on Conscience

In 1620 a group of about 100 people left England on a cargo ship named the Mayflower, undertaking a perilous journey across the sea in search of religious freedom. Persecuted by King James for their faith, they decided to risk their lives in order to find a new world where they could worship God as they saw fit. Many lost their lives by making such a choice- these brave men and women dug far more graves for their dead in their first year than they built huts for the living. Even so, they still managed to praise God at that first Thanksgiving, for the very freedom given by Him to do so.

Long before we ever had a Revolution for Independence, long before we had a US Constitution that guaranteed our liberties, our nation was founded under the first premise of religious liberty. It was what propelled those to seek our shores even at great personal and financial risk. It is the very foundation on which our nation was built. Yet, right now we see that very basic freedom under attack, most recently under the Obama administration’s Healthcare law. Religious belief now seems to have to submit to a form of means test, where religious values are judged according to government standards. Those who do not acquiesce to their definition of proper belief are fined financially and criticized publically. While this does not rise to the same level as the persecutions suffered by the Pilgrims at the hands of King James I, it is a tyrannical thing to require people to act against their conscience or suffer financial hardship.

Why is it that people in power seem to find people of faith as a sort of threat? One word: competition. Many people of faith see God as their source and ultimate master, not the government. As such, they are the first to question those in power when their actions interfere with that belief. Unfortunately, because God is not a person that can be easily intimidated directly, those who feel their power threatened instead turn their persecutions on His followers, in an attempt to silence dissent and secure their continued tyranny. Something similar happened under King James I, when he enacted the following two new church-state doctrines: 1) the Divine Right of Kings and 2) the Complete Submission and Non-Resistance to Authority. Under both, it was illegal to speak, believe or act against anything the King said or did, no matter how tyrannical it was, as he was basically god on Earth. The Pilgrims saw him as usurping the power of God, and therefore could no longer submit to violations of their conscience or their faith.

When government becomes your ultimate source, when government sets the boundaries of your faith, when government defines your value, when government regulates your liberty, government has then become your god. Any resistance to its actions then becomes a form of apostasy, and folks are then persecuted accordingly. Unless people of faith are willing to worship at the altar of bureaucratic dependence, pledging loyalty to government first, and God second, they are seen as heretics to this New Religion. A new kind of blending of Church and State is unfolding before our eyes. Isn’t this just the kind of tyranny that our Founders feared?

It is significant that freedom of religion is listed as the First Amendment to the Constitution. The desire to worship as we please with our hearts, hands, voices, and money gave our ancestors the courage to flee England in the 17th century, and again the courage to take a stand against the British in the 18th century. Our Founders understood that if we let government define our liberties, eventually we would end up having no liberties at all. Securing them at great risk to themselves was worth it in order to “secure the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our prosperity.” Religious freedom is the bedrock of our country and enshrined in our Constitution. It acts as the ultimate check on government tyranny. If we allow that to be undermined, then like dominos, the rest of our liberties will fall too. To where then shall the next Pilgrims flee?

“Inasmuch as all rulers are in fact the servants of the public and appointed for no other purpose than to be ‘a terror to evil-doers and a praise to them that do well’ [Rom. 13:3], whenever this Divine order is inverted – whenever these rulers abuse their sacred trust by unrighteous attempts to injure, oppress, and enslave those very persons from whom alone, under God, their power is derived – does not humanity, does not reason, does not Scripture, call upon the man, the citizen, the Christian of such a community to ‘stand fast in that liberty wherewith Christ….hath made them free!’ [Gal. 5:1] The Apostle enjoins us to ‘submit to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake,’ but surely a submission to the unrighteous ordinances of unrighteous men, cannot be ‘for the Lord’s sake,’ for ‘He loveth righteousness and His countenance beholds the things that are just.’ ” Rev. Jacob Duché (1737-1798), The Duty of Standing Fast in our Spiritual and Temporal Liberties, a sermon preached in Philadelphia’s Christ Church, July 7, 1775

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