Q&A: Where faith and politics intersect, Kimberly Hahn

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Faith and politics often lead the list of topics people would rather avoid at social or family gatherings. And yet, it is precisely in the crossroads of these two realities that the Church asks Catholics to give active and faithful witness to Christ. For citizens, one of the opportunities to do so presents itself in the electoral process. But, what does this look like for a Catholic running for office?

Kimberly Hahn, renowned Catholic convert, author, wife, mother and now politician, shared with the Denver Catholic her approach and experience of meddling in politics as a Catholic — ahead of her presentation at the John Paul II Lecture Series in Denver on the intersection between faith and politics Feb. 13.

After retiring from 26 years of homeschooling her children, she was wondering what she would do next. Her husband, Scott, suggested, “Maybe it’s time for politics?” She launched her campaign and has served as Councilwoman-at-Large of Steubenville, Ohio, for nearly four years.

The interview has been edited for conciseness and clarity.

Denver Catholic: How do you approach politics as a Catholic in the political world? 

Kimberly Hahn:  Some people approach politics as saying, “Everything is political.” I would approach politics saying, “Everything is spiritual.” That because I belong to Christ, every element of my life needs to be brought into relationship with him, and because I love him and I want to serve him, I was open to serving the public, as a public servant in politics.

I don’t believe that politicians are saviors, and that’s a problem, when either people who are in politics or the public, believe that. Lots of fair criticism comes at politicians, but one unfair criticism is, “You haven’t solved all the problems.”

DC: What principles guide your approach to political solutions?

KH: First and foremost is the dignity of the human person. I brought this into campaigning by knocking on almost 8,000 doors and we only have about 8,500 in Steubenville. People said, “Don’t waste your time, most of them aren’t registered; and the ones that are would never vote for you.” And I said, “Whether or not they vote for me, I would still represent them, so of course I still care about their circumstances and their concerns.” Bringing the question of whether this is going to further how I communicate the dignity of each person as I approach legislation is important.

The second of the principles is subsidiarity. What families can and should do, they ought to do. The city should only do those things that the family cannot do; the state should only do those things that the city is incapable of doing; and the federal government should only do those things that the state, local government and family are incapable of doing. I think that if we really understood that principle of subsidiarity, we would strengthen families, municipalities, counties, the state and the federal government.

Then, the principle of solidarity — that we’re in this together. It’s not enough for me to simply focus on my marriage and my family. Maybe as a young mother the only thing that I could do politically was to pray, and that is very important. That may be all some people can do in their state of life. But as that state of life changes, there can be new ways in which you are involved in bringing the Lordship of Jesus Christ to bear in your society.

The fourth principle is the common good: What is good for the whole should be good for the parts. So, am I going to be a good steward of the people’s money? Do I take clearly the accountability that I need to give to the people of this city that when I take your money through the legal means of taxation, I’m accountable to you for how we are using that to solve the problems we can solve, that individual families cannot solve?

DC: What difference does faith make when you are involved in politics?

KH: I believe that God wants to give us assistance in solving very practical problems. So, if the gifts of the Holy Spirit include things like wisdom and understanding, counsel and fortitude, I can ask the Holy Spirit to give me those gifts applied to water and sewer. I think that politics is one of those intersections between faith and life, and we want to understand that God is concerned about all the details. We can honor him in the smallest ways.

DC: Some Catholics prefer to treat religion and politics as separate spheres that should never intersect. What would you say in that regard? 

KH: I would challenge whether they take the Lordship of Jesus Christ very seriously, because to be a Catholic is not simply to be baptized, it is to develop as a disciple, and that means that we bring everything under the Lordship of Jesus Christ: our heart, our mind, our soul, our strength, our resources… So, how I vote, how I’m involved in politics, what my views on issues are, needs to reflect the Lordship of Christ.

There are issues on which there is still a lot of conversation and there isn’t “the Catholic way” of approaching them, but the Church has been clear that life is to be protected from conception to natural death, and to support politicians who fundamentally reject life in the womb is not a tenable position for a Catholic.

DC: We have seen Catholics in office be pressured to leave their religious beliefs behind. What room is there for religion in U.S. politics?

KH: I think there is a lack of understanding historically of why we have the Bill of Rights. It was not to say religion has no place in the marketplace of ideas, it was to say that the U.S. government was not going to sanction one religion and force it on the people. The phrase “Separation of Church and State” is not even found in the Constitution. So, I think it’s a complete misapplication and a twisting of religious freedom.

I think we’ve misunderstood what the founders intended, and we need to really rethink this, especially in recognition that atheism itself is its own religion; and so really, aren’t they actually imposing their religion on us? But regardless of whether or not we pursue this legally, individually, we will stand before our Lord and account for how we voted, who we supported, how we spent our funds.

DC: Is there anything else you would like to add? 

KH: I would put it out there and say, “Is God putting it in your heart to run for office, to serve God and to serve the public?” Because I think it is public service, and it is sacrificial. People will not always understand you and will criticize freely, so you have to know clearly who you are and why you think the way you do, what are the principles guarding you; and you need to pray for the grace to not be prideful, so that if you make wrong decisions, you humble yourself and ask for forgiveness. If you bring all of that to bear, it’s a great witness, it really is.

