Andy Crouch, What Does the Faith and Work Movement Need to Hear?

In early February, I probed the thoughts of Andy Crouch, author, blogger, and speaker. Crouch had just resigned as executive editor at Christianity Today and moved to the John Templeton Foundation as a communication strategist. His books and speaking engagements have made him a thought leader on culture, and connected him notably to the faith and work movement.

I was curious what Andy Crouch would have to say about the faith and work movement. What are we missing, what are we getting right?

Andy first focused on the danger of myopia: lack of insight due to too few voices. While he is complementary of the movement’s growth, and respectful of the thought leaders who have gotten us this far, Crouch warns against the temptation to focus on too narrow a definition of work and its problems.

He said:

It’s not bad that that the faith and work moment emerged from churches that were in positions of relative influence: Manhattan or Overland Park. There are certain kinds of insights you get at in elite settings. Elite settings concentrate issues often in very vivid ways.

So that’s all good. The only problem is, you know, the obvious one: the vast majority of work doesn’t happen in those settings.  I actually think the most intractable challenges of work are not with the kind of jobs that tend to be done in Manhattan or Overland Park.

The real challenge of work in our world is the vast majority of work does not give even minimal scope for image bearing, and does not respect the relational and bodily nature of human beings. We are made to work with one another in deep ways and we are made to use our bodies in holistic ways.

If work in elite settings is most apparent, and therefore addressed first, what does a myopic vision of work lead us to neglect?

The other thing about working in elite settings is it tends to be very post-industrial. This actually has its own problems because there is so little activity that we do anymore. Whereas work used always to mean exertion of the body. Now the problem that everyone has who works in an office is inactivity.

(Post-industrial work) also allows us to neglect how much work is still really toilsome, often exploitative; often a mechanistic use of human beings in the factories that give us the tools that allow us to do our leading work.  

This doesn’t negate any of the insights so far from the faith and work movement. It just means we have only scratched the surface of what it would look like to really think about work that flourishes for everybody, especially on a global level.

How, I asked Andy, do faith and work leaders find the next set of issues to address? His answer involves examples, good and poor, and preparing to speak prophetic truth to structural problems in economics, class, and politics.

I would go looking for exemplary outliers that are really healthy workplaces up and down the chain of elite power.  What is the hospital in the United States where the orderlies are the most flourishing, and have the greatest sense of dignity and significance in their work? I am guessing if you can find that hospital you also find the hospital where the doctors and nurses are most flourishing.

You find the best and try to understand the factors that make this place uniquely healthy.  What is the investment firm that is the most healthy, all the way down. Not just for the brokers or whomever, but for the whole system. Learn from that, and correlate that: if it is not already led by people of faith, correlate it with other connections.

Bright spots. Yes. We have in the faith and work movement a plethora of examples, and need more unique to various industries and sectors. Here’s the growing edge Andy offers to us all.

You go look for the bright spots, and then I think you go look at the most exploitative side. You go to the extremes.  Go to the place where (labor) is really most exploited, and this would obviously be trafficking of various kinds. Most trafficking in the world is not for sex; it is for labor. So what are the systems that perpetuate trafficking for labor? And not just the lack of legal enforcement, which is a big factor, but what are the demand side factors?

Ouch. But true.

What does our faith have to say about the demand for labor that can be exploited? So, I think (the faith and work movement has) more to say about both of those things. Right now we have more exemplary examples.

Preach it, Andy.

In closing, Andy went someplace  I never imagined: government regulation. He spoke to the role of government regulation in order to protect people from exploitation, rather than regulation to ensconce the elite class’ power and wealth.

If we reflect more on, “Why is work going so wrong around the world?” I think you would find that, partly, you are going to get into some tangled things. When you restrict work to the western professional middle class, they live blissfully free of undue government interference.

You really can almost bracket out politics and policy entirely in certain domains of professional work. Less in healthcare, but more so like ad agencies and those kinds of things. They never have to think regulation. Yet, when you start asking why are people systematically exploited for labor, you immediately get to questions of regulation and government policy that are not always comfortable for the more economically conservative folks to confront.  

So, you are going to have to think about systemic things. In a way that we have this luxury; we have a luxury of not thinking systemically when we work in the professional middle class.

My takeaways? Expand my reading, go do some physical labor (and not at the Y), call out exploitative labor practices, and explore the Biblical role of regulation beyond the right-left dichotomy of politics. No small task. Thank you, Andy.

Dr. Case Thorp is leader of The Collaborative for Cultural and Economic Renewal and the Senior Associate Pastor at First Presbyterian Church of Orlando.

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