Listening In: Mike Huckabee and Bruce Bruinsma

WARREN SMITH, HOST: I’m Warren Smith and today you’ll be listening in on two conversations I had at the recent meeting of the National Religious Broadcasters held in Anaheim, California.

Those conversations are with Bruce Bruinsma who says that retirement is not a part of God’s plan for life and with talk show host and former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee.

HUCKABEE: There’s an animosity that exists between political parties and people who are political that I’ve never witnessed before, and I think some of it is that social media has given people a license to be rude in a way they wouldn’t be otherwise.

That was Mike Huckabee, who we’ll get to later in the program, but I want to get started today with Bruce Bruinsma. Bruce Bruinsma believes that God calls us to a lifetime of faithful service, and that means we never really retire from God’s work. He thinks the way most Americans manage their careers—even most Christians—is not consistent with this biblical idea. And he’s helping to bring about a reformation of both retirement and of the Christian understanding of work. That’s why he’s created an organization called the Retirement Reformation, an organization that calls Christians to bear fruit in every season of life. That group has produced a statement called the Retirement Reformation Manifesto, which has now been signed by thousands of people. It calls for Christians to think of retirement as a time—not merely for past time—but a time for refocusing on purpose.

Bruce, welcome to the program. And the reason that I wanted to chat with you was because of this Retirement Reformation Manifesto that  you’ve been responsible for. Tell me how it came about.

BRUCE BRUINSMA: Well, let’s see. It’s a stage in a journey. Nothing is ever all by itself. And starting, oh, any number of years ago, I realized that the issues surrounding retirement mainly dealt with money. And what I learned was that it’s the why is more important than the how and so that so many people are not saving or not doing. And the reason is because they don’t have a why. Matter of fact, with 10,000 people retiring every single day, turning 65 every single day in the United States, we’ve got this growing cadre of people. Most of them understand what it is they’re retiring from. Very few know what they’re retiring to. And so we’ve got this huge void. We’ve got a need and amongst the Christian community, it’s a huge need.

SMITH: So it’s more than just you having enough money for retirement, but it’s knowing what you’re going to do with that season of life that you’re mostly concerned with.

BRUINSMA: Absolutely. Matter of fact, if you just kinda think about it, either God’s got a call on your life or he doesn’t. If he doesn’t, then we don’t have much to talk about. If he does, then what’s the call and when does it stop? Well, as we see it, we are to be faithful for a lifetime. Therefore that call doesn’t stop when you retire. And so as Christians, we will acknowledge that God’s call extends, but we just simply don’t act that way. And so to be able to listen to what God is saying in those next three stages of life, that after all, extend for 30 years for pity sakes, that’s a big deal. And that’s something that we’re not doing and we need to reform how Christians are thinking about that period.

SMITH: Well, it seems to me, and correct me if I’m wrong, Bruce, that a part of what you’re describing is a fruit and not a route, which is to say that it’s the result of flawed thinking about work and about calling and about vocation. Call and vocation I guess you’d say are the same thing. Am I onto something here? 

BRUINSMA: You are very much. You’re right on. In our culture, what the culture says retirement is one homogeneous period. It’s a long downhill slog. You’re going down physically, you’re going down mentally, and then you die. And the goal of life is a jam as much leisure as we can into that period. Well, I can’t think of anything that’s more wrong than that picture. Yet as Christians, we have bought into that because that’s the way we act. And the, oh, probably 30 million of us that are Christians or nominally Christians that are over 55 right now are the greatest unused people group in America that could impact our world, impact our culture, impact the lives of so many, if in fact we can galvanize them.

SMITH: Well, it seems to me that a part of the reason that we are where we are is because the church—Christians—have bought into a secular understanding that has been promoted to us constantly by financial planners, by television, by the AARP, by the government social security. And I’m not saying that all of these things are bad. I’m just saying that they all reinforce a pretty singular message that we retire, we get out of the workforce, we get out of other people’s lives, and we go retire somewhere and chase a little white ball around or a yellow tennis ball around. And, as you said, this age group over the age of 55 is this massively underutilized resource. Massively underutilized, therefore by the church, we are no longer available to our families it seems to me in many cases, that we are no longer available to our communities in many cases, since we might have more time for volunteering and doing in the community. Are these some of the things that you’re concerned about?

