leadership in the topic of civil discourse led him to be elected to the Commission on Presidential Debate’s board of directors, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that sponsors presidential and vice presidential debates.

“They [the commission members] are really fine people,” Jenkins said. “What they care about is the country – I have my opinions, I have my beliefs, I have my perspective, but simply advancing my own interest doesn’t necessarily help the health of the country. This is a group that, clearly, their first priority is the health of the body of politics. That’s what the discussion is like.”

The national discussion is not always on that level, Jenkins said, as there is a “tendency to vilify the opponent” in discussion and especially in debate.

“We are pretty polarized,” he said. “There was some recent research that shows people who are liberal tend to assign malicious motives to conservatives and conservatives tend to assign malicious motives to liberals … that tendency, not simply that we disagree with people, but that we tend to vilify the opposition, I think, is a dangerous tendency. It undermines the real discussion.”

Jenkins advised students to avoid this “media trap” of vilifying opposing views by keeping their opinions of a person and their politics separate.  

“You have a political perspective and you should advance that,” he said. “But you should be careful about what you think of the opposite view. If you think they’re wrong, that’s one thing. But if you find yourself thinking that they’re evil people, do an examination of conscience. It’s a very Catholic idea — it’s fine to disagree but are you disparaging them as human beings? There just isn’t room for that.”

Regarding the role faith plays in politics, Jenkins said values shaped by faith must still make sense in the context of the country’s health.

“My views are certainly influenced by my faith and I don’t think that disqualifies them,” he said. “But obviously, I can’t assume them. I have to appeal them — I have to appeal to the person who doesn’t have faith, not just the person who does. I have to make them on a basis that doesn’t assume my faith. You have to make a case for those values that makes sense in the public domain.”

Sophomore Sarah Tomas Morgan, a co-chair of NDVotes ’16, said the organization is a nonpartisan campaign sponsored by the Center for Social Concerns and the Rooney Center for the Study of American Democracy to promote “voter education, registration and mobilization.”

“Our aim is to foster conscientious engagement in political and civic life amongst students,” she said. “NDVotes is grounded in the U.S. bishops’ call to political responsibility.”

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About Megan Valley

Megan Valley is one of the Associate News Editors for The Observer. A junior majoring in English and the Program of Liberal Studies, she hails from Flushing, MI and lives in Flaherty Hall.

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