Culture Friday: The year ahead

MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Friday the 4th of January, 2019. So glad you’re 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 first Friday of 2019 and John Stonestreet joins me now. John, good morning.

JOHN STONESTREET, GUEST: Good morning, Nick!

EICHER: I had intended today to ask you for a list of issues you think are going to loom large in the new year. Then I heard your Breakpoint commentary the other day, and I heard that list.

So what I’d like to do is run through the list and ask you to expand a bit on each of the four areas you identified:

Number one, LGBT rights versus religious liberty.

Number two, religious persecution globally.

Number three, bioethics and the culture of death.

And number four, politics.

I’ll start with the observation that we could’ve done this list 12 months ago, 24 months ago.

And as you start with the first one—LGBT rights versus religious liberty—reflect for me on why it seems to be the same issue set just with different players.

STONESTREET: Well, yeah, I think these are just worldview level issues. Each of these get to the heart of questions about what it means to be human, how we’re going to have life together, how do we deal with deeply held differences, the role that beliefs play that transcend things like biology and environment and other things that oftentimes social scientists or scientists themselves just focus on.

We miss the important part of — that as John Calvin put it, humans are incurably religious creatures. And all of these issues get to the heart of those ultimate questions of who we are, why we exist, why we’re here, what’s wrong with the world, and what’s the answer, where’s history headed? I mean, what we often say around the Colson Center, those questions of origin, identity, meaning, morality, and destiny.

So, I think that’s why these things keep popping up. And, also, they haven’t been resolved at any level. In some cases, there’s been an attempt. Like, for example, this first issue when it comes to religious liberty and the collision between religious liberty and sexual freedom. This collision has been in place for a long time, it just reached the courts over the last couple years. It reached below the Supreme Court the years previous, and every decision went in the favor of sexual rights up until the Obergefell decision. And it was just this year that we had any reprieve whatsoever from sexual freedom not completely trumping religious freedom—and no pun intended there—just over and over and over.

You have an Obama appointee—Chai Feldblum—arguing that there’s not a single case that she could imagine in which religious liberty should trump sexual freedom. And so that’s the way the courts ruled until this year. And even this year, the courts didn’t settle that, as we know, in the Masterpiece Cake Shop decision. There was not a decision made about how we’re going to balance these two things.

We got a little bit more definitive when it came to the right of Christians and people of conscience not to be involved in abortion in the NIFLA decision. That was really gratifying. But the reason none of this is going away is because so much of these challenges happen on the local level. They happen with unelected panels of Civil Rights Commissions and so on. And a lot of times these things are politically loaded, like in Colorado. I could go on and on and on about how the same commission that got smacked down by the Supreme Court this year is now going back after Jack and how the commission itself is made up of extremists. And because you have that, this challenge is going to continue. And because we’re also living in the wake of the sexual revolution and ultimately the sexual revolution was something that redefined the world in so many different ways. And that’s why, to me, it’s still the number one issue that we face, at least here in America.

EICHER: Issue two: religious persecution globally. Now, the theme of this administration at least of late seems to be to disengage, to be less interventionist around the world. What effect do you think that’ll have, John, on protecting religious minorities around the world?

STONESTREET: Well, I appreciate the Ambassador for International Religious Freedom At Large Sam Brownback, but I feel like also what we do have is an administration that’s not willing to put its neck out on the international stuff. Certainly has been very vocal and actually has come through on religious liberty concerns when it comes domestically. But, you know, Asia Bibi still has not been granted asylum and we could just go down the list in terms of persecuted religious minorities.

We’ve got China heating up. That’s an interesting and tragic thing. Not only the persecution of Christians there, which kind of has ebbed and flowed for decades now, but specifically the imprisonment and reeducation of Muslims. As someone who thinks all Muslims should trust Christ, I still want to say that putting them in concentration camps or prison camps or reeducation camps, or whatever you want to call them, is not a good sign for international religious freedom. And so there’s a lot to be done and there’s a lot of action that needs to transcend words by this particular administration around the world.

