September 30 – Why I am Not Voting My Conscience

A few days ago I posted a social media meme promoting this coming Sunday evening’s “How Then, Shall We Vote?” gathering. I received some good feedback both online and off. One respondent asked, “Is that really a question?” In her mind it is not. She is pretty confident that her candidate is the only reasonable choice. Another, I think it was a way of saying, “I don’t walk to talk about it,” assured me that he would be voting his conscience.

I am not voting my conscience, and I’d like to talk about it.

Jiminy Cricket once told Pinocchio to let his conscience be his guide. It was bad advice for Pinocchio and for us.

The English dictionary defines conscience as “an inner feeling or voice viewed as acting as a guide to the rightness or wrongness of one’s behavior.” The literal meaning of our word comes from Latin and it means “with knowledge.”

My problem is that my conscience is not a good guide. It has me lost in the thickets and down dead-end alleys in no time at all.

Like Scrooge when he talks to Marley’s ghost, I wonder if my inner feeling, that voice speaking, “may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of underdone potato.” To my inner feeling I might as well say as Scrooge said to Marley, “There’s more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!”

At best, my inner feelings are indigestion. More likely they come, as James writes, from those passions at war within me. “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you?” he asks, “Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel.” (James 4:1-2)

The hallways of history are littered with disasters and devastation brought about by those listening to their consciences and acting in what they were convinced was good conscience. The worst thing I could do on November 8 is vote my conscience with any confidence that I had gotten things right.

So, what? Do I not vote for fear of getting it wrong? Do I vote a party line or as my union boss or over-bearing friend or over-confident pastor tells me to vote?

How then, shall we vote? Yes, it is a real question. And, no, I am not going to vote my conscience. Or at least not my conscience alone

In 1521, Martin Luther stood before Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor. A stack of Luther’s books and other writings were placed on a table and Luther commanded to recant of what he had written, to admit to being a heretic. Luther replied, “I cannot recant, for I am subject to the Scriptures I have quoted; my conscience is captive to the Word of God. It is unsafe and dangerous to do anything against ones conscience. Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise. So help me God. Amen.”

Historians debate the historicity of the famous “Here I stand” line. The first reports of the encounter do not include it, though that is not proof he did not say it. But all the written accounts and official records agree that Luther first asserted that his conscience was captive to the Word of God. And only then did he say it is unsafe and dangerous to do anything against ones conscience.

My conscience is notoriously ill-equipped to guide me to what is right and wrong. It fails me all the time. But held captive to the Word of God, chained to the Scriptures, the Spirit himself bearing witness to our spirit (Romans 8:16), we find good places to stand and we cannot do otherwise.

On Sunday evening we will look at the Scriptures and the confessions and pray that the Holy Spirit will guide us as we talk together in a safe place – no arguments, no name-calling, and no conclusions how we enthusiasts, contrarians, and confused must vote.

I am going to vote on November 8, and I have pretty good idea of how I am going to vote. But, really, I don’t want to vote my mis-guided conscience alone.

See you Sunday. Morning and evening.