Recently I came across an article published on whether Christians should vote their conscience. The piece, http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/you-cannot-vote-your-conscience suggested that Christians should not vote their conscience because it isn’t really a guide but a reporter of what God has put there. The writers’s main point was that we should vote how God would have us vote, and not our conscience.
I think I disagree. The Bible doesn’t give a specific definition of the conscience and in fact is rarely mentioned in the Bible. Most dictionary definitions are probably the most accurate reflection of the conscience with Merriam-Webster giving this as the definition of the conscience:
“the part of the mind that makes you aware of your actions as being either morally right or wrong”
I think most people would generally agree with this definition. The conscience is our mind’s way to help us match our behavior to what we have been taught and know to be right and true. The writer of the aforementioned piece is right that God does put some things into our inmost being, in a sense hard-wiring us to recognize certain things as being true. But we also have many other things we have been taught that activates our conscience that may or not be true. Years ago I counseled a young woman who struggled sitting in church when other ladies in the church wore red. She had been taught that wearing red was a sign of an immoral woman and it seemed wrong to her. Last I checked, there were no prohibitions in the new covenant about wearing any particular color.
Sometimes even things that are biblical can violate our conscience even if it no longer should so. In Peter is told to “kill and eat” animals that under the old covenant would have been considered unclean. His conscience informed him it was wrong even though Jesus had already made it clean under God’s new covenant.
Our conscience is activated by what we have learned, this means not only should a Christian vote by their conscience, they must, it’s the only way to faithfully execute the role God has provided for them. The rub is not whether we should use our conscience or not, but how to best use the conscience we have been given considering the dissonance created by the choices we have in which to vote. We must weigh the various choices we have and decide which best conforms to that which God has taught us. That is really all we can do. The problem comes when instead of deciding what is best from God’s perspective based on what we know is if we decide what is best from my perspective. We will never know exactly what God would want us to do partly because none of us truly has the mind of God. But if we decide not based on what we understand how God would have us vote, but on what we selfishly want then we have violated what God has taught us. As Paul writes regarding another issue dealing with the conscience, that is a problem. “Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.”
Since our conscience is activated by what we know, we must respond to it. However it is very probable that we know about God and how he would have us act is insufficient. The issue isn’t our conscience but what our conscience is given to use. May we endeavor to be given a greater knowledge of God so that we can vote in a way that better reflects Him.
10:1 At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of what was known as the Italian Cohort, 2 a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God. 3 About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God come in and say to him, “Cornelius.” 4 And he stared at him in terror and said, “What is it, Lord?” And he said to him, “Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God. 5 And now send men to Joppa and bring one Simon who is called Peter. 6 He is lodging with one Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the sea.” 7 When the angel who spoke to him had departed, he called two of his servants and a devout soldier from among those who attended him, 8 and having related everything to them, he sent them to Joppa.
9 The next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray. 10 And he became hungry and wanted something to eat, but while they were preparing it, he fell into a trance 11 and saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth. 12 In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. 13 And there came a voice to him: “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” 14 But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” 15 And the voice came to him again a second time, “What God has made clean, do not call common.” 16 This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven.
17 Now while Peter was inwardly perplexed as to what the vision that he had seen might mean, behold, the men who were sent by Cornelius, having made inquiry for Simon’s house, stood at the gate 18 and called out to ask whether Simon who was called Peter was lodging there. 19 And while Peter was pondering the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Behold, three men are looking for you. 20 Rise and go down and accompany them without hesitation, for I have sent them.” 21 And Peter went down to the men and said, “I am the one you are looking for. What is the reason for your coming?” 22 And they said, “Cornelius, a centurion, an upright and God-fearing man, who is well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation, was directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and to hear what you have to say.” 23 So he invited them in to be his guests.
The next day he rose and went away with them, and some of the brothers from Joppa accompanied him. 24 And on the following day they entered Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. 25 When Peter entered, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshiped him. 26 But Peter lifted him up, saying, “Stand up; I too am a man.” 27 And as he talked with him, he went in and found many persons gathered. 28 And he said to them, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean. 29 So when I was sent for, I came without objection. I ask then why you sent for me.”
30 And Cornelius said, “Four days ago, about this hour, I was praying in my house at the ninth hour, and behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing 31 and said, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your alms have been remembered before God. 32 Send therefore to Joppa and ask for Simon who is called Peter. He is lodging in the house of Simon, a tanner, by the sea.’ 33 So I sent for you at once, and you have been kind enough to come. Now therefore we are all here in the presence of God to hear all that you have been commanded by the Lord.”
34 So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, 35 but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. 36 As for the word that he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all), 37 you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. 39 And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, 40 but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, 41 not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. 43 To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
44 While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. 45 And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. 46 For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, 47 “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48 And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days. (ESV)