BRUINSMA: Absolutely. Every single one of them that you mentioned, one of the things that’s happening in this huge number of people that are hitting that that age group is that they are continuing to reflect society in just about every way. For example, we have now we have great divorce, we’ve got great suicide, we’ve got great—All of those things are happening and they don’t happen when you have meaning and purpose. When you have passion and activity, when you’re listening to God’s plan for your life and you’re responding to it. In fact, you don’t have time for those other things. In fact, instead of having your world’s shrink, which happens to so many, it continues to be open to be used by God and you mentioned the church. Let me just switch to that for a moment. The church is not prepared for the response that may be coming. Let’s just say there’s 30 million of us and let’s just say 10 million. Get the message. Go to Sign the manifesto. Avail themselves of tools. Read the Retirement Reformation book that’ll be coming out shortly. They do all those things and they say, oh my goodness, I’ve been missing it. They sit down with their Bible. They pray and they hear God’s voice about how he has prepared them. Now they go to the church and they say, I’ve got some things that I feel called to do. Can you help facilitate that? And what the church, unfortunately, is telling those who are now older, they’re telling them two things. First thing they tell them is don’t stop giving. The second thing they tell them is don’t be grumpy. And after that, programmatically, from an embrace, from an openness, from a helping standpoint, there’s nothing there. And so we’ve got two groups that we needed to speak to that need to have a reformation.

SMITH: Bruce, I know you love the church as do I. I’m not trying to beat up on the church whenever I say this and ask this next question. But in some ways, the church is kind of getting what it deserves in some ways, right? I mean, you know, for the last 50 years, the church has been segregating us by age, right? I mean, we’ve got youth groups that do their thing and we’ve got senior groups that get on bus tours and go to wherever they go to Branson, Missouri or Orlando, Florida or wherever. And so we’ve not done a really good job of helping our own members see that we need to be working together, that the body of Christ is diverse, not just ethnically and culturally, but in terms of age as well and that there’s wisdom in those gray and bald heads.

BRUINSMA: While the fact that there is wisdom there and because of that siloing, as I call it, in fact the intergenerational activity, which is then so rich and biblically was the model of how culture was exchanged from one generation to the next. Because we’ve held the younger generation in such high regard and that everybody old wants to be young, we have lost the benefits of preparation and age that comes. Matter of fact in the three stages of retirement, maybe I could touch on those for a moment.

The three stages of retirement, are number one is that 65 to mid-late 70s is that we call active application. Maybe you’re a little bit slower but, man, you’ve learned a lot and you can give a lot, you can lead, you can, all kinds of things can happen.

Then you go out another 10 years and you go, oh, maybe 78 that area up until the mid 80s. Here’s a time when mentoring can come into play. And we are missing that totally in that intergenerational relationship. So mentoring that can happen and is so rich and so valuable.

And then you got that last stage which we call sharing or reflecting. Just a couple of examples. Billy Graham wrote his last book when he was 97. Jimmy Carter, regardless of what you think about him politically, but man, he’s written a couple of good books on faith after he was age 90. Let me just tell you a story. Peg is 93. Peg lives in Tucson and she was a missionary. She’s now towards the end of her life and she’s in a place where she’s being cared for. Doesn’t spend a lot of time out of bed. Every morning she gets up around 7:30, makes sure she’s still alive, and then climbs back in bed. And she has on the table next to her, she has her pills an her water and she also has a telephone and a telephone book. About 9:00 she opens the telephone book, goes to the dog-eared page, goes down and starts to call. When she reaches somebody, she says, “My name is Peg and I’m just calling to tell you that I am praying my way through the phone book. Your name was next. Can I pray for you?” Peg has a ministry from her bed to her community.

What a great picture. There is something for all of us in every one of those stages and we need to be listening and then applying and we’ll find meaning and purpose, which will give us passion. And you know the strange thing is probably then even live longer.

SMITH: Up next, a recent conversation with Mike Huckabee. Mike Huckabee has been a national figure in American politics for the past 20 years. After starting his career as a pastor, he got active in politics and was elected lieutenant governor of Arkansas 1993 in a special election. He was only the second Republican lieutenant governor elected by Arkansas since reconstruction. He was then elected governor in 1996 and served as governor for more than a decade. He was widely praised for his response and his State’s response to Hurricane Katrina. And Time Magazine named him one of the best governors in the country in 2005 these experiences provided him a platform to launch a presidential campaign in 2008. His evangelical credentials plus his successes as governor made him a serious contender from the beginning. He finished first in the 2008 Iowa caucuses, but that was the high water mark of his campaign. He withdrew by March and soon afterwards he had a television program on Fox News, which lasted until 2015 when he gave up that program to once again run for president. Now he’s back on television. He has a weekly television show on the Trinity Broadcasting Network. The program is produced in Nashville, Tennessee, and he was on Listening In when that program debuted. Now we’ve got him back again and we had this conversation at the annual meeting of the National Religious Broadcasters held in Anaheim, California.

