Culture Friday: The line of good and evil


MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Friday, the 3rd of May, 2019. 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. First up today, Culture Friday.

AUDIO: There are no adequate words to describe what we all endured in this room. … This murderer … he spent his life, years of his life, drinking the vile poison of anti-semitism from hate-filled movements that inculcate Jew-hatred in young people.

Sounds from a memorial service this week for Lori Kale at Chabad of Poway, in Southern California.

She was the woman who stepped in front of her rabbi and took a fatal gunshot, in what authorities are treating as a hate-crime attack at the synagogue.

The first voice was that of the rabbi, Yishoel Goldstein. The second, Elan Carr, U.S. Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism.

The 19-year-old son of a Presbyterian elder is charged in the attack. The young man’s grief-stricken family issued a statement saying, quoting here:

“[O]ur sadness pales in comparison to the grief and anguish our son has caused for so many innocent people … To our great shame, he is now part of the history of evil that has been perpetrated on Jewish people for centuries.

“Our son’s actions were informed by people we do not know, and ideas we do not hold. Like our other five children, he was raised in a family, a faith, and a community that all rejected hate and taught that love must be the motive for everything we do. How our son was attracted to such darkness is a terrifying mystery to us, though we are confident that law enforcement will uncover many details of the path that he took to this evil and despicable act.” End of quote.

It’s time to welcome John Stonestreet now. He’s president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview.

John, good morning.

JOHN STONESTREET, GUEST: Good morning, Nick.

EICHER: As a Christian, I’m horrified by this anti-Semitic attack and the loss of life. As a parent, my heart goes out to this family that will probably never reconcile itself to what one of its members has allegedly done.

What lessons do you take away?

STONESTREET: This one is so hard to swallow on so many levels. It’s always hard to swallow that actually another human being can perpetrate this kind of evil. Of course, we know it in our heads. We’ve seen it throughout history. The parents acknowledge that. What a profound acknowledgement that their son is now in this terrible history of anti-Semitism, violent anti-Semitism. And so we know it in our heads.

We should never get used to it in our hearts. We should never get used to it in our emotions. This should always just appall us. But of course this other level of this that he was a church-going young man. He came from a solid family. He came from a strongly Christian background. He didn’t seem as isolated—at least in the reports that we had initially—as others. And you think through all of that and you think this one is different in so many ways. When you talk about Dylann Roof or Adam Lanza or the others, there’s—as many people have pointed out—there’s a very consistent story of isolation. When you talk about those that have kind of devolved into self-harm and extreme substance abuse and addictions, these are always accompanied by these kind of high sense of isolation. And this one seemed to be a different story.

But, I guess, at one level it does tell us, as the parents mentioned, that there’s a way to be isolated ideologically from others because of the internet, because of what it serves up to our kids. And we’ve seen it in American kids going to join the Islamic State. That same thing where you think, where did this even come from? Where did these ideas even get into their heads?

And that really is one of the, I think, takeaways is that there is a means now for young people, especially teenagers, to be exposed and to be isolated within echo chambers of terrible, terrible, terrible ideas. And from the very beginning we say around here that ideas have consequences and bad ideas have victims and unfortunately we saw that. And didn’t just see it, we saw kind of the ultimate victimhood here and these ideas that have been really around for hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of years and shaped so much of the 20th century in such a horrible way haven’t gone away. And no one is immune to this.

And, look, on the theological level we also have to say this, Nick, which is the fall isn’t out there. I was reminded of this around Easter. I quoted Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in my Easter sermon who said, “If only there were bad people somewhere that we could gather up and get away from us and then just destroy them and that would take care of the problem with the world. But the line of good and evil runs through the middle of the human heart.”

And these incidents are all reminders of that as well.

EICHER: I want to switch gears, John, and talk about the recent action of the United Methodist Church.

It’s a very complicated matter, especially to non-United Methodists. My understanding comes from theologian and seminary president Albert Mohler. He made the point that what happened was similar to the United States Supreme Court passing judgment on a federal law.

Goes like this: The United Methodists approved a traditional plan for human sexuality back in February. They set out what church policy would be on LGBT questions, same-sex marriage, and so forth. Last Friday, the church’s Judicial Council, which is effectively its Supreme Court, upheld it. It struck down some parts, but held that traditional plan largely intact, the most important parts intact.

Mohler says this is a first for mainline Protestantism. He predicts it’ll lead to a split. And that LGBT-affirming members will leave and traditionalists, on the strength of those in the global south, will hold sway.

This is rather a large deal. What’s your take on that?

STONESTREET: It’s rather a large deal. I agree. This is kind of like carving it in stone as I understand United Methodist polity. And, of course, this is the grand question of church history is who left who and why? And there is a time to divide. There is a time to draw a line.

There are things that you can’t sacrifice on the altar of unity and I think the traditionalists here in this, which I think is really a bad word in some ways because it’s saying, well, this is just part of tradition, not part of scripture. What they’re arguing is this is a non-negotiable. The doctrine of creation is a non-negotiable. The idea that God made us male and female and that sexual morality that’s connected to our God-given created design is not something that’s up for grabs any more than our God-given design is.

This isn’t just kind of a traditional view that gets pulled out of a conservative culture. I mean, this is pretty clear in scripture.

I was actually having this debate back and forth with a gentleman who heard me speak and took great umbrage with my talking about the distinction between LGBT attractions or orientation or whatever you want to call it and behavior.

And he was arguing and I said, “This is a position that abandons the clear teaching of scripture.”

And he said, “I can’t believe you said that about me.”

I said, “This isn’t –” it wasn’t even an insult. It was an observation. The scripture’s not up in the air on this. Church history is not up in the air on this. This is pretty consistent. And so that’s where the United Methodists now have come down.

I think Dr. Mohler is right. It will lead to a split. There’s no question about it. As much as the “traditionalists” — to use that phrase — has considered this a non-negotiable, the other side even more so has considered this a non-negotiable. And the affirming. This isn’t — they’re not going to be able to stay in a church like this. So I think we’ll see that going forward. I think there will be kind of another expression of this theological tradition.

I’d also say this that the global face of the United Methodist is somewhat recent. The United Methodist push to establish and really grow these centers of theological activism doesn’t go back hundreds of years. It goes back decades. And this is essentially the group of people out of the mission movement that saved the church.

So that’s really something to take into consideration both as we think about the importance of the worldwide mission of the church and we think about our place. We kind of see ourselves as Americans as the center or kind of the mothership and this is an example of at least that reversing at some degree as we look at the story of the United Methodists.

EICHER: John Stonestreet is president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview. It’s Culture Friday. John, thanks so much.

STONESTREET: Thanks, Nick.


(AP Photo/Gregory Bull) Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein speaks in front of the casket of shooting victim Lori Kaye during funeral services, Monday, April 29, 2019, in San Diego. 

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