Matters of Conscience

“The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state.”  The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Be a good citizen.  All governments are under God.” Romans 13:1 The Message

As referenced recently in the Boston Globe, “…23 prominent Christian leaders – issued a manifesto,” at a website unapologetically called, ReclaimingJesus.org.”

Citing the undermining of the soul of our nation, these faith leaders affirmed, “When politics undermines our theology, we must examine those politics. The church’s role is to change the world through the life and love of Jesus Christ. The government’s role is to serve the common good by protecting justice and peace, rewarding good behavior while restraining bad behavior (Romans 13). When that role is undermined by political leadership, faith leaders must stand up and speak out.”

On numerous occasions, I’ve heard it said in church circles that politics does not have a place in the church.    Fearing the division that can accompany this subject, understandably congregants wish to avoid a potential conflagration by steering clear of topics deemed controversial and thereby, a threat to the unity of fellowship.   Yet as the above affirmation indicates, it would do us well to pay heed to the unique role the church is asked to assume relative to government.

Written back in approximately 57-58 AD, the Apostle Paul’s Letter to the Romans (the early Christian church in Rome), is often cited when people of faith ponder the matter of allegiance.   Paul wrote, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there are no authorities that exist except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God.   Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed…” (Romans 13:1-2, NRSV).

So what does this say to those of us who are activists?

It is important to note that while Paul wrote this letter as a Roman citizen, his work as the architect of the early Christian Church put him in conflict with the ruling authorities.   Such that even while he counsels, “Let every person be subject to the ruling authorities,” he promptly declares that the ultimate allegiance of the Christian belongs NOT to Caesar but God!   It was a brilliantly worded but resounding contradiction that lay the groundwork for the Christian’s identity and where their allegiance ultimately must rest.

Which brings us to the matter of conscience.   Wrote Thomas Merton, Trappist Monk, and famed author, “Conscience is the light by which we interpret the will of God in our own lives.”   It is that interior aptitude, intuition or inner compass that guides us in our decision making.   At its best, conscience arises out of the “better angels” of our nature, imbuing our lives with divine purpose while actively seeking the common good for all of God’s people.

Wrote the 23 faith leaders who issued a manifesto, “The church’s role is to change the world through the life and love of Jesus Christ.”   Indeed, if “conscience is the light by which we interpret the will of God in our lives,” then despite the enormous hurdles facing us – let trust that in Christ God’s illumination is at hand.

Author: Jessica McArdle

These are dark and corrosive times. As a writer and ordained minister with the United Church of Christ, I use prayer, poetry, reflection, and scripture to re-align our embattled spirits with the uniqueness and urgency of our God-given identity and call.

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