ReVision

Of Conscience and God

I see no reason not to take the President at his word.

I'm pleased to report that, despite doubts and denials from various quarters, President Obama is still a Christian.

That, at least, was his testimony before the National Prayer Breakfast yesterday. And I, for one, am inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt. I know that anyone can say he's a Christian, especially if there are political points to be scored by doing so. But I see no reason not to take the President at his word.

At the same time, I see plenty of reasons to hold the President to his word, as this column has sought to do for the past two years. Mr. Obama claims to be a Christian, and we in the Christian community have every right to expect him to act like one, especially in matters of public policy.

This is where ReVision has from time to time been critical of the President. He claims to read the Scriptures and pray daily, but his public policy decisions often indicate that he hasn't thought much about how the teaching of Scripture applies to the business of governing. We will continue to hold him accountable for what we regard as decisions and actions inconsistent with his Christian testimony.

And then there was that somewhat troubling remark about his conscience. The President acknowledged that some have doubted the genuineness of his faith. He insisted that he and Mrs. Obama are true believers, and that "ultimately what matters is not what other people say about us, but whether we're being true to our conscience" and to God.

Does the President mean to equate the dictates of his conscience with the will of God? The conscience - the valuing and priorities component of the soul - is not impervious to the law of sin. The conscience, insufficiently steeped in the teaching of Scripture, can actually become seared and encrusted with false values and priorities, so that it filters reason and affection to wrong practices.

Being true to one's conscience is a very postmodern and relativistic ideal; however, it's not very Biblical. Bringing one's conscience into line with God's Word, as interpreted by the historic creeds of the Church, and understood by Christians in every place and age - that's the place one wants to rest. Anyone can justify the priorities dictated by his conscience. But being settled in one's conscience is not to be equated with being right in the eyes of God.

The President's misunderstanding of the role of conscience in the life of faith is a symptom of his spiritual immaturity, at least in this area. But he reads his Bible and prays daily, so let us hope that, the more he does so, the more he will cease trusting his own conscience and begin to trust the plain teaching of God's Word instead.

And then perhaps we'll see what public policy, shaped by Biblical teaching rather than political conscience, might actually look like.

Additional related texts: 1 Timothy 1.5; Hebrews 9.14; Jeremiah 17.9

A conversation starter: "The President insists that he is always true to his conscience. Do you think that's necessarily a good thing?"

T. M. Moore

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT.
Books by T. M. Moore