freedom, conscience, America, and the PC(USA)

Love the Presbyterian Church!
I love the Presbyterian Church!

If you ask 1,000 random Americans if they think it would be a good thing to have their freedom of conscience bound by law, 1,000 would answer, “No way!”

  • Then they’d add, “That would be un-American.”
  • Then they’d add, “Isn’t that why we crossed the Big Pond in the Mayflower?”
  • Then they’d add, “I have a gun in my house if you want to try anything!”

Here in America, freedom to act out of personal conscience is a key element to what we understand as living in liberty. Legislation may be useful in terms of organizing society, but we tend to get leery of the law when we perceive that rules and regulations are getting overly intrusive, proscriptive, or taking away our right to make up our own minds.

CONSCIENCE: This is why I’m so troubled by some of the reaction (and overreaction) to the recent ruling by the Presbyterian Church General Assembly concerning a minister’s right of conscience vis–à–vis the choice to officiate – or NOT – at a same-sex wedding.

The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church made the decision to no longer bind the conscience of a pastor. In other words, a minister will not be prosecuted in a church court for following their conscience.

This is, I believe, a hugely important distinction. It is still appropriate – and highly advisable – that every pastor be in respectful conversation with their congregation when it comes to such matters; but it is no longer necessary for a pastor to be concerned that their Presbytery, their denomination, another church, or even some isolated member, might bring charges against them for following the dictates of their conscience.

Do the critics really want a Christian denomination where a pastor is not afforded the opportunity to follow their conscience?


TREND: This trend is not limited to the ecclesiastical sphere. It is evident that we live in a society where many people would be happy to see those with contrary viewpoints vilified, silenced, jettisoned, or legislated into agreement.

Consequently, rather than make constructive progress, we are too often forced to pick between equally disagreeable alternatives. The “loser” then runs away to form their own club/party/church/denomination, and we’re all weakened and further fragmented.

Here at Wake Forest it’s possible that we’ll lose some people who are reaching the wrong conclusions (regarding GA-221). And that breaks my heart. It breaks my heart because division is so unnecessary, because unity in Christ does not require uniformity in polity, and because the last thing anyone really wants (including those who leave) is a Christian denomination where every minister’s conscience is bound by someone else’s opinion.

I’ll conclude by quoting this post – Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus – from Sunday morning. You especially need to read this if you’re angry about the church:

There is no perfect church, and no collection of Christians who get it all right all the time. But there is Jesus. And the moment we take our eyes off of Jesus then we lose our way. Let’s not get distracted from the whole point of Christianity, and that is our restored relationship with God.

In love, and because of love – DEREK 




  1. What most people do not know is that Presbyterian ministers have always been able to bless same sex relationships if asked and if they concur in doing so. What is sometimes referred to as holy unions. They were not allowed to in anyway intimate that this was a “marriage ceremony.”. Now with so many states allowing and honoring same sex marriages, ministers in those states have a serious problem. I think this was the right thing to do. I hope people will come to see that it is.


  2. This is a tough one Derek and your statements can open doors you may not want to open: The way I am reading this you are saying that before this change, ministers WERE bound by “someone else’s opinion”? Isn’t that opinion “The Book of Order” and the church’s polity? It seems like when we join the Presbyterian Church (or any church), we are agreeing to abide (as in be bound) by “The Book of Order” and the church’s polity. I definitely DO want to belong to a church where ministers have to follow defined boundaries not just any “minister’s conscience”. Where do we draw the line?
    I had a conversation at home with a young lady with a true heart for God, and when she questioned other areas, such as the role of women in the church, I had to admit I do draw a line within my own conscious interpretation of scripture.


  3. Thanks for your thoughtful and clear writing on this topic. I admit I have been struggling personally with this decision from the church and reconciling it with my own conscience . This was just exactly what I needed to read today. Thank you


  4. The article contains this: “the last thing anyone really wants (including those who leave) is a Christian denomination where every minister’s conscience is bound by someone else’s opinion.”
    What if that opinion is that of Christ? If the Word of God speaks on a matter should we not also (as believers) set out to adopt that position (whether it be easy or hard, whether or not it costs us something)? If the church demands nothing more of it’s members than the culture/society demands then what exactly is the difference? We are free when we choose to take on and live within God’s “guardrails”.


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