We need more good people to step forward, people with a compass, people understanding the principles of leadership and service. If that’s what’s on their heart, I would say, “Throw your hat in the ring.”

The intersection between faith and politics

Refectory at St. John Vianney Seminary

February 13, 7 p.m.

RSVP: archden.org/lecture

COMING UP: Five Hispanic-American saints perhaps you didn’t know

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The American continent has had its share of saints in the last five centuries. People will find St. Juan Diego, St. Rose of Lima or St. Martin de Porres among the saints who enjoy greater popular devotion. Yet September, named Hispanic Heritage Month, invites a deeper reflection on the lives of lesser-known saints who have deeply impacted different Latin-American countries through their Catholic faith and work, and whose example has the power to impact people anywhere around the world. Here are just a few perhaps you didn’t know.

St. Toribio de Mogrovejo
1538-1606
Peru

Born in Valladolid, Spain, Toribio was a pious young man and an outstanding law student. As a professor, his great reputation reached the ears of King Philip II, who eventually nominated him for the vacant Archdiocese of Lima, Peru, even though Toribio was not even a priest. The Pope accepted the king’s request despite the future saint’s protests. So, before the formal announcement, he was ordained a priest, and a few months later, a bishop. He walked across his archdiocese evangelizing the natives and is said to have baptized nearly half a million people, including St. Rose of Lima and St. Martin de Porres. He learned the local dialects, produced a trilingual catechism, fought for the rights of the natives, and made evangelization a major theme of his episcopacy. Moreover, he worked devotedly for an archdiocesan reform after realizing that diocesan priests were involved in impurities and scandals. He predicted the date and hour of his death and is buried in the cathedral of Lima, Peru.

St. Mariana of Jesus Paredes
1618-1645
Ecuador

St. Mariana was born in Quito, modern-day Ecuador, and not only became the country’s first saint, but was also declared a national heroine by the Republic of Ecuador. As a little girl, Mariana showed a profound love for God and practiced long hours of prayer and mortification. She tried joining a religious order on two occasions, but various circumstances would not permit it. This led Mariana to realize that God was calling her to holiness in the world. She built a room next to her sister’s house and devoted herself to prayer and penance, living miraculously only off the Eucharist. She was known to possess the gifts of counsel and prophecy. In 1645, earthquakes and epidemics broke out in Quito, and she offered her life and sufferings for their end. They stopped after she made her offering. On the day of her death, a lily is said to have bloomed from the blood that was drawn out and poured in a flowerpot, earning her the title of “The Lily of Quito.”

St. Theresa of Los Andes
1900-1920
Chile

St. Theresa of Jesus of Los Andes was Chile’s first saint and the first Discalced Carmelite to be canonized outside of Europe. Born as Juana, the future saint was known to struggle with her temperament as a child. She was proud, selfish and stubborn. She became deeply attracted to God at the age six, and her extraordinary intelligence allowed her to understand the seriousness of receiving First Communion. Juana changed her life and became a completely different person by the age of 10, practicing mortification and deep prayer. At age 14, she decided to become a Discalced Carmelite and received the name of Theresa of Jesus. Deeply in love with Christ, the young and humble religious told her confessor that Jesus told her she would die soon, something she accepted with joy and faith. Shortly thereafter, Theresa contracted typhus and died at the age of 19. Although she was 6 months short of finishing her novitiate, she was able to profess vows “in danger of death.” Around 100,000 pilgrims visit her shrine in Los Andes annually.

St. Laura Montoya
1874-1949
Colombia

After Laura’s father died in war when she was only a child, she was forced to live with different family members in a state of poverty. This reality kept her from receiving formal education during her childhood. What no one expected is that one day she would become Colombia’s first saint. Her aunt enrolled her in a school at the age of 16, so she would become a teacher and make a living for herself. She learned quickly and became a great writer, educator and leader. She was a pious woman and wished to devote herself to the evangelization of the natives. As she prepared to write Pope Pius X for help, she received the pope’s new Encyclical Lacrymabili Statu, on the deplorable condition of Indians in America. Laura saw it as a confirmation from God and founded the Missionaries of the Immaculate Heart and St. Catherine of Siena, working for the evangelization of natives and fighting or their behalf to be seen as children of God.

St. Manuel Morales
1898-1926
Mexico

Manuel was a layman and one of many martyrs from Mexico’s Cristero War in the 1920s. He joined the seminary as a teen but had to abandon this dream in order to support his family financially. He became a baker, married and had three children. This change, however, did not prevent him from bearing witness to the faith publicly. He became the president of the National League for the Defense of Religious Liberty, which was being threatened by the administration of President Plutarco Elías Calles. Morales and two other leaders from the organization were taken prisoners as they discussed how to free a friend priest from imprisonment through legal means. They were beaten, tortured and then killed for not renouncing to their faith. Before the firing squad, the priest begged the soldiers to forgive Morales because he had a family. Morales responded, “I am dying for God, and God will take care of my children.” His last words were, “Long live Christ the King and Our Lady of Guadalupe!”