Reflecting on Andy Crouch’s Talk on Religious Freedom at #QNashville

I was grateful to have attended #QNashville and wanted to share some of my highlights. First, pardon my northeastern snobbery, I had to adjust being in Nashville. Though I spent my adolescent years in a small town, I’ve always been around major cities with huge buildings, crazy traffic, people everywhere, confusing streets, and airports with multiple terminals.

At the Nashville airport, there’s one terminal and its slightly larger than my local Target. But small airports are not unusual. What is unusual is that people were allowed to park their cars in designated “Pick-up” spaces and they didn’t leave them running either. They parked, put some music on, got out and waited for their family/friends.  I think one family had a grill they were about to set up and start tailgating but then grandma came out while they were assembling the tent.  And then when the security officers went around, they would all wave to each other. At Logan airport, my wife and I fold the stroller, dodge the buses, load up our luggage, buckle our three kids in carseats and survive an interrogation from the legions of officers faster than a NASCAR pitstop. And the weird part is, we’re not upset by this because we think this is safe.

Well there I was, waiting for a great friend I knew since college to pick me up in his Prius. He used to want a Ferrari. Now he was on time, he drove carefully, he listened, and his music selections were brilliant. Welcome to Nashville, next morning began <em>Q</em>.

The <em>Q</em> Conference is a gathering of Christian leaders (and some non-Christian) from different sectors of culture focusing on four themes Culture, Future, Faith and Gospel. The seven sectors that Q identified are: Media, Business, Arts & Entertainment, Education, Government, Social Sector and the Church. You can read more about Q here.

I’m grateful to go just about every year and it’s one of the highlights of my year. 30 presentations from brilliant people discussing issues you are passionate about, introducing you to concepts you have not considered or at the very least, considered in a while. Then there are the people around you ready to engage with each other. Indeed, as great as many of the presentations are, what many of us really like about Q is the commonality and the diversity in that room. We want to engage in the common good – so here are some highlights from Day 1:

– Appreciated Rebekah Lyons inviting everyone to leave their egos, resumes, and need to impress whatevers at the door. She opened the gathering in prayer where we amend the desire to be humble, faithful learners and practitioners in the Kingdom of Jesus.

– Co-founder Gabe Lyons gave a few words, emphasized this year’s themes “Stay Curious,” “Think Well,” and “Advance Good.” More to say on that but then he introduced the brilliant Andy Crouch.

My Notes from Andy’s Talk:
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What is this idea of religious freedom?

The Common Good – is about flourishing of persons in community

The test of the common good is the flourishing of the vulnerable.

Graded on a curve and the weight of the test is the most vulnerable (youngest, oldest, frailest, most marginalized).

What it is to be a person is to be vulnerable.

Thus, Religious Freedom can’t simply protect their own interests and distinctive public action based on counter-cultural principles Religious freedom should protect everyone, particularly minority faiths and ethnicities – that’s the test of religious freedom. Failing at this is a a deep denial of religious freedom.

Social hostility – mosque in nearby Nashville – this decision was met by controversy

Social hostility is almost as powerful as legal decisions

Social hostility and government restriction has grown in the US (2007 Pew study) moved from Low to Moderate One of the ways you can affect the common good is to attend zoning meetings.

Religious pluralism is increasing around the world.

His recommended solution/approach:  “Accommodation”

Our task is to find creative ways to accommodate the binding commitments of our neighbors especially when it’s difficult.

It does not over-ride the compelling interest of the most vulnerable.

It’s also not give a blank check for the religious. What it does mean is creative problem solving on the local and national level. (Walgreen Plan B compromise)

If we don’t, we’ll end up with a false pluralism.

We can do better than that.

We can honor others To a great degree, future of religious freedom and common good depends on us.

—-

My commentary: Andy was one of the highlights as usual. He got us thinking and the room humming immediately. It was a great delivery and my notes don’t do justice to the context (watch the talk when it becomes available). But wow, tackling religious freedom in 18 mins.? It’s hard to keep things at that length. You really only get to develop one big idea and try support, illustrate and champion it. Given that, it’s tough to be overly critical on a subject that is so drenched in a long history of pain of persecution and has such a compromised future. Hence our need to talk about it.

I appreciated Andy’s hard landing towards his proposed practice of “Accommodation.” His use of it is intentionally anti-climactic and I’m glad he didn’t modify it. The accommodation is not missional, it’s not generous, it’s not Kingdom-centered, it’s just “accommodation.”  Over-used or not, those adjective are among my favorites but by not using a modifier and by using a potentially dull word, this leaves me no choice but to dwell on what deeper understanding can be gained.

What does it look like to accommodate my neighbor, particularly in the are of religious freedom? One of the suggestions made was to attend zoning board meetings the next time a mosque or a rival center of worship desires to build in your town and … support it. Further, post-Nashville, I revisit my desire to interact with leaders of other faiths.

Now I am fortunate to have been among those who were given a head-start in this conversation and am already a fan of plurality, religious included. I tend to think the best narrative wins and though I am quite confident in the Christian narrative, my concern is that most people do not look for a religious narrative unless they are in a moment of tragedy or great need which is another story all together.

During the Talkback Q&A, someone asked about the persecutions facing Christians in the Middle-East, the Far East and even in the West. Andy is the editor of Christianity Today, a periodical that constantly cover these stories and much more. I hate the persecution of Christians. I pray for my Coptic brothers and sisters daily. May God protect, may He give Strength, may the hearts of our enemies be changed, just as ours are changing.

Andy was very tactful in his response to the question, emphasizing the big picture of how it would be to the world’s obvious benefit if everyone demonstrated religious freedom. During the remainder of his answer, I got lost in my own thoughts. It’s natural to want our enemies to recognize our previous demonstrated efforts. It’s natural to say, “We don’t attack your people here, why are you attacking ours there?” But that’s not how friends think, not enemies. Enemies need dramatic and extraordinary gestures of peace and love to begin to recognize the need to stop fighting against and finding a way to nurture peace and resolution. It’s a long road ahead but the idea of continued  fighting seems longer.

Which got me thinking back to the practical. Do Christians really feed the poor and help build another people group’s temple, all while certain corners of the Church are compromised and in need of rebuilding of their own? This isn’t what Andy said but it’s what I’m leaving thinking about. Part of me thinks its a bandwidth issue – “It would be great to do all this and more but what can we really do?” and another part of me wonders how right Andy is about creating a “false pluralism.” Is my faith too small?

Probably. It was good to ask the question in Nashville where we were told there are more churches than McDonalds. And they have really easy airport pickups. But honestly, it’s good to be back in Boston where we have a different sense of plurality. I am drawn to plurality as it hosts a grander view of God’s created world.  Wherever I am, I don’t want to spend my energy investing in the Christian sub-culture and mistakingly call that the Kingdom of Jesus. That’s not a shot at Nashville, as sub-culture exists everywhere, including the Northeast- they’re just significantly smaller and less obvious. 

In any case, yes, Christ’s Kingdom is stronger in a culture of religious freedom, do practices like accommodation get us there – yes, probably. I’m still meditating on what else this means.

Three More Quick Things regarding Q:

1. The Q Conference is coming to Boston next year April 23-25. Early Registration will be available here. I invite you to come to our great city and be a part of this amazing conversation.

2. All of this year’s talks will be available in June. You can listen to presentations from prior years for free.

3. In case it needs to be said to by like-hearted cynical friends, I have not been paid, asked or subtly encouraged by Q (or anyone) to say any of this. I just like it a lot. Thanks for reading.

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