Issues of religious liberty aren’t anything new

I’m as concerned as any about what appears to be eroding religious liberty/freedom of conscience in this great country. I believe strongly that an individual should not be forced by the government to act in a way that violates his or her conscience. Recent issues involving freedom of conscience have, on occasion, blown up my Facebook timeline. These are important topics and Christian should be aware of new legal developments. However, while some of the particulars are new, the tension between the interests of the (secular) government and the (religious) individual have been around sine the birth of the nation. “There is nothing new under the sun.”

I just finished reading Seven Men: And the Secret of their Greatness by Eric Metaxas. George Washington was, by everyone’s account, a great man. However,  he had a checkered-at-best position on slavery and, worse, signed into law the Fugitive Slave Act. This Act allowed slave owners to hunt down slaves in any state and forced objectors in the North to return slaves to their owners (or bounty hunters) who came to hunt them down. For those who opposed slavery on religious grounds or for the sake of conscience they would have to violate the law in order to act in a way consistent with their faith. This is, in fact, what many Quakers did in response to this unjust law.

This little fact gives me strange comfort. We’re tempted to think that the struggles of Christians today is somehow new, or we romanticize the past. We wish for a time when we lived in a “Christian” nation. I’m pretty sure such a nation never really existed, and this story illustrates that fact. We obviously desire that laws which force individuals to violate their conscience or restrict religious freedom  be struck down, just as the Fugitive Slave Act was, but in the meantime, our response needs to be like that of the Quakers – trust and obey. Fear God and not man.

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