Blog - Grasping Vocation
Must Christians Now Quit Public Service Jobs?Monday, July 13, 2015
A Christian woman who had served 24 years as the Grenada County (Mississippi) Circuit Clerk resigned last month after learning of the Supreme Court’s decision on same-sex marriage. She said, "I cannot in all good conscience issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples under my name because the Bible clearly teaches that homosexuality is contrary to God's plan and purpose for marriage and family.”
Certainly she should not have violated her conscience. As Paul wrote, "everything that does not come from faith is sin” (Rom. 14:23). So let me be clear—I applaud her for taking the costly step she did to preserve a clear conscience.
My concern, though, is whether we can insist that all Christians in similar positions should follow the same course of action. In a website describing this Circuit Clerk’s actions, one reporter wrote: "In the coming days I believe Christians will be forced to abandon their jobs in public service.” But is that necessarily the case?
II Kings 5 tells the story of a man whose public service work brought him to a crisis point. Naaman served as commander in the army of the king of Aram. This highly skilled soldier suffered from leprosy. After receiving healing through the word of Elisha, Naaman became a worshiper of the true God. Although free of his leprosy, the military man knew his job would require him to do something he now saw as wrong. He explained it to Elisha in these words:
"But may the Lord forgive your servant for this one thing: When my master [the king] enters the temple of Rimmon to bow down and he is leaning on my arm and I bow there also — when I bow down in the temple of Rimmon, may the Lord forgive your servant for this" (II Kings 5:18).
His work as a public servant, Naaman knew, would require him to bow the knee before an idol. Clearly, bending before an idol was flat-out contrary to God’s will. Elisha did not, however, advise him to abandon his post or flee to some safe haven. Instead, the prophet of God simply replied: "Go in peace.”
Centuries later, when soldiers came to John the Baptist asking what repentance would mean for them, he did not counsel them to quit the military. Although the Roman-Persian wars of that era undoubtedly involved killing enemies for a state bent on expanding the empire, John advised them, "Don't extort money and don't accuse people falsely — be content with your pay.” (Luke 3:14).
Collecting taxes for Rome in the first century did not violate any law of God. Yet Jewish tax collectors were seen by religious Jews as working in jobs on a level with prostitution. When those revenue agents came to John asking the same question the soldiers had posed, he did not instruct them to find respectable work. Instead, he just told them not to collect any more than taxes the Romans required (Luke 3:13).
Again, each of us needs to heed the voice of our own conscience when it comes to working in the public sector. But as we face such decisions, let’s raise some relevant questions.
- If Christians abandon jobs in public service, who else will bring light into the dark corners of that work world?
- If all of us pull out of government jobs that require us to do things not on God’s agenda, who will be the salt that retards the decay in those places?
- Is any of us qualified to impose on other Christ-followers what we believe we personally must do?
- And are we willing to pray in support of fellow believers even if their choices differ from those we would make?