"While we are contending for our own liberty, we should be very cautious not to violate the rights of conscience in others, ever considering that God alone is the judge of the hearts of men, and to him only in this case they are answerable."
GEORGE WASHINGTON, letter to Benedict Arnold, Sep. 14, 1775
"And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven." Matthew 16::16-17
For centuries religious leaders have tried to force people to believe what they felt those people should believe, using fear-mongering, physical violence, and even death to bully someone into worship.
But this is not how God works. We know that God desires that no one should perish:
"The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. II Peter 3:9Yet God knows the hearts of men. During my devotions in Romans 6, I found this statement:
"But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you." Romans 6:17The heart is the center of our will, our desire, our thoughts--our conscience. No one can force another to obey God from their innermost man via verbal or physical violence.
Many patriots came from situations where they were bullied into worshiping a certain way. If they did not perform certain acts of worship or serve the Lord in a prescribed way, they would find themselves brutally whipped or held under water (in the case of some Baptists and Quakers) or in some other way ostracized.
When I look at our country today, I feel as though the same thing is happening. If I do not believe as the media might have me believe about women's rights or some other issue, I am verbally stoned.
I believe we have lost the heart of Washington's words and in our effort to be tolerant we have become intolerant of those who hold to certain values. When it comes to a person's innermost faith, that which is obeyed from the heart, he is willing to sacrifice much, even giving his life for it.
I have come to believe during the colonial times the ability to not violate the rights of conscience of another existed because the core faith of many in leadership was theist--with the Judeo-Christian God being the Creator in which they believed.
Today, however, we have many people of different religions in our country. Religions that strongly oppose our God, including the belief-set of the atheist. How now can we act?
The setting in which the early church thrived was similar to our current times, though they experienced opposition to their faith more than we. God instructed Peter to write to the churches scattered across Asia Minor and to encourage them to live Godly lives before those who would harm them. God addressed their character:
"Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous: Not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing; knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing.
"For he that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile:
"Let him eschew evil, and do good; let him seek peace, and ensue it." I Peter 3:8-11This is how we are to live before those who would "violate our rights of conscience" because of our Christian faith and values. I suppose a true test of our faith is whether we respond in love and peace, being a blessing, guarding our tongue, and trusting God to be our avenger--or whether we render "railing for railing".
"...ever considering that God alone is the judge of the hearts of men, and to him only in this case they are answerable." George Washington