Culture Friday: Year-in-review


MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Friday the 28th of December, 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. It’s Culture Friday for the last Friday of 2018 and John Stonestreet joins me now. John, good morning. Trust your Christmas was wonderful.

JOHN STONESTREET, GUEST: It was! And thank you. Good morning!

EICHER: Monday is New Year’s Eve, so this is our last opportunity to talk about the year that was while it still is.

You know, one of my favorite WORLD Magazine issues is our Year in Review, and it’s remarkable how easily you forget just how much happened this year — and how just flipping through can bring it all back.

Just quickly, 2018 demonstrated the depths of human depravity with the violence in Syria, and the suffering of Venezuela brought on by a depraved economic system.

We read about authoritarians and totalitarians consolidating power in Russia and China. But we shouldn’t forget abuses in democratic systems: such as the court-ordered death of a 23-month-old child in Britain against his parents’ wishes, and Ireland repealing protections for unborn children.

We had violence here in the United States: another mass shooting at a high school, Parkland, Florida. The synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh.

We had cultural low moments, such as the sentencing of Bill Cosby this year. But high points, too, with a Supreme Court victory for religious freedom.

And speaking of the Supreme Court, another reminder of how utterly divided we are as a country.

John, I want to know what moments this year really stand out for you, and do it this way: maybe talk about a few big runners-up and then tell me what you think your cultural story of the year is domestically.

STONESTREET: Well, I think you’ve named so many that are really important, obviously—the MeToo story is one of the bigger stories of the year, and it has been something that has transcended ecclesiastical lines. In other words, it’s happened in Hollywood and D.C.—it’s happened out there—but it’s also happened in here. And I think it tells us something about the constants. As much as the news changes, there is something about human nature that doesn’t change.

And, certainly, we saw that this year. And interesting that not only did it happen within the church and outside the church, it happened in protestant circles, Catholic circles, and even at the end of the year there, fundamentalist circles. So I think the MeToo story, it’s not a story that’s over by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s a story that continues.

Certainly on the political front, the political divide. There were so many moments of this. I think obviously the Brett Kavanaugh hearing was probably the pinnacle of a divided nation where we literally saw two sides willing to ignore facts in order to stand where they did in their agendas. And we saw it on both sides. We had people say that here a Supreme Court justice, even if he was guilty, it was irrelevant. Another one willing to accept what we now know to be false accusations about any sort of corroboration in order to derail a candidate. And it just illustrated, I think, it’s almost trite to say that we’re politically divided now because we’re so politically divided.

And yet it was really good news to see that the Senate near the end of the year passed the First Step Act, which is a prison reform thing that’s taken place for a really long time. And I want to mention that because that’s like the only bipartisan thing left on the planet is this agreement that we’ve got to do something about our prisons. And I think it’s important to mention that as the president of the Colson Center and to identify once again that a lot of this had its roots in Chuck Colson’s life and influence.

There’s a lot of other things, certainly, we can point to as well, but I do want to say that the religious freedom cases in the Supreme Court, I want to kind of land there as my stories of the year. Not because those cases got us everything that we wanted in terms of religious freedom, but it did, I think, in a short little kind of vignette highlight the great kind of struggle for the soul of America, which is the place of religion in the public square and the place of sex in the public square. And it seems like these two players right now that are really fighting not just to win Supreme Court cases, but literally fighting for the telos of the universe.

And I mean that, obviously, in the West. You don’t have the luxury of having a sexual revolution in a place where Boko Haram is trying to eliminate you as a person of faith. In other words, this is a very Western problem. And yet at the same time, this is—given the West’s influence around the world, you talked earlier about the Ireland referendum on reversing its longstanding ban on abortion… You talked about this terrible horrific story near the end of the year of this 11-year-old drag queen dressing in drag and dancing in a gay bar as patrons threw money at him. And no one does anything about this. This isn’t considered sexual abuse. And you find that the sexual revolution has infiltrated so much of our culture, redefined so much of what’s considered normal and is filled with so much internal contradiction in terms of this was the year, too, where we celebrated Hugh Hefner and threw Harvey Weinstein under the bus.

