Statement of the College of Bishops – HCCAR on Conscience and Religious Freedom

Today, there rages in our nation a debate about the role of conscience, and the authority on which it rests. We wonder at how anybody outside the religious sphere is competent to determine what is conscionable, and what is not. The state does not have the right to arrogate to itself the power to determine what constitutes one’s moral obligation, as it pertains to conscience. Let us never forget that the First Amendment to the Bill of Rights guarantees no prohibition against the free exercise of religion.

When, in the nineteen-seventies, the winds of change began to sweep through the ranks of the Episcopal Church of the United States of America, over two thousands of the faithful, including Bishops, Priests, and Laity, gathered at St. Louis, Missouri. From that gathering, there emerged the significant declaration known as the Affirmation of St. Louis. This document asserted that the duty-and authority-to witness to conscience belongs to the Church, and Her members. We continue to stand on this most fundamental of principles.

The Affirmation addressed the essential role of conscience, and the role of the Church in bearing witness to Christian morality: teaching Her faithful to follow it in their lives, and to reject those false standards set by the secular world. Today, we reiterate those principles of morality which the Affirmation emphasized. We fully and firmly believe that matters of conscience and morality belong to God alone, and His Church, which continues to assert Her office of Custodian of faith and morals.

From the Affirmation of St. Louis:

Principles of Morality

The conscience, as the inherent knowledge of right and wrong, cannot stand alone as a sovereign arbiter of morals. Every Christian is obligated to form his conscience by the Divine Moral Law and the Mind of Christ as revealed in Holy Scriptures, and by the teaching and Tradition of the Church. We hold that when the Christian conscience is thus properly informed and ruled, it must affirm the following moral principles:

Individual Responsibility

All people, individually and collectively, are responsible to their Creator for their acts, motives, thoughts and words, since “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ . . .”

Sanctity of Human Life

Every human being, from the time of his conception, is a creature and child of God, made in His image and likeness, an infinitely precious soul; and that the unjustifiable or inexcusable taking of life is always sinful.

Man’s Duty to God

All people are bound by the dictates of the Natural Law and by the revealed Will of God, insofar as they can discern them.

Family Life

The God-given sacramental bond in marriage between one man and one woman is God’s loving provision for procreation and family life, and sexual activity is to be practiced only within the bonds of Holy Matrimony.

Man as Sinner

We recognize that man, as inheritor of original sin, is “very far gone from original righteousness,” and as a rebel against God’s authority is liable to His righteous judgment.

Man and God’s Grace

We recognize, too, that God loves His children and particularly has shown it forth in the redemptive work of our Lord Jesus Christ, and that man cannot be saved by any effort of his own, but by the Grace of God, through repentance and acceptance of God’s forgiveness.

Christian’s Duty to be Moral

We believe, therefore, it is the duty of the Church and her members to bear witness to Christian Morality, to follow it in their lives, and to reject the false standards of the world.

In Christ our Savior,

The Rt. Rev’d Kenneth Kinner

The Rt. Rev’d Edmund Jayaraj

The Rt. Rev’d Leo Michael

The Rt. Rev’d James McNeley

The Rt. Rev’d Ronald Greeson

Bishops of the Holy Catholic Church Anglican Rite