Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Why Liberty of Conscience Is the Most Important Issue in 2012. By Stephen Allred

When it comes to discussing political viewpoints with fellow church members silence is often eloquence. After all, haven’t we been wisely counseled to check our political viewpoints at the door when we come together as believers in Christ?[i] Besides, most of us have learned this from experience. I’ve been “un-friended” by at least one Facebook friend (who was also my church member) because of a certain politician’s Facebook page that I “liked.”

The Most Important Issue In the Upcoming Presidential Election

However, there is one political issue that we ought to be talking about. Personally, I feel the need to talk about this issue because I often find that my political views are at odds with those of my fellow Christians, and many of them misunderstand my reasons for voting in the manner in which I do. This particular issue is practically the only issue that interests me in politics and I am convinced that it is the main political issue that all believers should be concerned with.

That issue is freedom of conscience – the bedrock “original” freedom. All other freedoms grow from freedom of conscience: freedom to preach the gospel, freedom to help those in need, and freedom to free those in literal or spiritual bondage. Without this freedom, our ability to do the work of Jesus is severely hindered. Not only should we as Christians talk about it with our fellow believers, we are obliged to also act on our convictions. Freedom of conscience is intimately related to the concept of separation of church and state.

In the United States, the doctrine of separation of powers and the Presidential term limits embedded in the Constitution ensure that the power of any one administration of the executive branch is finite and limited. However, the President’s ability to appoint Supreme Court Justices with lifetime tenure to the highest Court in the land can be felt for generations. After the 2012 election, the President will likely exercise the appointment power, with the advice and consent of the Senate, to seat one or more Justices to the Supreme Court.[ii]

Even one new Justice appointed to the high Court could tip the balance of power in a direction that would be detrimental to freedom of conscience.

Because of the Court’s influence, we should be extremely interested with who is appointed to serve. The Court is the institution that interprets the meaning of our Constitution and determines whether laws enacted by Congress are Constitutional. Even one new Justice appointed to the high Court could tip the balance of power in a direction that would be detrimental to freedom of conscience. Consequently, this election’s most important issue is determining which candidate for President will be the most likely to appoint Justices friendly to freedom of conscience and separation of church and state, for, as history tells us, separation of church and state has everything to do with freedom of conscience.[iii]

Why Freedom of Conscience Matters

As a Bible-believing Christian, I understand that the book of Revelation paints a picture of a union of church and state that ushers in the end of time. Additionally, history speaks loud and clear: whenever church and state mix, trouble ensues for pretty much everyone, including, especially, minority people of faith who value freedom of conscience.[iv] When God’s people lack freedom to live and preach the Gospel, they are crippled from fulfilling their mission to preach the gospel to the poor and bind up the broken hearted.[v] Our concern should be for how restrictions on our freedom will affect the salvation of others, not so much the fear of how persecution will affect us. Freedom of conscience ultimately affects people’s eternal salvation.

Is Separation of Church & State a Bad Idea?

Many Christians become suspicious when they hear the phrase separation of church and state, which they associate with communism and atheism. The conventional wisdom among a growing number of American Christians is that the church needs to be involved in governing the land or else society will become corrupt. These same Christians point to our increasingly immoral society and argue that one of the causes of this increasing immorality is separation of church and state.

While every Christian should be deeply troubled by the immorality and sin in the world (and especially in the Christian church itself – see Ezekiel 9:4), many sincerely misguided Christians believe that the solution to this problem is an Old Covenant solution: they want the government to force people to act morally and righteously.[vi] They also believe that the state should base its laws on biblical ideas, essentially enforcing the Bible as the law of the land for all society.

Ironically, however, history tells us that when a church was directly or indirectly involved in government that society was not any more moral. In fact, societal morality arguably reached one of its lowest points during the Dark Ages – at a time when the church reigned supreme through the state. Ignorance flourished, barbarism and persecution prevailed. Some of the greatest immorality and evil ever experienced was perpetrated by a corrupt church working through the state. Look back at history and you’ll see that freedom of conscience always suffers when church and state unite.

A Correct Understanding of Church-State Separation

A correct understanding of the concept of separation of church and state will ultimately lead to respect for freedom of conscience. In such a scenario, the church realizes its proper place in society – to be a lighthouse and a city of refuge, living and sharing the good news of the gospel with a sinful, immoral, and dying world. The church does not request special favors from the state or whine when it doesn’t get to control or impose its beliefs on the rest of society. The church respects the conscience of individuals in the rest of society who do not share its beliefs.

In this ideal relationship between church and state, the state also realizes its proper place and stays out of the church’s business, unless the church is operating outside of its proper sphere and illegally interfering with the freedom of others in society. Individual conscience is also respected and the state seeks to strike a balance between enacting laws that are good for all of society while at the same time not trampling on the conscience of those in the minority whose consciences may be offended by such laws.

Church-State Union at the End of Time

The Book of Revelation takes the Old Testament imagery of the ancient city of Babylon (the capitol city of a nation in which the king simultaneously wielded political and religious power) and uses it to describe worldwide false religion at the end of time. One of the key characteristics of this false religion that is mentioned repeatedly in Revelation is her “fornication” with the kings of the earth.[vii] In other words, the Bible says that at the end of time the church will be intimately involved with the state.

Using the analogy of a prostitute, the Bible describes end-time false religion as being unfaithful to her true husband, God, and instead seeking alliances with earthly political powers. This alliance of religious and political power leads to persecution.[viii] According to prophecy, all nations on earth will eventually “drink the wine” (the “Kool-Aid”), become spiritually intoxicated (cease to have sound spiritual discernment), and unite church and state.[ix] In fact, not just the governments will become drunk with Babylon’s wine, but all the people of the earth will marvel at this church-state union and “become drunk” with her teachings.[x] Interestingly, the Bible implied that the movement to establish a mixed church-state government, which becomes the end-time super power, is a democratic (populist driven) movement.[xi]

Of course what happens to God’s people (persecution from a government controlled by religious people) at the end of time is precisely what happened to Jesus when he was on this earth. The Jewish church united with the Roman government and nailed Him to a cross. In the midst of all this, Jesus spelled out His position clearly for His church going forward. “My (spiritual) kingdom is not of this (political) world; if it were, my servants would fight.”[xii]Here, Jesus drew the line in the sand. His followers have no business enforcing His views on the world through laws or force of any kind. Earthly governments have their legitimate place in the world and should be respected within their sphere, but meddling in matters of conscience is not part of their legitimate sphere. And the followers of Jesus (the church) should have no part in uniting with or using any government for such a purpose... ► The entire article from Stephen Allred can be read online at Religious Liberty TV.

Source: Religious Liberty TV

Author: Steve Allred is an associate pastor at the Sacramento Central Seventh-day Adventist Church and is finishing his law degree. He writes about liberty of conscience and social justice at SacredConscience.com

Photo: U.S. Supreme Court / Credits: Molly Riley, Reuters

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