2018 will be, according to all the lists, I’m guessing, I’m predicting here but with pretty good evidence, the worst year on record for persecuted religious minorities. Just beating out 2017, which just beat out 2016.

EICHER: Issue three: Bioethics and the culture of death. Here again, a common theme. What do you think will be different in 2019, if anything at all?

STONESTREET: Well, I think two things. Number one, it’s going to be interesting to see if any of the pro-life states or the states with the majority pro-life legislature puts forth some sort of case that’s going to eventually challenge Roe v. Wade. That’s going to be a critical issue and what happens there, at best, will push it back to the states and now the pro-life movement and the pro-life efforts will continue. But when I mean the culture of death, I mean something much larger. I mean, for example, the proliferation of two things that’s primarily off most people’s radar, even many pro-lifers, general pro-lifers who genuinely care about the pro-life issue, many have underestimated—I did for awhile—the chemical abortion issue, the mail-in abortion. As this stuff becomes less and less visible, more and more in the privacy of one’s own home and so on. Those numbers are proliferating and we actually don’t even have an accurate number for how many abortions are committed through pills.

And then the other thing, which I think is off many people’s radars but we have talked about it a number of times on Breakpoint, you and I have talked about it here on Culture Friday, and I think it’s poised now to make a stunning march through America is doctor-assisted suicide. And the vulnerable, the elderly, those with disability, these are the ones who really pay the price for this, but it’s the whole new face of the pro-life concerns, not necessarily what happens at the beginning of life, but also at the end of life.

And then the next level of bioethics, too, is what Nigel Cameron said, not only the making and the taking of life, but the remaking of life, which is our reproductive technologies, which is, by the way, being driven by sexual freedom. So that’s where these issues are connected. It’s not just abortion being driven by sexual freedom, it’s also reproductive technologies, the choice to have an intentionally sterile union and demand that it be fruitful and demand that it bear children. Well, the only way you can do that is through medical manipulation. 

That and the doctor-assisted suicide question, that’s marching through America and it’s well-funded. And so those are big, big issues.

EICHER: Issue four—our last issue—you identified as politics. But, John, this isn’t an election year. Why do you think politics is going to be a big cultural issue in 2019?

STONESTREET: Well, it just remains the truth that everything is seen through political lenses. That issues that shouldn’t be seen through political lenses like, for example, whether grown men should be able to compete in boxing and mixed martial arts against women and break their skulls. That’s not a political issue. That’s not an issue on the right or the left, that’s an issue of being tethered or not to reality. And yet it’s being politicized. And we could go the other direction and talk about issues that suddenly have mobilized the right that really aren’t political ones at all but because we’re in such a time of political divide, my point is that everything is seen through the political lens.

So, on a personal level, guys like you and me, when we want to talk about something that we think is right or wrong, if we don’t toe the party line on the right then we get a lot of hate mail. And I do that and it’s fine. But we’re going to have to learn, again, even though there’s no question that one of our political parties supports legalized killing and the other at least in word does not, although they still fund Planned Parenthood at $500 million a year, we’ve still got to be able to say the things that we need to say because they’re true. We’ve still got to be able to check our allegiances. And that it’s ultimately to Christ and not to a political cause. I got some hate mail over the holidays saying, you know, just by questioning — I don’t even remember the question. It might have been President Trump not offering asylum to Asia Bibi that I was attacking our point man and you don’t attack the point man. I don’t even know what that means because Christians don’t have a political point man. Politics has a role in the Christian’s life but it’s not the preeminent role. It’s an important role and we jump in and we think clearly, but we’re going to have to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time. And our allegiances, I think, will be challenged.

EICHER: John Stonestreet is president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview. It’s Culture Friday. It’s going to be an interesting 2019, I think. John, thank you.

STONESTREET: Thank you, Nick.

(Photo/Associated Press, Carolyn Kaste) Protesters against the Trump administration’s definition of sex gather in front of the White House on Oct. 22. 

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