With all the conversation in the media over Pope Francis’ comments about following our conscience, I thought I would mention how our United Methodist tradition speaks to this very conversation.
John Wesley speaks of “conscience” in more than one place in his writings, but in two sermons in particular:
In both of these, Wesley writes of what we call “conscience” as prevenient grace at work in the person. The voice that we call our conscience is in fact God’s grace wooing us toward God’s holiness. Wesley affirms the Reformed doctrine of total depravity, which says every aspect of our humanity is corrupted by sin. But he also argues that because of the work of God’s preventing grace (the grace that goes before our first consciousness of God) we all have access to the goodness of God if we choose to respond to it.
To Wesley’s Reformed critics, he views came out too close to Catholic doctrine, and Wesley was often accused of being a closet Catholic. In our day, he is often described as under the influence of Eastern Orthodoxy. In any case, he taught and believed that every person we meet has God’s grace within leading them to holiness, if they will follow their creator’s leading. No one must sin. We choose to.
This is my reading of Wesley. In the public conversation about Pope Francis, it might be helpful for United Methodists to understand our own doctrine on this matter.