By Lathan Watts, Director of Public Affairs
“May you live in interesting times” is a well-known phrase in the West that is purportedly one of a trilogy of Chinese curses. Its counterparts are “May you come to the attention of those in authority,” and “May the gods give you everything you ask for.” Today we do indeed find ourselves in interesting times, but as is so often the case in America, adversity is bringing to light the true character of our nation.
Without baseball, our new national pastime seems to be the continual assessment of the cultural, economic, and political impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Americans. While our way of life may have changed dramatically as we adapt to a hopefully short-lived “new normal,” Americans can take comfort in the fact that at least one thing hasn’t changed: churches, ministries, religious non-profits, and people of faith across the country are still serving their fellow man.
The tactics and strategies may have been adjusted in keeping with government restrictions on meetings, social distancing, and other preventative measures, but the faithful continue striving to make life better for those around them. We see churches gathering food and distributing it to those in their community in need. Faith-based nonprofits are providing medical services in hard hit areas. In my own experience, I’ve seen church youth groups checking on elderly neighbors and running errands for them.
Thanks to shelter-in-place directives, many of us may feel a new empathy for “shut-ins,” but churches and ministries were visiting the homebound long before this crisis began and will continue to do so when the crisis is over. The sick, the poor, the hungry, the unemployed – coronavirus may be adding to their number, but the community of faith is responding in kind. It is what they have always done and what they always will do. Media whether new, old, or social delivers new stories each day.
What isn’t new is the fact that religious institutions are a vital element to the life of a nation. Religion reminds us that while we often act like sinners, we are capable of being saints. Certainly, people of no religious background, agnostics, and atheists can and do perform acts of service, but historically, it has been the influence of religion that compels mankind to overcome our self-centered human nature and strive to a better, higher calling.
The Founders understood the essentiality of religion to civil society, placing religious freedom first among God-given rights protected by the Constitution. John Adams famously noted, “our Constitution was made for a moral and religious people; it is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
Later, Alexis de Tocqueville in his “Democracy in America” noted, “not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits aflame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, she will cease to be great.”
This is why First Liberty Institute exists to defend religious freedom in America. People of all faiths, when allowed to live accordingly, make their communities better. Religion instructs us to care for our neighbor; religious freedom protects the good de Tocqueville so admired which makes our nation great.
As our great nation continues moving through an unprecedented series of events, elected officials will strive to find the delicate balance between protecting public health and protecting the health of our economy. There is no doubt the two are inextricably linked. Our leaders should not neglect the contribution of charitable organizations, and those of us not impacted financially by this crisis should not neglect our contributions to charitable organizations.
Churches, ministries, and faith-based nonprofits play essential roles in the cultural and economic life of the nation in ordinary times. In fact, a 2016 study showed the economic impact of religious organizations outpaces that of the top ten tech companies combined. But such institutions can have a particularly significant impact in extraordinary times like those we find ourselves in currently.
Yet the most important role for religious institutions is one that can’t be quantified. They inspire us to take care of each other. They remind us it shouldn’t take a crisis for Americans to come together. They point us to a better quality of life not measured in dollars and cents. They also offer hope – the most precious commodity upon which no one can place a price tag.