To Paraphrase Freud, Sometimes a Vote is Only a Vote

Are evangelicals this concerned about family farms when they buy their food or about the U.S. military when the pay their taxes?

So why so much attention to conscience when it comes to voting for the next POTUS?

For some reason, this vote says more about evangelicalism than the gospel that pastors preach (maybe that’s an indication that you’ve lost perspective?):

Evangelicals, deeply divided over Donald Trump, are wrestling with what the tumultuous 2016 election will mean for their future.

His candidacy has put a harsh spotlight on the fractures among Christian conservatives, most prominently the rift between old guard religious right leaders who backed the GOP nominee as an ally on abortion, and a comparatively younger generation who considered his personal conduct and rhetoric morally abhorrent.

“This has been a kind of smack in the face, forcing us to ask ourselves, ‘What have we become?'” said Carolyn Custis James, an evangelical activist and author who writes about gender roles in the church.

Then we have the argument that Christianity is a helicopter faith (it hovers over everything):

To undertake this particular activity—voting—the Christian must be convinced that the ballot is cast as an obedient response to the command of God in discipleship. The Christian seeks to discern the word God has for them and to act upon it faithfully. One participates willingly in democratic elections as a disciple or not at all. This might mean that the Christian abstains from voting or votes for an alternate candidate who they believe (again, in good conscience) will best carry out the office. Yes, God works through material affairs themselves to inform the Christian of whom a candidate is and what is at stake in voting for them, but his revelatory providence is by no means restricted to the empirical and obvious.

Whatever happened to the idea of Christian liberty?

God alone is Lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men, which are, in anything, contrary to his Word; or beside it, if matters of faith, or worship. So that, to believe such doctrines, or to obey such commands, out of conscience, is to betray true liberty of conscience: and the requiring of an implicit faith, and an absolute and blind obedience, is to destroy liberty of conscience, and reason also. (Confession of Faith, 20.2)

So unless we have a proper warrant from Scripture for not voting for either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, like not supporting a self-centered windbag (think Nero) or not voting for a sinner (think Nebuchadnezzar), what’s the big deal here? Aren’t Christians free? Can’t we disagree about politics, just the way we disagree about novels, cars, food, and banking?

But if you are a w-w Christian and every single millimeter of life is shot through with spiritual significance . . .

Well, then why not more hair pulling about the World Series and trying to discern God’s commandment for which team to root?

And Here I Thought W-w Was Hard

Turns out, obedience is harder:

In the first place, it seems that Gahl does not consider adequately the role of conscience. Is it sufficient that the confessor enunciates a principle such that it can be assumed that the conscience has been sufficiently enlightened? Perhaps not. Cardinal Newman made an illuminating distinction between a merely notional assent and a real assent of the conscience. It is possible that the penitent does not understand or does not accept the confessor’s admonition and refuses to promise that, in the same situation, he will not act once again in the same manner. The conscience will be enlightened only in the moment in which it has given real assent. What should be done if the penitent does not give real assent to the confessor’s admonition?

Pity the potato farmer who needed to find Denzinger‘s entry on notional assent.

The Protestant Dilemma Writ Catholic

Devin Rose thinks he found all the dilemmas that haunt Protestants (and that led him to Rome). But has he along with Jason and the Callers really escaped the thicket of difficulties.

On the one hand, having a written basis for determining church teaching really comes in handy (as opposed to the slippery way that oral tradition or papal whim might operate. According to Gerhard Cardinal Mueller:

Not even an ecumenical council can change the doctrine of the Church, because her Founder, Jesus Christ, entrusted the faithful preservation of his teachings and doctrine to the apostles and their successors. The Gospel of Matthew says: “Go and teach all people everything that I commanded you” (cf. Mt 28:19–20), which is nothing if not a definition of the “deposit of the faith” (depositum fidei) that the Church has received and cannot change. Therefore the doctrine of the Church will never be the sum total of a few theories worked out by a handful of theologians, however ingenious they may be, but rather the profession of our faith in revelation, nothing more and nothing less than the Word of God entrusted to the heart—the interiority—and the lips—the proclamation—of his Church.

We have an elaborate, structured doctrine about marriage, all of it based on the words of Jesus himself, which must be presented in its entirety. We encounter it in the Gospels and in other places in the New Testament, especially in the words of Saint Paul in the First Letter to the Corinthians and in Romans.

On the other hand, the dilemma for all Christians is whether they will submit to religious authority. This includes Roman Catholics and Protestants:

The hallmark Protestant idea of priesthood of all believers allows the individual — whose relationship with God is unmediated — to determine his or her fitness to receive the sacrament. The Catholic Church, meanwhile, retains a few layers of priestly and catechetical scrutiny.

Last week at the synod, Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois of Paris worried that couples “do not believe that the use of contraceptive methods is a sin and therefore they tend not to speak of them in confession and so they receive Communion untroubled.” Perhaps because married women might think it inappropriate to be questioned about contraception by a cadre of celibate men.

Either way, confessors tend not to press the issue, and no one pulls married couples out of the Communion line. Few believe a solid majority of Catholic women or their husbands will burn in hell for using artificial contraceptives.

In the case of cohabitating couples, there is little the Church can do. Marriage preparation classes acknowledge its sinfulness, but priests and bishops cannot afford to turn away half of what is already a declining number of couples seeking marriage in the Church. The US Conference of Catholic Bishops advises that priests can point couples toward a holier union by “supporting the couple’s plans for the future rather than chastising them for the past.”

