By / Oct 26

I’ve been following politics almost as long as I’ve known how to read. My family didn’t have a television, so we got three newspapers every day. I loved scampering down to the end of our driveway every day and bringing them back to the house where I’d read the news. I was one of those nerds who read Time and Newsweek and U.S News and World Report in middle and high school and who subscribed to The National Review with my own money. 

Most people (thankfully) don’t follow politics as closely as I do and most people don’t treat every election night like it’s the Super Bowl. But all of us have an interest in who shapes our communities and our country. And increasingly, in an age of social media and nonstop cable news, politics is all around us every day. 

In our particularly polarized age, election days are often moments of great euphoria or times of tremendous despair for many, depending on whether or not a particular candidate or party was victorious. I’ve seen (and sometimes experienced) these scenarios many times in my life. In light of the upcoming midterm elections on Nov. 8, which determines who controls the U.S. House and Senate, it’s important to remind ourselves how we should think about politics as believers and how we can help other people work through whatever they may be feeling as the results set in. 

First, regardless of who wins, we should thank God for the privilege of living in a country where we have some say in who holds power. Our system of government is far from perfect. We’ve not fully lived up to the ideals in our founding documents. And in shameful times of our history, the choice to vote has not been held by everyone. But today, while politics can be frustrating and annoying and play to our worst instincts, we have an opportunity to have some small part in choosing who makes leadership decisions. There are many people around the world who don’t enjoy such freedoms, who have zero control over who rules over them, and who have little input on the laws they are required to obey. So, gratitude should be our first instinct after an election. 

Second, we should recognize that while politics is important, parties ultimately rise and fall. Movements come and go. Coalitions form and are broken up. I’m old enough to remember several moments when it seemed Democrats would hold power indefinitely. And then two years later, Republicans swept into office. And I’m old enough to remember moments when it seemed Republicans were permanently ascendant, only to suffer huge defeats in the next election cycle. We shouldn’t rise too high or sink too low with a single election. History shows us that in our durable democracy, voting patterns shift, events happen, and things don’t stay the same. 

Third, while I believe engagement in politics is an important exercise of Christian stewardship in our representative republic, politics is not everything. For someone like me who enjoys keeping abreast of political trends, enjoys reading American history, and looks forward to election days, it is important for us to continually root our joy and hope not in the next vote, but in what we know never changes: the Kingdom of God. Too often, Christians are tempted to put all their faith in the temporal. But while politics can be a useful vehicle in bringing our faith to bear on our communities, it is just that, a vehicle. Politics can easily seduce the soul into being an all-consuming endeavor, with religious fervor. As Christians who believe that all governments on this earth, even governments we love, are temporal, we should hold our politics loosely. Who wins matters and has serious implications, but what matters most is not what is happening in Washington, D.C., but what is happening in our local churches every Sunday. 

That truth brings me to my final reflection for election season: Christ is Lord over all. Kingdoms rise and fall. Leaders come and go. Movements ebb and flow. But we belong to a King and a Kingdom without end (Heb. 12:28). So whether you are exulting in victory or are tempted to despair, remember that Christ reigns over all, and nothing happens that is outside of his purposes. 

By / Sep 2

Each August, we take a break from our usual policy focused conversations and host interviews with leaders we admire. In this last week of summer before Labor Day, Chelsea Patterson Sobolik sits down with Shannon Royce, Esq., who serves in the federal government as the Director of the Center for Faith and Opportunity Initiatives at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

Guest Biography

Shannon Royce leads the HHS Partnership Center which was formed in 2001, under the George W. Bush administration, to ensure that faith partners and non-profits faced no barriers and were engaged as full partners in serving the poor and helping the vulnerable. Shannon’s career includes both government and private sector experience. In government, she worked for over seven years on Capitol Hill, including serving as Counsel to Sen. Grassley (R–Iowa). In the private sector, Shannon worked in several faith-based non-profits, including leading the D.C. office of the ERLC. She received her Juris Doctor from the George Washington University School of Law. Shannon is married with two grown sons and enjoys running half-marathons for fun.

Resources from the Conversation

By / Jan 2
By / May 26

Freedom of religion or belief is good for business. As outlined in Article 18 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights,

Article 18: Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

Why is it good for business? In short, because religious freedom:

Fosters respect
Reduces corruption
Engenders peace
Encourages broader freedoms
Develops the economy
Overcomes over-regulation
Multiplies trust

First, religious freedom fosters respect by protecting something that more than eight-in-ten people worldwide, 84 percent according to a recent Pew Research study, identify with – a religious faith. Given that so many people are attached to a faith, to violate the free practice of religion runs the risk of alienating the mass of humanity, something that certainly would not be ideal for morale and socio-economic progress. Indeed, forcing the 16 percent of people with no specific religious attachment to have a religion would likewise be alienating. Religious freedom ensures that people, regardless of their belief or nonbelief, are accorded equal rights and equal opportunity to have a voice in society.

Second, religious freedom reduces corruption, one of the key ingredients of sustainable economic development. For instance, research finds that laws and practices burdening religion are related to higher levels of corruption. This is borne out by simple comparison between the Pew Research Center’s 2011 Government Restrictions on Religion Index with the 2011 Corruption Perceptions Index. Eight of the ten most corrupt countries have high or very high governmental restrictions on religious liberty. Religious freedom also implies that business people can draw on religious values and moral teachings in their businesses. The attempt to force businesses to act as secular, neutral, value-free organizations may be one contributing factor to the corruption, greed and short-sighted decisions that lead to the global economic collapse of 2008 that still affects many people and nations today. Allowing religion to inform business ethnics certainly is an underused activity implied by religious freedom.

