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 Acts 10 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.