The Conscience Clause: The Scriptural Position
There are two major problems with the DUP’s proposed conscience clause.
- It may harm those who are less well-off
- It doesn’t actually help situations where a Christian’s conscience may tell them to refuse work
The first problem was addressed in yesterday’s article. The second is addressed in this article.
The stimulus for this proposed legislation was the refusal of a “Christian” bakery to decorate a cake that it felt carried an un-Christian message. The consultation document itself refers to a hypothetical Catholic adoption agency and a hypothetical Evangelical photographer. Would this legislation have any effect in these cases?
While a Christian should operate within human laws, it is far more important that Christian behaviour is governed by the laws of God, as found in the Bible. It should come as no surprise that the New Testament already contains a “conscience clause”.
Paul the Apostle gave this advice to the Christians in Corinth.
“I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral … But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral… Do not even eat with such people.”
(1 Corinthians 5:9-11)
In Paul’s view, your conscience regarding ‘sexually immoral’ people did not stop you interacting with them as normal. It was only when a fellow Christian was sexually immoral that you were supposed to invoke Paul’s conscience clause:
“What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside?” (verse 12)
Consider an Evangelical photographer. He is free to believe that same-sex relationships are always immoral. Refusing to photograph a civil partnership ceremony for a non-Evangelical couple on grounds of ‘conscience’ is an act of judgement, and an act of judgement for someone outside the photographer’s church. Paul the Apostle says this is wrong.
No Christian would ever exercise the conscience clause this proposal seeks to give, as doing so would go against the clear teaching of Christian Scripture. This proposal is of no benefit to the hypothetical Catholic adoption agency, the hypothetical Evangelical photographer, or even the very real “Christian” bakery. It is quite simply un-Christian to discriminate in the way the conscience clause would allow.