In 1972 the Supreme Court of the United States made a landmark ruling in the case: Wisconsin vs. Yoder. In this case, an Amish man named Yoder challenged Wisconsin’s law requiring children to attend Public School until the age of sixteen. He challenged it on the grounds that it violated his religious convictions.
While he had no qualms allowing his children to attend Public School through the Grammar School years, he believed his family should do the training at home after that. In short, he wanted to Home School his children. The State of Wisconsin sued him in at attempt to force him to send his children to high School. In court, he lost his case every step of the way until it finally reached the Supreme Court.
After each defeat he refused to give in to the demands of the State stating that to do so, “Would violate his religious convictions.” When the Supreme Court ruled on this case, they ruled in Mr. Yoder’s favor. They agreed that Wisconsin had indeed violated his First Amendment Rights. When the Supreme Court decided the case, they stated that every religious belief falls into one of two categories. 1: Preferences. 2: Convictions.
Having thus ruled, the Court then decided it must devise a test that would be applied to all cases concerning religious beliefs. They said, “Religious ‘preferences’ are NOT protected under the Constitution – only religious ‘convictions.’”
Here is the test that delineates the two: First, if a belief can be changed by: peer pressure, family pressure, threat of a lawsuit, threat of going to jail, or the threat of death – it is only a “preference” – it is not a “conviction.” Secondly, for a belief to qualify as a conviction it must be: pre-determined, non-negotiable, victorious within itself, and demonstrated by a lifestyle.
As I digested this information I couldn’t help but think of the Old Testament story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. You remember the story. King Nebuchadnezzar had made a decree that when the people in the kingdom heard all kinds of music they were to fall down and worship an idol that he had constructed. Failure to do so would cause the violator to be thrown into a fiery furnace. We know they refused to bow.
When questioned by the king their answer is a classic example of “conviction” versus “preference.” Daniel 3:16-18(KJV) says, “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, answered and said to the king, O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.”
Did you catch it? Their answer was 1) Pre-determined. Vs. 16, “We are not careful to answer thee in this matter.” In other words, they had already discussed the situation and their answer was pre-determined. 2) It was non-negotiable. Amazingly, in verse 15 the king tried to negotiate with them – offering them a second chance! 3) It was victorious within itself.
In other words, regardless of the outcome on that day, they had won the victory simply by taking a stand! They told the king that God could indeed save them, but even if He chose not to, they were not going to worship his idol. They were winners either way! 4) Their conviction was demonstrated by their lifestyle. Indeed, their actions were driven by “conviction” NOT “preference.” (And here’s a Bible trivia question for you: After the furnace was heated seven times hotter than ever before, the Bible states the fire was so hot it killed the guards who were taking them up to throw them in. Here’s your trivia question: If the guards were dead, who threw them into the fiery furnace?)
With all that said – I can’t help but draw the conclusion that in many churches today and in many individual Christian lives – when it comes to serving the Lord – for many it is NOT a “conviction!” It is merely a “preference!”
America’s only hope is for us, God’s people, to once again become people with Biblical convictions!