And so the Supreme Court cases are really indicative of a much deeper, I think, battle for the soul of who we are and how we see each other. And I think that’s why we got a Supreme Court decision in the Jack Phillips case but it didn’t go quite as far as we wanted it to.

But the battle here, I guess is what I’m saying, the battle here goes to a level just as deep as who we are as human beings. And so I’m going to say that that’s my domestic story of the year.

EICHER: Let’s talk internationally. There were lots of accounts of persecuted believers around the world. Right now, we’re hearing about crackdowns on Christian congregations in China. There’s the compelling story of Asia Bibi and the barbaric blasphemy laws in Pakistan. But also, the release from Turkey of American pastor Andrew Brunson, WORLD’s Daniel of the Year this year. What’s your pick for the big overall international cultural story for 2018?

STONESTREET: Well, it’s hard for me to pick between Asia Bibi and the Christian crackdown in China. And the reason is is because the persecution of religious minorities—especially people of the Christian faith around the world—continues. I mean, 2018’s the worst year on record, followed by 2017, followed by 2016. We’re going the wrong direction when it comes to international religious freedom, when it comes to the persecution of religious minorities. China, for example, not only cracked down on Christian congregations famously this year, but rounded up Muslims and put them in re-education camps. So we’ve got a real issue when it comes to religious liberty around the world and religious liberty around the world’s on the decline, religious liberty in America’s under attack, America is the place that has stood up for religious liberty. You know, you put all this together and the math just doesn’t work out in favor of people of faith that are in kind of in a situation of being an oppressed minority. And so I think that’s the biggest overall story.

I think there’s also a story, too, and I just don’t think we have all the details. We have kind of the failure of socialism in places like Venezuela and so on and you have the reaction to leftism in terms of kind of what are often called far-right groups that are rising up in so many different countries.

So that’s another story, but still, for me, the religious persecution story continues to carry the day. I mean, it’s just kind of what’s happening in the world that’s going to have the greatest consequence for the greatest number of people. And kind of for our future.

EICHER: John, before we go, I just want to say: I am always struck at the end of the year by notable obituaries. And it’s a reminder that the cemeteries are filled with indispensable men.

But I’m also struck by the ones the cut across the whole of culture. The death of Billy Graham was certainly a major story. But also the death of former president George H.W. Bush.

You see in the services and tributes a flickering of the notion of shared cultural values, but after the funeral that evaporates pretty quickly.

Maybe that’s the story: that that flickering is a reminder of all we’ve lost. But then again, as you say, I wish we lived in the good old days. I just don’t know when they were.

What do you think?

STONESTREET: Well, yeah, we spent a lot of time on the deaths particularly of both of those individuals that you named—Billy Graham and President George H.W. Bush—because they do point to something else. In fact, you know, the other domestic story, if I can come back to that since you mentioned obituaries, are the obituaries of those names that most of us don’t know about. But they’re on the rise. The so-called deaths from despair. So you look at this kind of, we’re chopping out our own legs, we’re attacking the values that we recognize as great and individuals like Billy Graham and George H.W. Bush and what’s the net result, what’s the sum? The sum is an epidemic of teen suicide, opioid addiction, and overdoses. All of these things that we’re now calling deaths from despair. We had another year this year where the life expectancy is down.

And the factor that’s playing the largest role are these deaths from despair. And that’s the juxtaposition that I think Christians need to look at because Christians—as we say here often—are always at their best not when things are going well but when things are not going well. Not by running away from the bad but running into the middle of it. And so I think we all have to recognize as much as we might want to find out when those good old days were and get back to those days, we all need to ask that question as N.T. Wright says, “What time is it?” Where do we live in redemptive history and then how does that imply a calling from God to take redemption into brokenness? And I think our opportunity is becoming more and more clarified and it’s as great of an opportunity to proclaim Christ as any generation that’s ever lived.

EICHER: John Stonestreet is president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview. It’s Culture Friday. John, thank you and Happy New Year.

STONESTREET: Thank you and Happy New Year to you.


(Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images) Jack Phillips, Masterpiece Cake Shop

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