The binding of a fellow Christian’s conscience is strange business. For the purposes of this discussion I’ll define the binding of conscience this way: to tell a fellow believer that their conviction or practice in an area of adiaphora (something that is neither prohibited or mandated by Scripture) is wrong and that they must change their conviction and practice in order to be right.
It seems like a no brianer, right? Well it is a no brainer, for one simple reason. Scripture says not to.
Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother…The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves. But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin. – Rom 14:13, 22-23.
The context there is an issue specific to the Roman church, the eating of meat sacrificed to idols (or more practically eating meat bought in the marketplace that may have been sacrificed to idols), but the principle is plain and transferable in application; don’t try to be the conscience of other believers in gray areas (hear me clearly, I’m not saying not to call fellow believer to repentance for sin), don’t use your conscience as the barometer of what is right for others, and to act in way not congruent with your own conscience is sin.
Over the past several years, and seemingly (to me) increasingly in the past few months there is one issue specific to the church in the United States over which many seem more than willing to attempt to bind other’s consciences, voting behavior. The epicenter of the issue is voting for the current president, Donald J. Trump, but to me this issue really has nothing to do with the man, it is so much bigger than Him; It is an issue of believers trying to usurp the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of other believers.
Make no mistake, telling someone that their biblically informed conviction about voting is wrong and they should just change how they act without changing their conviction is telling them to sin. It’s no different than telling them to steal something they want but can’t afford. Yes, I think it is that serious.
I can see how someone with a biblically informed conscience could come to the conviction that they must vote for the president to be reelected. And I can see how someone with a biblically informed conscience could come to the conviction that they must not vote for the president to be reelected. And I can see how someone with a biblically informed conscience could come to the conviction that they must not vote at all.
Different, regenerate people, with the same data can come to different conclusions, regarding the right thing to do or not do in the voting booth.
Let me give you an example, in 2008 I felt that one candidate for president was sufficiently tarred by the savings and loan scandal that I was firmly convinced that he didn’t have the character to occupy the White House, the other was the staunchest abortion advocate to ever receive a major party nomination. So my conviction was that I couldn’t cast an affirmative vote for either (and yes, being a resident of California with its assured electoral result solidified my thinking). My wife thought differently. We talked about it, neither of us changed our conviction, and we both subsequently voted our conscience, our biblically informed and prayerfully considered and fully convicted conscience.
I would never tell my wife to violate her conscience and thus sin and she wouldn’t tell me to violate my conscience and thus sin either. In an atmosphere of love we could talk about, discuss, and even debate it, but at the end of the day neither of us would demand that the other sin and certainly wouldn’t angrily demand that the other one must change their conviction.
Yet that has become common; I put several (on both sides of the issue) prominent theological voices on my official pay no mind list because of an obsession with and non-stop effort to bind consciences on this issue.
And it has become downright nasty on social media. One person who I formerly followed closely tweeted (retweeted to be precise) “Ah, the good old days, when the Trumpers told us to go ahead and elect the stupidest human being ever to sit in the Oval Office. Not like this stuff will ever matter.” While another tweeted “Yeah, I’m sure this would have happened anyway if all the never-Trump evangelicals who gathered their skirts in a bunch over Trump’s crudeness had had their way. Right?” Both sentiments have no place in the body of Christ. God hates that kind of thing. Scripture says so unambiguously.
There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers. – Proverbs 16:16-19
Sin is always a very slippery slope and many have slid from seeking to bind the conscience of others, to actively sowing discord among the brothers (and sisters). If this is you or if you are standing somewhere on the slope I’ll offer one word of advice. Repent!