Bound Consciences

While visiting Jerusalem in November 2017, I attended an interfaith book launch for a book written by a Palestinian Arab Christian. At the reception, I spoke with an Evangelical Lutheran pastor about her church in Jerusalem and asked how Jews, Christians and Muslims treated the LGBTQUI community in the Holy Lands. She told me that many of the people in her congregation had “bound consciences.” She then explained that those two words meant the church members were working out how to accept the gay community in both their personal and their church lives. Huh?

When I returned to the States, those words haunted me. I looked up the term bound conscience and found out that it probably originated with Martin Luther and the Reformation. According to Martin Luther, the human conscience could be bound and led astray by earthly or diabolical influences, or it could be simultaneously bound and freed by God and Scripture.

I sort of understand, but that was five hundred years ago. Now the term has been reinterpreted to allow church members to either follow Jesus’s commandment to love one’s neighbors or hang on to their prejudices forever as they see fit. Here are several examples of prejudices that can hide behind bound consciences:

White men are superior.

Gay men have made a bad choice.

Women become lesbians because they can’t find a man.

Transgender people are all drag queens.

Muslims are all terrorists.

Jews killed Jesus.

And there are many more!

It seems that some people could spend their whole life with a frozen bound conscience and still be welcomed at church. This is problematic for me. In my opinion, anyone who professes to be a Follower of the Way but subscribes to any of the above ideas is an intolerant bigot—period!

Before I learned about agape, I was guilty of believing all of the above derogatory statements—even though I went to church every Sunday, was an altar boy and a member of the youth group, and was even given an award for being such a good Episcopalian. At the same time, I commonly used offensive language to refer to people who were different from me. I suspect one could have called me a person with a bound conscience, but let’s call a spade a spade—I was a bigot hiding behind Jesus’s skirts.

Then I met the historical Jesus and heard his message loud and clear: As a Follower of the Way, I had to love every human being unconditionally. There could be no lists of undesirables, no derogatory name calling, no exceptions, and no such thing as a bound conscience.

That is what the parable of the prodigal son is about. That kid had messed up badly, but his dad loved him unconditionally—no questions asked. We, as Followers, are supposed to follow that example. No exceptions and no bound conscience shenanigans.

So-called Christians who have lists of undesirables, often long ones, are more like a political cult established to reinforce their prejudices with like-minded folks. They vote in blocs to ensure that fellow bigots are elected; that the LGBTQUI community is deemed unacceptable; that women and children remain subservient; that other religions are disparaged; that strangers are not welcomed; and on and on.

Down with bound consciences! Up with agape! What say ye?


Image courtesy of Steve Snodgrass (CC BY 2.0)

2 thoughts on “Bound Consciences”

  1. That is absolutely tragic!

    As a teen, one of my dearest friends, George, was gay. He was one of the most compassionate people I had ever known. Whenever he came to town, he visited our congregation…which was the only church he had ever attended. He was accepted there and felt comfortable among our community. By the way, several years ago, our World Conference affirmed our acceptance of the gay community….long before most churches dared do that.

    Bigotry is almost unforgivable. It is so hurtful!

  2. Bil, I suggest you contact a bona fide Luther scholar before going too far down this road. Luther, like the Bible, is often misinterpreted for just the reasons you cite.


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