Yet even for Catholics whose relationships put them in a perpetual state of mortal sin, individual conscience and church authority are often in fierce tension. In practice, LGBT Catholics often rely on their own consciences in determining whether they will go forward for Communion. In some locales, it is common enough for partnered gays and lesbians to receive Communion that it only makes news when they are turned away.

Meanwhile, Bryan Cross and company have yet to recognize a dilemma that cost a night’s sleep.

An Extra Helping of Conscience

That’s the advice to Cafeteria Roman Catholics from the Boston Globe‘s new website:

Q | Dear OMG,

What of those who cannot accept in good conscience various teachings of the magisterium [official Church policy]? Are we still to consider ourselves Catholic, or should we go elsewhere?

A | Dear Albert,

Ah, the age-old identity questions.

Are we black with one African-American parent? Jewish if we’ve never set foot in a synagogue? Catholic if we oppose the Church on questions of personal morality, such as homosexuality, divorce, abortion, contraception, and pre-marital sex? What degree of observance, adherence, and agreement is required of Catholics to consider themselves Catholic?

This is a difficult question, especially in the US, where a certain tension between teachings and observance has always existed among the faithful, and “conscience” has been the tool people use to justify individual departures from orthodoxy. There are women who, in good conscience, have taken priestly ordination vows and consider themselves Catholic; and (many more) people who’ve had abortions or supported the right to abortion who do as well. These self-defined Catholics defy official teaching and risk excommunication; yet on some level, the choice to be Catholic remains a deeply personal (and private) one.

Perhaps a more provocative question is this: To what extent must the hierarchy heed the consciences of the faithful?

For decades, the bishops have appeared to be a my-way-or-the-highway kind of crew, and Pope Benedict gained a reputation for disdaining the cafeteria approach of American Catholics, wanting instead to build a smaller, purer church.

But Pope Francis has taken a different, and historically significant, tack, says the Rev. Drew Christiansen at Georgetown. For him, the beliefs of faithful Catholics ought to define the faith – at least as much as the hierarchy does.

“The faithful, considered as a whole, are infallible in matters of belief,” Francis told America magazine last year. “This church … is the home of all, not a small chapel that can hold only a small group of selected people.”

My unordained advice, therefore, is this: Hold onto your Catholicism – as well as your conscience – and perhaps your leaders will follow you there.

That’s audacious alright.

Forensic Friday: Calvin on Conscience

We must take our definition from the etymology of the word. When men grasp the conception of things with the mind and the understanding they are said “to know,” from which the word “knowledge” is derived. In like manner, when men have an awareness of divine judgment adjoined to them as a witness which does not let them hide their sins but arraigns them as guilty before the judgment seat – this awareness is called “conscience.” It is a certain mean between God and man, for it does not allow man to suppress within himself what he knows, but pursues him to the point of making him acknowledge his guilt. This is what Paul means when he teaches that conscience testifies to men, while their thoughts accuse or excuse them in God’s judgment (Rom. 2:15-16). A simple awareness could repose in man, bottled up, as it were. Therefore, this feeling, which draws men to God’s judgment, is like a keeper assigned to man, that watches and observes all his secrets so that nothing may remain buried in darkness. Hence that ancient proverb: conscience is a thousand witnesses. By like reasoning, Peter also put “the response of a good conscience to God” (1 Peter 3:21) as equivalent to peace of mind, when, convinced of Christ’s grace, we fearlessly present ourselves before God. And when the author of of The Letter to the Hebrews states that we “no longer have any consciousness of sin” (Heb. 10:2), he means that we are freed or absolved so that sin can no longer accuse us.

Therefore, just as works concern men, so the conscience relates to God in such a way that a good conscience is nothing but an inward uprightness of heart. In this sense, Paul writes that “the fulfillment of the law is love, out of a pure . . . conscience and faith unfeigned” (1 Tim. 1:5 p.). Afterward, in the same chapter, he shows how much it differs from understanding, saying that certain ones “made shipwreck of faith” because they had “forsaken a good conscience (1 Tim. 1:19). For by these words he indicates that is a lively longing to worship God and a sincere intent to live a godly and holy life. (Institutes, IV. x. 3-4.)

A couple of points are worth noting. One is the importance (there goes that squishy word) of justification to a clean conscience. Since justification is precisely a verdict of not guilty, that benefit alone can give the wounded and grieved conscience what it so desperately needs. I am not saying the doctrine does this logocentrically – as if propositions have consequences – or that this happens apart from the work of the Spirit. I am saying that a guilty conscience is important for all people because of the reality and pressing demands of the law. To have that burden lifted because of the perfect righteousness of Christ imputed to us by faith alone is an amazingly liberating moment and life.

The second point is how much Calvin sees love and holy living springing from this forensic reality of a clear conscience. Conscience goes far down in all of us thanks to being created in the image of God. So to change that legal torments that goes to the core of our being as sinners may also involve something truly renovative. At least, it is responsible to say that the significance of conscience in the life of every person means that justification can in no way be merely a book keeping matter, as if our account is credited with Christ’s righteousness way over there but then we need to have a moral transformation way deep down over here inside us for salvation to play out. Justification solves the guilty conscience problem. It’s a remedy for what is basic and deep down in each human being.