Preference vs Conviction (Guest Blog – Paul Scanlon)

Conviction vs Preference

Writing to the Thessalonian church Paul said, ‘Our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction’ (1 Thess 1:4). The early church was founded not only on words, power and the Holy Spirit but also a fourth element, deep conviction. There are many eloquent, powerful people and churches out there, but without deep conviction it won’t last under pressure.

Joshua and Caleb brought back a report according to their convictions. They claimed no greater faith, knowledge or ability than the other ten spies, what separated them was simply their deep convictions about God’s promises.

We find the same strength and commitment in the face of suffering in the lives of Daniel, Esther, Joseph, and many others.

When the pressure is on we find out whether what we believe is a conviction or just a strongly held preference. The thing is, they can both look and feel exactly the same until tested. And this really matters because you don’t want to be going to war over what you later realise was just a preference. I promise you, no Christians died in the arenas of Rome for a preference!

Separating your preferences from your convictions will help you to identify what you believe primarily by nurture and what you believe primarily by nature. Preferences are developed through environment, education, culture etc, but you are born with all the fundamental convictions that will later on shape and inform your calling in life.

A preference can be very strong, decide a career, drain resources, even divide friends and govern your life’s direction, and yet still not be a true conviction. This matters because your convictions are your God given non-negotiable; your North Star by which you will navigate your life. As strong as our preferences may be, they are not what define us or what makes us tick or even be our own.

Over my many years as a leader, I have to gone to war with people over things I later realised I didn’t fundamentally care about but fought for anyway because they were, kinda, company policy. I enforced ideas and practices that my leaders expected of me but my heart increasingly wasn’t in it.

A landmark court case was fought in the US Supreme Court in 1972 called Wisconsin vs Yoder. Jonas Yoder, an Amish farmer, refused to send his kids to public schools and instead wanted to home school them. He was taken to court by the state of Wisconsin twice and they won both times. Facing bankruptcy, jail and his children being taken into care, Yoder appealed to the highest court in the land, the US Supreme Court. His appeal was on the grounds of the first amendment of the 1791 Bill of Rights which was about the protection of religious freedoms. In order to finally settle the issue and set a precedent for the many other potential cases to follow, the court concluded that all beliefs fall into one of two categories: convictions or preferences. They ruled that the first amendment protected religious convictions but not religious preferences.

The court concluded that though a preference can be a very strongly held belief, it is still a belief that will change under certain circumstances. Through years of experience of judging cases the court had identified certain kinds of pressures that if brought to bear would cause most people to change their beliefs. This would thereby prove that though they held a strong preference, it was not a conviction. And preferences, no matter how strongly held, were not protected by the constitution. They identified five kinds of pressure that were the best test of whether a belief was a conviction or a preference.

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