One of the most profound ironies in our current debates over religious liberty is the Left’s persistent decrying of business as short-sighted and materialistic even as it attempts to prevent the Hobby Lobbys of the world from heeding their consciences and convictions.
Business is about far more than some materialistic bottom line, but this is precisely why we need the protection for religious liberty. If we fail to promote religious liberty for businesses, how can we ever expect the marketplace to contribute to widespread human flourishing — economic, social, spiritual, and otherwise?
In a marvelous talk at AEI’s recent Evangelical Leadership Summit, hosted by Values and Capitalism, Dr. Russell Moore points to precisely this, arguing that we need to cultivate churches, businesses, institutions, and governments whose consciences “are not so malleable that they can be directed simply by the whims of the marketplace or…by government edict.”
As Moore explains:
If we do not have religious liberty, this does not mean that we have a purely secular state. It means that we have a more religious state, and a state that is dictating religious terms. … If you give to the government the ability to differentiate between what religious convictions are really and truly important or not, then we will wind up with a state-established religion in which the government says, ‘a vague concept of the divine is all that really matters, and all of your particularities can simply be wiped away like a building being plowed away by eminent domain in order to build a new business.
We instead need to have the sort of freedom and the sort of liberty where we are arguing with one another not because these things are not important, but because they are, and signaling in those arguments that there are things — important, crucial, even ultimate things — that are not part of the purview of the state and of the legislative process…We all ought to agree that the state cannot and should not be ultimate. And so when we have the sort of liberty that allows us to argue with one another, that signals not only to the government, “Caesar is not God,” it also signals to us.
Moore also addresses the many evangelicals who, when it comes to the issue of religious liberty, urge us to mildly step away from such battles and surrender our rights as some form of Christian humility:
In a democratic republic, by doing that [by surrendering on religious liberty], it’s not just that you are saying, “I’m willing to be persecuted.” You are saying “I’m willing to be persecutor” by putting into jeopardy future generations of people based upon their consciences.
Keep them out of jail, but perhaps even more important, train up a generation who’s willing to go to jail, who have consciences that are not so malleable that they can be directed simply by the whims of the marketplace, consciences that are not so malleable that they can be directed by government edict — congregations of people who know how to render to Caesar, but who know how to render to God, who know how to pledge allegiance when we ought and when we can, but who still know how to call Jesus “Jesus.” I think that’s what we need.
A society wherein businesses are free, emboldened, and empowered to call Jesus “Jesus”?
Sign me up.