It begins to feel like a daily thing: public officials caught up in public corruption. It appears that some people put their conscience aside when taking office. This is not the proper use of God’s gift of conscience — the moral part of humanity where questions of right and wrong arise.
Jeremy Taylor, a 17th century priest and bishop in the Church of England, wrote that “conscience is the mind of man governed by a rule.” St. Thomas Aquinas wrote that “conscience is the mind of man passing moral judgment.” What kind of judgment do those officials make on their actions that are clearly beyond the scope of what is right?
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A representative democracy ceases to be an effective form of government when there is a breakdown in the conscience of those entrusted with the responsibility to make the laws that, in the words of the prologue to the U.S. Constitution, “promote the general Welfare.”
Is it too much for the voter to expect that an elected official will make legislative decisions that reflect a clear, informed conscience, benefiting the populace and contributing to the well being of the community?
We have the right to hold the elected to a high standard of ethical conduct. Enriching the pocket of the elected is not part of the package. God provides many gifts to guide humanity in the conduct of our relationships — the most important being the gifts of conscience and free will.
The religious community has a critical role in reminding us that the political process is accountable to a higher authority. “He himself has made us, and we are His” (Psalm 100). There comes a time when all must give an accounting for the stewardship of their lives, lives that are a gift from the creator of “all that is, seen and unseen.”
As the General Assembly settles into the 2016 session, may we the electorate and those who assume a position of public trust act in ways that comport with St. Thomas Aquinas’ definition of conscience.
Rev. Canon George I. Chassey