Never Surrender: Preserving the Sacred Freedom of Conscience

Betsy Ross US Flag

As we mark another July 4th holiday where we honor this great nation, I want to share one of the reasons I think America is worth fighting for.

From the start, the men who signed the Declaration of Independence paid a high price. These were not perfect men, but the majority of them loved God and loved freedom. They were well-spoken men of means and education.  They had financial security and solid reputations.  But they valued liberty and freedom more than all else.  Twenty four were lawyers, eleven businessmen, nine were farmers. As a result of signing the Declaration of Independence, five were captured by the British and tortured as traitors, twelve had their homes ransacked and burned.  Nine died in the revolution.  Two lost sons during the war.

Why would they take such a risk?  These weren’t the impoverished people of the nation rising up.  This was the upper class and educated, they stood to lose the most!  Why?  The last sentence of the Declaration of Independence tells us.

“And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.”

We find ourselves in a precarious spot as a nation.  Historians have alerted us to the familiar signs of national decay that preceded other great empires.  Egypt, Babylon, Greece, and Rome fell, not because of an overpowering force on the outside, but an eroding of national morals on the inside.

We are fortunate to live in America. Many have given their present, so we could have a future.  We don’t have to give up everything to build a nation; that was done before us.  But we stand as stewards upon the shoulders of their sacrifice.

Every nation derives meaning and purpose from some unifying quality—an ethnic character, a common religion, a shared history. The United States is different. America was founded at a particular time, by a particular people, on the basis of particular principles and ideas.

It has become unfashionable to call her unique among the nations, yet America is unique in history because its founding principles are unique. America is not a perfect country.  Far from it.  America is not sinless through history.  Yet we are unique. France and America both endured a revolution. We inherited George Washington who refused to be King and they got Napoleon who set himself up as emperor.  Why?  Because the principles upon which each nation was founded were different.

America was founded on freedom – especially freedom of conscience.

During ancient times and the Middle Ages, governments legislated not only proper social conduct, but also what a person could and could not believe.  

A crucial step along the way of religious and political freedom was a little event in history called the Protestant Reformation.  It was the Protestant Reformation that provided the socio-political context in which the United States was established.

Martin Luther planted a great seed when he stood before the court and told the authorities that it was wrong for anyone to act against his or her conscience in religious matters.  For Luther, God alone had authority over people’s consciences. He drew from the Biblical understanding that a person lives their lives in different, yet coherent spheres, the social and the spiritual – the Creator/Redeemer distinction.

God has given authority to civil government – the power of coercion. Civil law is meant to keep order for all people — to force people to behave.  Spiritual conversion is designed to redeem all people who have broken God’s laws. America is now debating this founding principle.

Can government force you to behave against your conscience? Luther would say no. Not any more than the church should force you to convert. If forced conversion is wrong because you cannot force a belief, than forced behavior is wrong if it violates the conscience. If an atheist baker believes that teaching children about God and hell is immoral, (See Richard Dawkins – a Brit, ironically) should he be obligated to bake a cake celebrating first communion or confirmation? Should he be forced against his conscience? (How evolution produced a conscience is for another blog post.) Should private citizens – and the companies they create — be forced to pay for abortions? Should doctors be forced to perform them? In the name of tolerance, we have become less tolerant.

We are moving toward dangerous territory. The territory of tyrants who wield power with no fear of the God who delegated that authority. Not only are they trying to force behavior, they want to force belief. They use the power of coercion, name-calling, bullying, and other forceful tactics to bring about compliance. My warning to this generation: Be mindful of what you surrender, the freedom of conscience was purchased by the blood of those who have gone before you.

May God bless America!