Domestic Religious Liberty


Guest Writer

by Barton Dempsey

Guest Writer

April 18, 2016

Andy Crouch: Common Good & Religious Liberty

“The most liberating idea I have encountered in the last years of my life…is the idea of the common good,” stated Andy Crouch, author and executive editor at Christianity Today, on the Q Ideas stage while responding to the question: “What’s the point of religious freedom?”

In light of recent events, both national and international, the preservation of religious liberty has rightly become a hot-topic issue. What, objectively, could be seen as an issue important to all people and societies regardless of race, nationality, or religion, has been politicized into a partisan issue.  Crouch, attempting to push past the grandstanding, argued that religious liberty is directly correlated to the common good.

According to Crouch, at the heart of historical Christian social teaching is the idea of the common good. He states, “The common good is about three things…the flourishing of persons in community.” Crouch fleshed out this idea of common good, by explaining that flourishing is not success in the eyes of the world but “becoming everything we were meant to become”. Further, flourishing as it relates to the infinite dignity of persons made in the image of the Triune God, which can only be found in community.

Why Common Good?

The common good, seems all good and well. However, we live in a world in which many societies and governments claim to purport the common good for all their inhabitants, yet the reality speaks to a quite different experience. So, how can we know if our society promotes the common good? Crouch presents us with a simple test: the flourishing of the vulnerable. In essence, societies which rightly promote the common good are societies which advocate for the flourishing of the vulnerable, “the youngest, the oldest, the most frail, the most marginalized.”

This idea seems counter to modernization and at odds with an individualized, self-concerned society. How does prioritizing the vulnerable help the common good in a society where the majority do not see themselves as the vulnerable? Precisely because, “a community where the vulnerable flourish is a community where all persons flourish, because what it is to be a person, is to be vulnerable,” explained Crouch. Christians, know this to be true, or at least we should. Let us remind ourselves of the Gospel, we are all vulnerable and undeserving, directly at odds with and by nature against the only One who is truly good, God (Rom. 3:10-18, 23, 6:23). Yet, in grace God looked upon the vulnerability of humanity and sent His Son Jesus, to overcome our aversion to Him despite our undeserving situation, to save all those elect for whom Christ died ( Eph. 5:25-27, 1 Cor. 15:3, Heb. 9:28, 10:14).

Nonetheless, even for our non-Christian friends who might be reading this and disagree about our common denominator of vulnerability. Crouch clarifies on the universal nature of vulnerability, “every single one of us…was very young, most of us will be very old, almost all of us will be frail, and in those moments in our lives we will desperately hope we live in a society which is characterized by the pursuit of the common good.”

Why Religious Liberty?

“If you care about the flourishing of persons, especially the vulnerable in community, you will care about freedom of religion,” claimed Crouch. He continued to explain why this is so, because religion and the practice thereof, is “one of the deepest forms of human flourishing.” Religion is distinctive to humans, no animals nor all of nature practice religion or seek to find answers about life and God. All humans across history past and present seek to understand life and their situation in it. Further, all humans search for meaning and attempt to attach themselves to something bigger than themselves, constantly searching for significance and fulfillment. Inevitably, we all seek religion and devote worship, even the Atheist, though denying God’s existence, forms a set of beliefs to understand reality and worships something or someone (quite possibly themselves).

Therefore, Crouch explains “being denied religious freedom, being prevented from acting out your deepest commitments in public, is one of the deepest denials of human flourishing.” The test then to know if religious freedom and therefore the common good is being protected, “Is how it protects religious minorities,” claims Crouch.

Religious freedom will not always be easy; and in many ways protecting religious liberty will require many people to relinquish their comforts for the sake of the common good. The reality is religious freedom is hard, and restrictions on religious freedom continue to become more and more prevalent and protections for religious freedom continue to erode.  Yet, Crouch concludes, “our task as the creators of a culture of pervasive and durable religious freedom is to find creative ways to accommodate the binding commitments of our neighbors, even an especially when we find them difficult.” However, he clarifies this does not and should not override societies responsibility to protect the common good of the vulnerable.

In way of a charge, Crouch concluded, “the future of religious freedom and the common good depends on us.”

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