Well, Governor Huckabee, welcome back to the program. It was wonderful to be with you a couple of years ago in Hendersonville, North Carolina. When your program was just getting started. And now we are here again at National Religious Broadcasters in southern California. And just a quick update. How’s the program going?

MIKE HUCKABEE, GUEST: You know, Warren, it’s going great. We’re the number one show on the entire TBN network. It has been more fun than anything I’ve ever done in my life and I believe it’s accomplishing what we set out to do, which was to create a entertaining, informative, enlightening, but just pleasurable, wholesome variety show that people could sit down, relax, watch. When it’s over, be entertained, be informed, be enlightened, be encouraged.

SMITH: Well, all of that is sounds great, but I know that you being who you are, you can’t completely avoid politics. Or, let me say it another way, I can’t completely resist asking you some political questions. And so let me, let me pivot to that if I could right now. I mean, how do you think sort of the state of the political environment is right now and how do you think president Trump is doing?

HUCKABEE: Well, the state of the political environment is ugly. It’s vicious. I’ve never seen it this bad, maybe except for the 60s, when we were burning cities down. And it was very vicious then. But there’s an animosity that exists between political parties and people who are political that I’ve never witnessed before. And I think some of it is that social media has given people a license to be rude in a way they wouldn’t be otherwise. There’s a real lack of a sense of humor within the political framework today. People take everything so seriously, so personally offended by everything. And that’s detrimental to really an enlightened society. We work best as a country when there’s freedom of speech and people are free to say things that even are maybe offensive, but they say them to your face and give you an opportunity to respond. That’s how debate works.

We don’t have that. We have people taking cheap shots from the trees and then hiding and not allowing you to respond and trying to shut you down. As far as the president, I think he’s had a remarkable time in office. And there are many people, I believe, who are stunned that he has been as effective as he has and that he’s governed in a way that has exceeded what many Christians would have expected of a president with his background, which he’s no choir boy. Nobody’s going to pretend that he is. But when it comes to issues, whether it’s the defense of the sanctity of human life, no president ever has been as solid, not just solid and vocal in what he believes, but in what he has done to back it up when it comes to the support of Israel.

Once again, we’ve never had a president who has been as comprehensive in his support, recognizing this very special alliance that we have with the one country on earth that mirrors our basic Judeo-Christian value system. So there are many things about his presidency that I could say have been just remarkable. Is he perfect? No, he’s not. And I sometimes say he’s got the bedside manner of a bowl in the China shop, but he gets the job done. And that’s where we elected him for.

SMITH: Well, I agree with that. Let’s stipulate for the record that he’s been great on a lot of issues, but you also talked about how divisive and angry the political environment it is. I’m just wondering if the president’s rhetoric sometimes doesn’t actually contribute to that divisiveness that we’re talking about. And if it might create a possibility in the future that many of the good things that he’s done will become undone by people who he has been unable to convince. He’s been able to ram his agenda, or in some cases strategically, you know, implement as agenda, but is he really convincing people? Are these changes changes that are going to last?

HUCKABEE: Well, I think things like the highest employment rate for minorities—African Americans and Hispanics—people appreciate that. People appreciate a better job, a better paycheck. They appreciate that their manufacturing jobs are coming back. And things that we were told would never happen have happened. Those are all things that I don’t think the political rhetoric on the left can reverse. And frankly, I don’t know that if Donald Trump had been the nicest, kindest guy in the world, that you would have seen butter melt in the mouth of the people on the other side.

These are people who hate him, but the truth is they hate me, too. They hate what I stand for. I stand for human life from the point of conception. They hate that. They want to have abortion right up—not only until the moment of birth but beyond the point of birth. They hate me for what I believe there. I believe Israel is a very important partner. They hate me for that. I believe that it’s better to have lower taxes than higher taxes. I think the Green New Deal is ridiculous. We can’t get rid of cars and airplanes in 10 years. They hate me for that. So I’m saying that because, not that I’m president, but I think I’m a pretty nice guy. They don’t like me anymore than they like him. Now, they hate him, but he’s the president and they really hate him because he’s getting these things done and they don’t seem to be able to stop it.

SMITH: Well, I think that that’s a fair response to my question that both sides really do hate the other.

HUCKABEE: And I want to want to be very clear. I don’t hate the other side. I really don’t. I don’t hate anybody. And I’ll be honest with you, I don’t think Donald Trump hates anybody. I look at some of this with even a sense of a wry humor. I mean, I find myself saying, oh my gosh, people need to lighten. They need to quit taking themselves so seriously. But I don’t hate anyone. Even when I express strong opinions, I never do it out of a sense of hatred or, gee, I want those people to go out of business. I want their marriages to fail. I want their children to grow up to be drunkards and derelicts. I don’t think that. I want people to live a wonderful and delightful life.

