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On God and Freedom Conservatism
Head of Christian think tank explains his decision to join the FreeCon project
Mark Tooley is president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy. Its mission is to serve as “an ecumenical think tank committed to responsible Christian witness in society rooted in historic church teaching and Christian realism.” A former employee of the Central Intelligence Agency, Tooley serves as publisher of the foreign-policy journal Providence and writes frequently for such publications as The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, World magazine, and First Things about national security, family policy, environmentalism, the federal budget, the Methodist Church, and a variety of other subjects.
Tooley is also a proud signatory of the Freedom Conservatism Statement of Principles. “It points to liberty,” as he put it in a recent Providence article, commending the statement’s affirmation of free markets, fiscal sustainability, racial equality, and deference to families and communities, among other principles.
Unlike its fusionist predecessor, the Sharon Statement of 1960, the FreeCon statement contains no specific references to religion. “Before signing it, I briefly paused, wondering about the lack of specific mention of God,” Tooley wrote. Upon reflection, however, he decided that “the statement implicitly assumes a largely biblical perspective about human dignity, the limits of government, private property, equality before the law, the primacy of conscience, protection for families, and statecraft premised on providential realism.”
To inform his discussion of the FreeCon project, Tooley also took a closer look at the Sharon statement, drafted by Stan Evans and signed at Bill Buckley’s Connecticut home, as well as the insights of Catholic theologian Michael Novak about the role of Christian witness in the politics of pluralistic societies. Here’s what Tooley concluded:
We who are conservative can strive, with our collective judgment and historical experience, to root our political perspective in ultimate truth claims about God. But with humility we must not conflate these judgements with divine will or inflexible dogma. And we understand that all political principles and institutions are under divine judgment.
In our frequently asked questions section, we cited Tooley’s article in explaining why we worded the statement the way we did:
Most signatories agree that societies are unlikely to remain healthy and free unless there is a widespread belief in God or some transcendent moral order. Most FreeCons are also people of faith, though we differ widely in religious affiliation and practice. Because religion is a matter about which Americans should be free to disagree — and that attempting to collapse such disagreements into a “common denominator” statement would offer only a thin and unsatisfying slice of what is a thick layer of meaning — we chose to focus instead on public policies affecting people of faith.
A wave building for freedom
One of our newest signatories is Patrick Brenner, president of the Southwest Public Policy Institute. Founded as “the vanguard of free-market ideals,” SPPI seeks to “hold government structures accountable for the betterment of the American Southwest.” Here’s what Brenner and his colleagues pledged do do in the coming months and years to advance the cause:
Educate & Advocate: Using our platform to spread awareness about the principles of Freedom Conservatism, emphasizing their importance in the present sociopolitical landscape.
Engage with Communities: Foster a dialogue within local communities, encouraging them to understand and adopt these principles in their day-to-day lives.
Collaborate with Like-Minded Entities: To amplify the impact of our efforts, we’ll work closely with other signatories and organizations, sharing resources, knowledge, and best practices.
SPPI joins dozens of other state-based think tanks and grassroots organizations across the country whose leaders have signed the FreeCon statement. One of them, North Carolina’s John Locke Foundation, employs several signatories. Locke’s digital manager, Bethany Torstenson, wrote last week that the statement reminded her of Ronald Reagan’s powerful words from a 1961 speech:
Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it on to our children in the bloodstream. The only way they can inherit the freedom we have known is if we fight for it, protect it, defend it, and then hand it to them with the well fought lessons of how they in their lifetime must do the same.
Torstenson said she was ”deeply encouraged” by the FreeCon project and hoped like-minded Americans will “unite in the spirit of freedom” to preserve that “Shining City on a Hill” Reagan described so eloquently.
“Remember, every ripple can lead to a wave,” wrote SPPI’s Brenner. “And together, we can ensure that the wave of Freedom Conservatism washes over not just the American Southwest but the entire nation, leading to a brighter, freer, and more prosperous future for all.”
In the Canadian newspaper Globe and Mail, columnist and TV commentator Andrew Coyne discussed the “diametrically opposed tendencies” of Freedom Conservatives and National Conservatives. “Where FreeCons believe that businesses should live or die depending on their ability to serve consumers, NatCons take a more interventionist line, in which business decisions are explicitly shaped by government direction,” Coyne wrote.
Signatory Avik Roy of the Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity appeared last week on “Critics Corner,” hosted by Oren Cass of American Compass. After Cass wrote a Financial Times column critical of the FreeCon statement, he invited Roy to respond. Click here to listen to the hourlong podcast.