It was a column I wish I’d written.
Every now and then you read something and think, “Wow! That’s exactly right!”
It happened when I opened to an OpEd piece by Andy Crouch (Christianity Today, September 2014, 30). Crouch wrote about religious freedom and the power of community.
The Supreme Court recently ruled in favor of religious liberty.
It was an important decision. On June 30, 2014, the Court decided that Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties could hold to religious identity even though they are for-profit companies. This vote appears to have the effect of solidifying religious freedom.
But Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s dissent included troubling words.
Justice Ginsburg made her point but based it on a false assumption. Crouch quotes Ginsburg as saying that for-profit companies “use labor to make a profit, rather than to perpetuate a religious-values-based mission.”
As Crouch rightly points out, the words “rather than” are troubling. Surely an organization can both make a profit and also serve its employees and its community. I know many godly leaders who explicitly run their organizations to serve their customers. As they do so, they earn an honest living for themselves, their families, and their employees. It’s clearly not all about profit, for they certainly believe they are serving the interests of both their customers and the broader society.
But Ginsburg seems to think that corporations can serve only one end: making money. Now I do know that some corporations are like this. I recently heard of a business leader who told his teams at the close of every meeting, “Make money. Make money. Legally, if you can. Make money.”
But surely not all leaders think this way.
Justice Ginsburg doesn’t think much of religious nonprofits either.
Ginsburg’s low view of for-profit corporations matches her flawed perspective on religious non-profits. She wrote that “religious organizations exist to foster the interests of persons subscribing to the same religious faith.”
Jesus said the opposite.
If anything, the church exists precisely to serve those who are not members. I realize that not everyone understands this. And not everyone who understands it … does it.
Where are the communities who live to serve?
The oft quoted title of Robert Putnam’s 2000 book, Bowling Alone, captures our current social reality. The natural fallen human tendency is toward organizing life for self-preservation and self-service. So we are increasingly not serving others.
But all the evidence says that serving others brings good not only to those served, but to those who serve.
My parents are 89 and 91, and they’re in good health. Mom plays piano specials at their church, and Dad joyfully leads Bible studies for their neighbors. This is part of their secret. They would never think that they do these things so that they can flourish. But they are flourishing indeed, and their instinct to serve others is an important reason why.
If Ginsberg is right, and the church exists only for itself, then we are “of all person most to be pitied,” as the Apostle Paul said in another context. Fortunately, Ginsberg is wrong.
I suggest we stand for religious liberty, not in order that we Christ-followers can do what we jolly well want to do. But rather we support liberty so that we Christ-followers may invest our lives, in radically counter-cultural ways, by serving our neighbors.