Culture Friday: Failing to follow through

NICK EICHER, HOST: Next up on The World and Everything in It: Culture Friday.

Joining me now is John Stonestreet, president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview.

Good morning, John.


John, I want to ask you to talk about your Breakpoint commentary this week that calls on the U.S. government to make good on a promise. Specifically, you cited something that Vice President Pence said back in October of last year. I want to play it for you. Pence was speaking in Washington to the annual summit of In Defense of Christians. He starts by saying that Christians and all who are persecuted in the Middle East should not have to rely on multinational institutions when America can help them directly.

PENCE: And tonight, it is my privilege to announce that President Trump has ordered the State Department to stop funding ineffective relief efforts at the United Nations. And from this day forward, America will provide support directly to persecuted communities through USAID.

We will no longer rely on the United Nations alone to assist persecuted Christians and minorities in the wake of genocide and the atrocities of terrorist groups. The United States will work hand-in-hand from this day forward with faith-based groups and private organizations to help those who are persecuted for their faith.
This is the moment. Now is the time. And America will support these people in their hour of need.

We stand with those who suffer for their faith because that’s what Americans have always done, because the common bond of our humanity demands a strong response. And so as a nation, we pledge to support them in these trying times, and every day — every day — I know the American people offer forth a chorus of prayers for these communities from our hearts to the heart of heaven.

But John, you’re critical of the administration, because as of right now, it has failed to follow through. Talk about that.

STONESTREET: Yeah, you know, I think that the vice president’s mandate was just not heeded. It just was not taken care of and good news for him. It’s become clear that when he heard that the instructions he had given that U.S. aid to these Christians, particularly in Iraq not be done through the UN or something like that, but be done directly through USAID and that was the initial instructions. And when he heard that it hadn’t been done, it seems like he really has stepped in.

The Washington Free Beacon, for example, reported that he was irate about the lack of progress. And this really came in response to USAID continuing to reject applications for aid to go to directly the sorts of things that Vice President Pence said that we were going to support. And it’s just a — I think it’s one of those things that this administration really has dealt with across the board. I’m not a conspiracy theorist when it comes to the deep state or anything like that, but particularly there is wishes that an administration has and then there’s layers upon layers of bureaucracy and individuals who have their own agenda.

I can’t speak to what went wrong in USAID. I can’t speak to the fact that the USAID administrator basically had to be forced by the vice president to go and visit Iraq and make sure that the grant-making process was expedited. But we’re talking here about a 15 year wrong. That’ what I said on Breakpoint. 15 years since the invasion of Iraq in 2003 that Iraqi Christians have had a target on their heads from Islamic militants. And this has been something that has been ignored, largely, by American policymakers. Maybe there’s been a little bit of talk about helping them, but the help just hasn’t come through. And what happened was is when Saddam Hussein was deposed, this ISIS threat and radical Islamist threat took aim at all kinds of things in that nation but specifically Christians. And we’re talking here about the oldest Christian community that — on the planet, essentially. A Christian community that dates back to either Thaddeus the apostle or somebody among that first 70 that Jesus sent out that’s recorded in Luke 10. And so we’re talking about an ancient Christian community. A faith that survived for generations that has been all but eliminated in that country. And it’s time to help these people.

I’d like your take on the immigration debate, John, because it really is a bright dividing line in our culture. Particularly, the policy of zero-tolerance at the border and the family separation issue. Now, I’ll admit Twitter is not really the place to go for nuance and thoughtfulness on this or really any other question, but it is a place where you can see the cultural fault lines.

And, speaking of lines… we have lost our main line. John, I know you can still hear me, so we’re going to switch over to the phone line as a backup.

But, continuing on here, I have noticed criticism of pro-life and pro-family people for not sufficiently condemning our current immigration policy. But that seems a bit unfair. It seems to me evangelical leaders, for the most part, are striking the right tone. What do you think?

STONESTREET: Well, you know, I think the reporting on this whole story has been dreadful and I think at the same time what we have seen are kind of ardent defenders of President Trump that have basically tried to defend this policy. Not only the tough crackdown on immigration, but specifically the separation of families at borders. So just this week we had an article in The Washington Post that white evangelicals aren’t speaking up on this. And the same day we had in The New York Times, Bob Vander Plaat, who runs the Iowa Family Council up there, who, if you actually look up the word white evangelical in the dictionary his picture might be there… You have him speaking out against this policy. The truth of the matter is white evangelicals, even those who have been ardently in support of President Trump—and I’m thinking, of course, of Franklin Graham, but also Johnnie Moore and Bob Vander Plaat and some others who have basically been supporting the president on a number of issues—have called him out on this policy of separating families.

Now, in response we’ve got the media putting this entire crisis on President Trump’s immigration policy and, in a sense, the separation is coming because of the zero tolerance policy that Jeff Sessions announced and because that policy requires now cracking down and doing a no tolerance, zero tolerance approach to immigration, then families get separated right away and it’s kind of a consequence that initially was maybe was unforeseen but now is completely foreseen. So, you’ve got the media completely flipping out as if this policy didn’t exist prior to this and basically they’re going to leverage this and use this to have an immigration policy that basically resembles open borders.

On the flipside, I think the evangelical voice here has been all but consistent. I don’t know many evangelical voices that have not spoken out against the separation of families. I certainly am one.

But I think this is an example—and it’s one example among many that we’re seeing right now—where we’re going to have to walk and chew gum at the same time. I put this social media post out this week where I said, “Look, I can simultaneously say that families should not be separated at the border and that the media coverage of this whole thing has been hypocritical and basically inaccurate.” I can say both that we need to tighten the border and that asylum seekers should not be treated in the same moral category as thieves and murderers. I can say both at the same time that many, not all, critics of this policy are more interested in attacking Trump than doing the right thing and that many, though not all, defenders of the policy are more interested in defending Trump than doing the right thing. I can say that Sessions’ use of Scripture was terrible proof-texting and at the same time say that CNN and NPR’s response using the scriptures is terrible proof-texting and also strangely timed. Parents shouldn’t break the law with their children and we shouldn’t punish children for parents breaking the law. We’re going to have to walk and chew gum at the same time. We can have a crackdown on the border and yet not do something that is really inhumane and that is the separation of children from their families.

But Christians, I think, have been pretty clear on this and I think we can be clear and I think we’re going to have to be able to say both things, both sides of this issue and a whole lot of other issues if we’re going to be faithful voices in this political moment.

John Stonestreet is president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview. It’s Culture Friday, John, thanks so much, and we’ll talk again soon.

STONESTREET: Thanks, Nick.

(AP Photo/Evan Vucci) President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting of the National Space Council in the East Room of the White House, Monday, June 18, 2018, in Washington, as Vice President Mike Pence looks on. 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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