Culture Friday: The uncomfortable relationship with President Trump

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

NICK EICHER, HOST: It was a long-anticipated vote for United Methodists meeting in St. Louis this week for their annual conference.

The choice was between two competing visions: The Traditional Plan versus the One Church Plan. The Traditional Plan affirmed current standards on Biblical marriage and sexuality. It called for applying those standards more consistently among the church body.

The One Church Plan affirmed local congregations’ authority to set their own policies. It would’ve removed language from the United Methodist Book of Discipline saying that same-sex marriage is incompatible with Christianity. It would leave decisions about marriage and ordination up to regional and local churches.

Ultimately, the traditional plan won the day.

But the bigger story was how support for one or the other plan broke along global lines. Support for One Church was largely the United States and Europe. Support for the Traditional Plan was largely the Global South.

Here are two audio clips. The first is from Shayla Jordan. She’s a seminary student from Wichita, Kansas. She represented support for a petition signed by more than 15,000 young people supporting the One Church Plan. The second is from Jerry Kulah, a minister from Liberia. Have a listen. It’ll be clear who’s who.

JORDAN: We stand against the spirit of hatred, judgment, and discrimination, which creates division instead of unity. We pray that the Holy Spirit can remain united. Today we ask for you to vote against the Traditional Plan because it does not create unity for the church that is tomorrow. A large number of people have been speaking here at General Conference that do not represent the church that will be left years down the road. We are here. Are you listening? Are you hearing us? We love this church.

KULAH: The Traditional Plan is not only a traditional plan but the Biblical plan that ensures that God’s word remains foundational to the life and growth of the United Methodist Church. Today, the church in Africa is growing in leaps and bounds because we are committed to Biblical Christianity. The Word of God is our primary authority for faith and Christian living. I want to establish here that the United Methodist Church is not a United States Church.

It’s Culture Friday and John Stonestreet joins me now. He’s president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview.

John, good morning.


EICHER: Boy, this sure seems like the continuation of a trend we’ve been seeing for quite a long time in churches, and I’ve read that it didn’t really matter all that much which side won, in the sense of avoiding a split, which seems to be right around the corner now.

STONESTREET: Oh, it wouldn’t have mattered at all. I mean, this idea that somehow voting for the One Church Plan would have somehow been the vote for unity, it’s just crazy because the church has been unified on this issue from its beginning until yesterday. And so it’s really the introduction of this sexual heresy that is creating this issue.

And it’s an issue that was introduced from the outside. So the idea that kind of going back to what the church has always believed as the thing that’s going to end unity is just historically and observably not true.

And it’s also just indicative of the way that pro-LGBT forces in these debates — and not just in the United Methodist debate but across the board — so misrepresent the issue from top to bottom. The UMC minister just wrote in I believe it was the Washington Post an editorial — and it also bothers me that the Washington Post publishes this. It appropriated the Underground Railroad in terms of how this minister who himself had come out as gay had basically protected those in the church, as though they needed protection from being enslaved and beaten — and it’s just, the cultural appropriation here to discrimination and harkening back to racism is just so, again, observably, historically not true. And is the very definition of cultural appropriation.

And it was why Jerry Kulah, who we heard from just a minute ago, called this what it was, which is kind of a new colonialism. It’s an ideological colonialism. It’s something that the West is forcing on the rest of the world, the West that claims to want to be multicultural, the progressive facets that claim to want to be representative of all denominations. They’re the most colonialistic that there is. There was a patronizing way that they talk about their belief.

And it’s never, ever, ever from Scripture. I’ve not yet heard at all any sort of defense of an affirming position using Scripture or theology. It’s using a verse here or there, you know, that we should be loving and we should be unified. But Scripture never teaches unity at the expense of clear truth. And to say that this is complicated or difficult, it’s just not. It’s not theologically, it’s not Biblically. We have very clear teaching from the beginning to the end, both that applies globally to the church as well as culturally specific teaching that we see in Israel’s history, to the idea of the difference between sexual wholeness and sexual brokenness. It has never been up in the air, and to say that it is is just disingenuous. It’s a theological innovation based on something that cannot be found in the Bible, cannot be found in church history, cannot be found in any sort of theologically rigorous treatment of the text anywhere. So this is way overdue.

And I’ll say one more thing at the expense of going too long here, Nick. I’ll say one more thing. In the case of the UMC and many others, this is showing us in many more ways what some sociologists have predicted, which is that the future of the church is largely in the global south.

The United Methodist membership in the States has dropped dramatically in the last several years, but it’s growing globally. The future is not with a church that’s indistinguishable from NPR.

EICHER: You know, John, it is inescapable, as we talk about the moral meltdown of the west that we had testimony in Congress this week that sort of highlighted the point. Testimony from President Trump’s former fixer, Michael Cohen. He didn’t say much that we didn’t already know. But still, what he said was another reminder of the uncomfortable relationship between evangelicals and this president — and how that discomfort is probably going to increase as Election Day gets closer. What do you say about that, John?

STONESTREET: Well, look, this is — again, he didn’t say anything we didn’t already know. I don’t think anyone that’s looking at this fairly thinks President Trump is man of high moral character. He hasn’t been. We don’t have any indications of anything that’s happened behind White House doors.

But that doesn’t get to your question. Your question is the uncomfortable relationship between evangelicals and this president. And I think if the relationship between evangelicals and this president ever stops being uncomfortable for evangelicals, then it’s a real problem. And the response we hear is, look, the other side is that bad. And the answer is yes, the other side is that bad. I mean, we just had every single presidential candidate from the Democratic party vote against saving infants that are born alive after an abortion, something we know happens, and is indistinguishable at any level from the killing of infants. If that weren’t on the table from the other side, I think in a sense many of us feel like we’ve been forced into this relationship.

Now, look, some evangelical leaders have run into this relationship and they don’t seem uncomfortable at all and I think that’s a real problem of conscience. If we believe in things like the sanctity of marriage, and we believe in things like honesty, and we believe in things like respect for individuals it has to be uncomfortable.

But there is kind of a place here where many evangelicals feel like they’re between a rock and a hard place and also the policies that are coming out of the president’s first term here are some that are very much in line with what we actually believe.

So, I mean, look, I guess the punchline here is that the discomfort is going to increase and it ought to increase, but there’s a level of where else are we going to turn at this point and I think that’s where a lot of evangelicals feel.

That’s the place that I feel that I’m in. I’m not a fan of the president’s character at all. I don’t want to defend it. I want to be able to walk and chew gum and say, look, I like what he’s done for religious liberty. I like the fact that he just did a very pro-life thing in further distancing from Planned Parenthood. I like a lot of what he’s done and I don’t like his character. And, by the way, I don’t like Michael Cohen’s character either.

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

STONESTREET: Thanks, Nick.

(AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta) President Donald Trump arrives at the White House in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019, from summit talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi. 

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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