Culture Friday: Religious liberty at home and abroad

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Up next on The World and Everything in It: Culture Friday.

NICK EICHER, HOST: Which means it’s time to say hello to John Stonestreet, president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview.

John, good morning.

JOHN STONESTREET, GUEST: Good morning, Nick.

EICHER: John, the attorney general of the United States has been making a lot of news this week. Wednesday night, Jeff Sessions spoke to a religious liberty summit put on by Alliance Defending Freedom. The big news from the speech was the attorney general’s calling out the Southern Poverty Law Center for what he called its bullying tactics. He also talked about the hostility that people of faith face.

SESSIONS: The people of this nation are still the most religious people in the developed world. Yet people of faith are facing, I think it’s fair to say, a new hostility. And really some of it is a bigoted ideology, which is founded on animus toward people of faith.

About a week and a half ago, Sessions also announced the creation of a new religious liberty task force.

And that came on the heels of the Religious Freedom Ministerial in late July in Washington. We reported that story thoroughly here at WORLD.

The ministerial was more about global religious freedom issues, where it is quite literally often a matter of life and death.

Now, domestic religious-liberty questions tend to get caught up in domestic politics. And Sessions’s speech to Alliance Defending Freedom is probably a good example of that. It sounded pretty combative.

But when we talk about religious-liberty abroad, there’s a strong argument that we’re not doing enough—for instance, not doing enough to help protect Christian minorities fleeing Islamist persecution.

Do you think the Trump administration’s words and deeds are lining up well on all questions of religious liberty, both foreign and domestic?

STONESTREET: Well, it’s a great question. I think all — the way you phrased that, “all of the questions.” There’s a lot of them. I think what people are missing, especially people in mainstream media outlets are missing, is that the ground on religious liberty—both domestic and international—have eroded so much over the last 10, 12 years that the sort of questions that we’re having as a culture, I mean, honestly to an outside observer I would hope or think would sound ridiculous. Forcing pro-life pregnancy care centers to advertise abortion services for the state? I mean, that’s extreme and that’s what we’re seeing here. And, of course, we know that the international picture has become so hard.

I think the attorney general, and I was here at the event where the attorney general spoke and he mentioned 80 or so odd countries in which religious persecution or religious oppression of some form or another is a reality. I mean, this is serious stuff. And the categories have fundamentally changed, particularly under the Obama administration.

I spoke on this earlier this week at the ADF summit that one of the ways that the state tries to replace God—and I know that kind of sounds like extreme language, but I think state, at least what we have seen, they don’t like counter allegiances. And what we’ve seen in the United States is the state basically telling a group of nuns here’s what you—here’s what the proper scope of your religious belief is and here’s what’s not. I mean, these are kind of radical views and people forget how far down the line it’s gone.

I was one of the ones—and I probably did it in our weekly conversation, Nick—when the very first executive order came out from President Trump and it was a real disappointment, I thought at the time, and I think many people thought the same thing, that it didn’t address the real concerns. In his campaign, President Trump spent a lot of time talking about saying Merry Christmas again and the Johnson amendment, both of which are not issues, really, that any champion of religious freedom that I know of really cares that much about.

But we were promised at the time when that executive order came out that more was coming and that there’d be a step two, step three, that there was a lot of administrative things that needed to be unwound and so on. And I don’t know the details about why, but I do have to say that so far is a very impressive track record right now on this administration standing up for religious freedom.

I’m not sure based on what I’ve seen from the president that that’s coming directly from him other than it’s coming from people he’s surrounded himself with, and that’s the thing that we’ve also talked about is that you don’t just get a president, you get an entire administration. And there’s an administration—people in the administration that see religion as something good and not something negative. As something that brings health and well-being to individuals in societies and not the thing that is essentially a license to discriminate. And that’s the difference between the last administration and this one.

EICHER: Another story we reported on this week here on the program was a tactic that abortion supporters are using. They’re trying to drum up opposition to the president’s nominee to replace retired Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy. I speak of Judge Brett Kavanaugh, whom President Trump nominated last month.

But the tactic is to insist that Kavanaugh’s nomination will spell the end of Roe versus Wade. Of course, it’s not that simple, for reasons we’ve explained before.

Politics, as we well know, is not always about sweet reason. Maybe I should say it’s rarely ever about that.

But I wonder whether the pro-abortion side isn’t on to something here. You commented on this recently, John: that according to a fresh NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, opposition to overturning Roe versus Wade is at an all-time high in the history of that poll and that question, going back to 2005. Surprisingly, 71 percent don’t want Roe overturned.

What do you make of that? How do you square it with the significant pro-life groundswell we see in other polls. Seems like a contradiction.

STONESTREET: It seems like a contradiction, that’s for sure. But I think there’s a number of things that are at work here. I think on a really pragmatic level the one thing is that the messaging and the talking point that we continue to hear across the board is that Roe v. Wade was tied to feminism and it was tied to women’s rights and it was tied to advancement. And because of that, I think even people that are personally pro-life don’t want to go against women’s rights, so I think you have that.

I think there’s also the myth and I can’t tell you how many times I hear this myth and I’m so tired of seeing protesters dress up as the Handmaid’s Tale as if that has any resemblance to reality, when they should be protesting in Handmaid’s Tale gear in front of the surrogacy farms in Nepal and India. But this idea that there’s no care for women and there’s no care, especially, for the babies afterwards. That pro-lifers only care about babies in the womb, not out of the womb and so on and so on. Which is observably, tangibly, demonstrably both in terms of financial and just historical terms just flat out not true, but it’s a narrative that tends to hold weight.

And I’m so tired of hearing it. I mean, I hear so-called religious social — Christian social justice warriors continue to say that and it’s just nonsense because the number of Christian organizations and Christian individuals that are lining up to adopt and so on. I’m not saying it’s enough, but it’s far more than any other country on the planet. But it still holds sticking power.

But there’s something underneath all this, Nick, and I think that really what’s behind this is that we have a culture that’s built on relativism and people are just rabidly allergic to saying that something’s wrong for somebody else. This is the same generation that measures more personally pro-life than their parents that also measure higher in their willingness to drive their friend to an abortion clinic because they might need their help and they want to be loving and caring… And that relativism is certainly an unwillingness to impose our views on someone else, but it also, I think, preserves at some level a get out of jail free card for us. I’ve heard people say that in the church, most Christians are against abortion except in three cases: rape and incest and my case. And when you don’t have a culture that has a True North or a fundamental orienting point for its morality, solid ground to make ethical decisions when it comes to beginning and end of life issues, then these sorts of squishy edges will remain.

And that’s, I think, what we’re seeing in this poll data, which means, again, as we’ve said, there’s still a lot of cultural work to do, even if the legal stuff comes through. And that’s something that will continue, whatever happens even if Roe v. Wade gets kicked back to the states or anything like that. We’re still going to have to do that sort of cultural work.

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

STONESTREET: Thanks, Nick.

(AP Photo/John Amis) Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Thursday, Aug. 9, 2018, in Macon, Ga.

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