Culture Friday: Combating antisemitism

MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Friday the 2nd of November, 2018. Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher.

BRADY: Inside the synagogue, Bowers shot and killed 11 individuals and wounded two others. During the course of his deadly assault on the people of the synagogue, Bowers made statements regarding genocide and his desire to kill Jewish people. There are 11 counts of murdering victims who were exercising their religious beliefs. There are 11 counts of using a firearm to commit murder and each of these counts is punishable by death.

EICHER: That’s the U.S. attorney for the western district of Pennsylvania, Scott Brady. He’s detailing the case against the alleged killer of worshipers at a Pittsburgh synagogue last Saturday.

On Wednesday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the grand jury indictment containing a total of 44 counts.

SESSIONS: It was an attack on America’s values, of protecting those of faith. It cannot and will not be tolerated.

EICHER: It’s Culture Friday and time now to welcome John Stonestreet. He’s president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview. John, good morning.

JOHN STONESTREET, GUEST: Good morning, Nick!

EICHER: We cannot tiptoe around this. We need to talk about the evil of anti-semitism in this country.

STONESTREET: We do and we need to talk about it not just in this country, but it’s really an ongoing feature of the western world. And we saw a lot of attempts to lay this anti-semitism at the feet of President Trump this week either directly or indirectly in the name of divisive language, which of course both sides of the political aisle are guilty of—including the president—but both sides certainly.

But what we’re seeing here is deeper, more deeply underground and that stuff continues to bubble up. We’re seeing social media sites like Gab provide context for people to express these views. And these views are on the rise. The Anti-Defamation League has tracked an increase of hate crimes against Jewish people across the U.S. specifically and, of course, we’ve seen it in other parts of the world, including Germany, where you’d think if anyone learned the lesson of anti-semitism, it would be that group.

But I think we do need to specifically say one thing and that is that in the history of Christianity, we do not have a flawless track record at any level when it comes to anti-semitism. There is a tradition of this. This tradition is highlighted certainly at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. and the film of the kind of the anti-Jewish bias that has come through Christian history.

Now, more recently, I think the Zionist movement, dispensational theology, and a dispensational view of the end times popularized by teachers like John Hagee and some others have really kind of moved away from that, at least in terms of advancing the nation of Israel today. But I’m not sure supporting the nation of Israel is the same thing as fighting anti-semitism. It can be and it should be but there’s a long history here. We can look at Martin Luther’s comments about the Jews, which Eric Metaxas tries to deal with at some level in his biography. We can certainly look at ways that it popped up and was endorsed by the German church during the Nazi era. More specifically, we’ve got a group of people who claim, essentially, a far right sort of antisemitism in the name of pro-American, God and country, blood and soil sorts of stuff. We’ve seen it in marches such as in Charlottesville and we see it in these dark corners of the internet.

And it’s not sufficient in this cultural moment for Christians just not to be anti-semitic themselves. We’ve got to be willing to speak up. We’ve got to be willing to actually confront it. We’ve got to be willing to not tolerate the jokes from our far-right friends and neighbors and to confront it because of the dangers that we’ve seen. Ideas put on legs and they walk into the real world. And, I think, theologically, there’s no way to justify anti-semitism in the name of Christianity. Russell Moore had a strong piece this week where he said to hate Jews is to hate Jesus and I think he’s right.

EICHER: Let’s talk about the broader question of global religious freedom, John. This week WORLD interviewed the U.S. ambassador for religious freedom, Sam Brownback. Our newest
Washington correspondent Harvest Prude had the opportunity to speak with the ambassador over at the State Department. The occasion was the 20th anniversary of the bill that created the religious freedom office Brownback now occupies.

Pretty wide-ranging interview. But I want to call your attention to what I thought was particularly different about this administration—at least the tone of it.

Here’s a bit of audio we haven’t played yet. I want you to hear it and and get your comment on it.

But Brownback here is talking about the ineffectiveness of the so-called “name-and-shame” lists. The lists of oppressive governments that do tend to generate lots of publicity.

BROWNBACK: But then nothing really would happen. I think the key is you’ve gotta make it in that country’s best interest. Either let Pastor Brunson free or your currency’s going to continue to be down. Or you’ve gotta say to other countries, “Look, if you want to really grow your economy, you need to open up to religious freedom. You’ve gotta have divergent thoughts, you’ve gotta be able to protect your minority religious community. If you want less terrorism, you need more religious freedom because somebody that you restrict will fight you.” If you’re going to keep a young and vibrant population, you’ve gotta be open to these freedoms.

EICHER: Well, as I mentioned, the United States placed something of a premium on promoting religious freedom 20 years ago. John, your thoughts on progress? Or lack of it?

STONESTREET: Well, I think the ambassador’s exactly right. In fact, I was one of the ones when President Trump announced an executive order on religious liberty early in his presidency looking at the text of it going, there’s nothing here. But there was promises that more was coming. And I have to say, more came and more has come and it continues to come. And a lot of this has to do with the sort of people that are in this administration and Ambassador Brownback is one of those.

Now, of course, he’s riding, certainly, a tradition of people who have been yelling and screaming and shouting for years. Most notably, Congressman Frank Wolf, or– former Congressman Frank Wolf. And at that time, I think there was a whole lot more noise than action. I think there was a whole lot more kind of verbal support for yes, everyone should be able to worship freely, but there wasn’t a real understanding of the distinction between the freedom of worship and the freedom of religion. The ability to live by one’s conviction, much less the ability to actually worship without fear of reprisal and if it happens, for somebody to have their back internationally. And we haven’t seen that until this administration.

But the ambassador’s right. It has to be at the priority not just of verbal mentions, but it has to be at the priority where you’re able to put financial levers behind it. And that’s what this administration has been willing to do. I think there’s more to be done, certainly.

I was concerned this week, in fact, one of my Breakpoint commentaries this past week had to do with a young woman in Pakistan who was acquitted of blasphemy charges. She was facing the death penalty. And the good news is now her appeal has been met and she’s free. But her life is still very much in danger in a place like Pakistan. And the Christian community is very much in danger. This is going to be a heated week there — a heated couple weeks in Pakistan because of this decision. How’s the U.S. going to step in? Are we going to step in with financial levers or just vague threats? That’s the question and that’s how you know whether it’s a priority if it doesn’t get put on the backburner for a couple of dollars.

EICHER: Alright, well, as we go, let’s listen to a short clip of a song that became popular in Pakistan about 10 years ago. Lots of Pakistani artists got together to declare “Yeh Hum Naheen”—probably not saying it exactly right—but roughly translated from Urdu, it’s “This is not us,” a rejection of terrorism.

The name by which you know us, we are not that. That’s the first of the lyrics you’ll hear. We’ll go out on a hopeful note.

John Stonestreet is president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview. It’s Culture Friday, John, thanks so much. We’ll talk to you next time.

STONESTREET: Thanks, Nick.

(AP Photo/Keith Srakocic) Mourners walk behind the hearse with the casket of Irving Younger, 69, past Congregation Rodef Shalom after his funeral on Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2018, in Pittsburgh. 

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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