The Common Good
Trends that the Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance (IRFA) is tracking:
One trend is a shrinking idea of the meaning of “religious exercise.” That impacts what the government must protect as part of religious freedom. It is being shrunk down to worship and worship institutions, instead of broadly protecting faith-based activity and institutions. If the exemption for religious entities isn’t protected more widely, then many things that people do as part of their obedience to God may become illegal.
Related to that is a second trend of treating distinctively faith-based policies and practices as illegal discrimination, not as just a different way of contributing to the common good.
A third general trend is a proliferation of laws that impact religious freedom, but that have no connection to government funding. In the past, groups believed that by not taking public funds, they’d be free to carry out their activities as they believe God had called them to do. Today, many restrictions are now included in laws governing operations, hiring, service, et cetera, so there is no escape simply by not taking public funds.
Common Misunderstandings for Christian Nonprofits on Religious Freedoms
One really common, very dangerous one is to believe that the best response to the hostility out there is to veil religious character. We do have significant religious freedom protections, despite some trends and changed understanding. But those religious freedom protections only apply to organizations that are clearly religious. So by trying to mask, or not make obvious, their religious character, ministries aren’t able to take advantage of freedom that is there for religious entities. We need to be clear about our contribution to the common good and the fact that we’re doing it in a distinctive way.
The Link Between Kingdom Outcomes and The Common Good
We live in an age that is pretty skeptical about kingdom outcomes, about both religious organizations and religious practice. This is a really important time for Christian ministries to do some evangelism about their good works and how they’re rooted in genuine Christian conviction.
Ministries can help people to see that many of the things they admire in society are deeply rooted in faith. It’s not that people do it despite their faith, but rather because of it as an act of obedience to God and love of neighbor. Being more up front about our kingdom work is a way of making an argument for why religious freedom is so critical to our society … not just to organizations, but also for the common good that rests so heavily on the good work that these organizations do.
Written by Stanley Carlson-Thies
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