Third, research clearly demonstrates engenders peace by reducing religion-related violence and conflict. Conversely, when religious freedom is not respected and protected, the result is often violence and conflicts that disrupt normal economic activities. Religious hostilities and restrictions create climates that can drive away local and foreign investment, undermine sustainable development, and disrupt huge sectors of economies. Such has occurred in the ongoing cycle of religious regulations and hostilities in Egypt, which has adversely impacted the tourism industry. More generally, religious freedom is a key ingredient to peace and stability, which is particularly important for business because, where stability exists, there is more opportunity to invest and conduct normal and predictable business operations, especially in emerging and new markets. This is the topic of the 2011 Cambridge University Press book, The Price of Freedom Denied.

Fourth, religious freedom encourages broader freedoms that contribute to positive socio-economic development. Economist and Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, for instance, argues that societal development requires the removal of sources of “unfreedom.” And restrictions on religious freedom are certainly a source of unfreedom. Removing impediments to religious freedom facilitates freedom of other kinds. And research finds empirical evidence or this relationship. Religious freedom is highly correlated with the presence of other freedoms and a variety of positive social and economic outcomes ranging from better health care to higher incomes for women. While correlations are not causation, the correlations suggest that a more robust future research agenda should focus on better understanding these connections because it appears the freedoms rise or fall together.

Fifth, religious freedom develops the economy. When religious groups operate in a free and competitive environment, religion can play a measurable role in the human and social development of countries. For instance, sociologist Robert Woodberry finds that the presence of proselytizing Protestant faiths, i.e., faiths competing for adherents, was associated with economic development throughout the world in the previous century. Even before that, Alexis de Tocqueville recognized that such Protestant associations in the early U.S. of these sorts established seminaries, constructed inns, created churches, disseminated books, and founded hospitals, prisons and schools. And these contributions are not just a legacy from the past. Katherine Marshall, former director of the Development Dialogue on Values and Ethics at the World Bank and former director in the World Bank’s Africa and East Asia regions, also recognizes that faith communities not only provide education and health services but they also provide social safety nets for orphans, disabled people and people who fall behind.

Sixth, religious freedom overcomes over-regulation that accompanies certain types of religious restrictions that directly limit or harm economic activity. A few current examples from the Muslim-majority countries – a set of countries with particularly high religious restrictions – are illustrative of how the lack of religious freedom contributes to worse economic and business outcomes. Religious restrictions among Muslim-majority countries impacting businesses take many forms. One direct religious restriction impacting economic freedom involves Islamic finance. For instance, businesses involved in creating, buying or selling Islamic financial instruments can find the situation that one Islamic law (sharia) board deems a particular instrument acceptable while another board does not, making the instrument’s acceptance on stock exchanges subject to differing interpretations of sharia. Religious restrictions also include legal barriers for certain import and export industries, such as the halal food market and outright bans of certain blockbusters from the film industry. And, certain government laws and restrictions on religious freedom can stoke religion-related hostilities that disrupt markets throughout the region. Examples range from employment discrimination against women over such things as headscarves to the misuse of anti-blasphemy laws to attack business rivals. And perhaps most significantly for future economic growth, research shows that the instability associated with high and rising religious restrictions and hostilities can influence young entrepreneurs to take their talents elsewhere.

And seventh, religious freedom multiplies trust. Religious freedom, when respected within a company, can also directly benefit a company’s bottom line. These include both lower costs and improved morale. An example of lower costs includes less liability for litigation. For instance, the clothing retailer Abercrombie & Fitch fought and lost a religious discrimination case in 2013 related to firing a Muslim stock girl for wearing a scarf in violation of the company’s dress code. The case resulted not only in substantial legal costs but also negative national publicity. Respect for reasonable accommodation of religious freedom in the workplace can improve employee morale, increase retention of valued employees, and help with conflict resolution. Moreover, businesses may gain a competitive advantage by engaging stakeholder expectations that are increasingly demanding that companies play a positive role in addressing environmental, social and governance challenges. As recognized by business consulting group McKinsey & Company, the ethical stakeholder has clearly emerged and is on the rise. Important business stakeholders include business partners, investors and consumers, and a growing segment of ethically sensitive customers tend to prefer companies that are responsive to human rights. Indeed, consumer and government preferences given to human-rights-sensitive companies may give a company an advantage in competitive markets and enable it to charge premium prices and land choice contracts. And recognizing this human rights impact on branding, companies such as Gap have assumed shared responsibility for the conditions under which its goods are manufactured.

Given that religious freedom contributes to better economic and business outcomes, advances in religious freedom are in the self-interest of businesses, governments and societies. While this observation does not suggest that religious freedom is the sole or even main anecdote to poor economic performance, it does suggest that religious freedom is related to economic success. Certainly, businesses would benefit from taking religious freedom considerations into account in their strategic planning, labor management and community interactions. For instance, when evaluating locations for future research and development operations, countries with good records on religious freedom may be a better environment to find societies open to innovation and experimentation.