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Saturday, February 13, 2021

The nature of conscience protection laws

As a legal matter, I agree with conscience clauses and would vote for them at any given opportunity. No one should be forced to violate their conscience or their deeply helped theological beliefs.

As a cultural matter, conscience clauses in law are indicative of a shifting cultural landscape, and those who advocate for those legal rights may have inaccurate expectations.

A culture may shift in its moral views from consensus to coexistence. As those holding the view of the previously-held consensus become a smaller proportion of those deciding on the distribution of power, because political shifts happen faster and more frequently than cultural shifts, conscience clauses can be enacted to protect minority rights, even as the culture is shifting away from them.

This should not, however, be mistaken as a compromise settling a matter between mutually exclusive ideologies. Further, if a minority was able to gain power and diminish a cultural consensus, they have no reason to believe they could not further displace the previous consensus.

We're seeing this play out in Virginia this year. The General Assembly is in the process of considering and passing legislation to strip conscience rights related to genetic counseling (SB 1178) and adoption (HB 1932).

Again, I agree we should protect conscience rights, and I'm grateful for accomplishments made along these lines in 2012. I also think we should not be surprised at their undoing, given our current cultural climate.

The question we should ask ourselves is, Why has the culture shifted in the first place?

The answer, I believe, is because we have decided we no longer believe that the Word of God has anything to say about these issues, specifically as it relates to public policy.

The Bible clearly teaches that life is sacred and God made marriage between a man and a women. Pastors teach this. They don't teach that this should be reflected in our laws. They are also not speaking up when these truths are being eroded in our laws.

Some pastors specifically cite the futility how laws can change, like we're seeing last year and this year in Virginia, as a reason not to waste their time on something temporary and not eternal. Some further claim that the persecution that could come from the erosion of good things in our laws could actually be a good thing because in the Bible the Church grew when there was persecution. This is a faulty argument that ignores persecution's other effects and damaging history.

Why is there persecution? Yes, Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33), but where in the Scriptures do we see random persecution simply for being a Christian? The persecution of John the Baptizer came because he spoke God's truth to earthly power. Persecution came when people were proclaiming and living the Word of God, including on public matters. That may have brought on persecution, but they were proclaiming the whole counsel of God before, during, and, if they lived and could, after they moved away from the persecution, and that is what the Spirit used to bring the Church growth.

An unwillingness to fully proclaim the Word of God into all aspects of life, including public aspects, is allowing the public policy erosions we're seeing. Are we to invite persecution for the sake of persecution? Are we to avoid speaking on issues to avoid persecution? It makes no sense to avoid persecution while claiming persecution would be beneficial. Is this a way to love the lost who need the Gospel? It is more important to call your pastor whose mission it is to teach what the whole counsel of God says about issues in the culture than it is to call your public representatives who vote on them.

The whole counsel of God teaches that temporary things, including laws, can also be used for eternal purposes. Much of Scripture itself was written to or by public officials. It was the willingness of pastors to fully proclaim the Word of God that gave rise to the cultural environment in which God-honoring moral laws were naturally enacted in the first place.

Silence is no friend of justice.

Injustice is no virtue, even if self-inflicted.

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