I want to be careful so that we don’t get into this thing of equivalency because I don’t think that exists. And I know there are some really mean people on the right side of the political spectrum. I know some of them, some of them hate me, too. But I don’t think that that’s the prevailing view of the right. I just don’t.

SMITH: Well, I’ll, I’ll take you—I’ll stipulate for the record that that’s true because I see what you’re saying and I didn’t mean to imply that you personally hated people, but as you said there at the end of your comments that there are people on the right that hate people on the left almost or maybe even as I’m vehemently as the people on the left take the votes on the right. And I want to just mention one episode and get your reaction to it. Tucker Carlson recently said some things years ago that were brought back up into the media. And I would think that a normal political environment, maybe if it happened to you, we’ll just say, you might have said, you know what, I made a mistake 25 years ago or 20 years ago whenever I said those things. I regret that. I apologize for those things. I was wrong then. I’ve learned. I wouldn’t say that today. I think  in an era in which normal political discourse or public conversation was happening, that might’ve been a good response. But Tucker wasn’t able to do that because if he did, his advocates would have said he was caving and his opponents would have used that apology against him. Is that kind of a metaphor for the political conversation these days? And what can we do to fix that?

HUCKABEE: It may be somewhat of an honest assessment of where we are. If you show any sign of weakness—even if it’s not weakness, it’s really a matter of honesty and I think self awareness—but I think anyone who shows that in this kind of political environment is viewed as a person who is capitulated. And if you show nothing but pushback, then your side says, yeah, that’s what I wanted to see. Stand up and fight. I mean, the tragedy is that there aren’t many people who are talking to each other. Most people are talking against each other and over each other. I don’t like that kind of environment. It’s not what I’ve grown up with. It’s not what I was taught as a child. Singularly, I can’t completely fix it. You know, I try to be civil and I think I am. When I have people on my television show, you know, I don’t argue with them. I don’t scream and yell and talk over them. I always treat people with a level of civility. A lot of the things that I do, I do with tongue in cheek. I do it with humor. But I found that when I say something that is clearly intention to be humorous, people on the other side are quick to take offense. They react with anger and vitriol. Then I feel like I’m doing people on my side of favor because I’m drawing the fire. And, frankly, it just doesn’t bother me. I’ve been in this too long. And so if somebody thinks they’re going to hurt my feelings and have me curled up in a fetal position because they said something nasty about me, boy, are they wasting their time. But I’m glad they are because that way they’re not going and hitting somebody who would really be hurt by the comments they’re making.

SMITH: A couple of years ago, whenever we talked last, Governor, your daughter had just pretty soon I think taken over as the spokesperson for a President Trump and now she’s like a veteran. I mean, I haven’t done the math on this, but I think she’s probably lasted longer in that position than anybody else has for a President Trump. What I asked you then was does she ever give you any—do you ever give her any advice or does she ever ask you for any advice? You were pretty circumspect at that time. You were not, you know, wanting to sort of say that she’s anything other than her own woman, which I think she’s pretty clearly demonstrated that she is. But now that two years have gone by and she’s a little more comfortable in her role, and maybe you in yours, what kind of conversations do the two of you have that you can talk about on the record?

HUCKABEE: Yeah, I mean that’s the key: that we can talk about. Sarah and I have always been very close. She’s the youngest of my three children. She’s the only girl. So she was a daddy’s girl and she was spoiled rotten from the time she came along. She knows it. We do talk regularly and she’ll sometimes say, “Dad, you know, here’s something I’ve got to deal with. What do you think? Got any talking points for me? What do you think?” She doesn’t always follow my advice, but she still will ask for it. But I think what I would say to you is she is very comfortable in her own skin. She loves her job. She loves what she does. And the shelf life for that job is not very long. I don’t care who the president is, it’s just a very demanding job. But she’s handled it with grace and she loves doing it. How long will she do it? I don’t know. She hasn’t disclosed to me if she’s ready to call it quits. But if she leaves, I can tell you this, it won’t be because she doesn’t love it and it won’t be because she doesn’t have great confidence in this president and is very loyal to him and feels very strongly that he has been utterly misrepresented and misconstrued. That’s why she’s so strong when she goes out to that podium. That’s not just, you know, saying the things that she’s supposed to say. She truly believes that the press has been unfair, relentlessly attacking him, and that one of her jobs is to go out and defend him and the administration against some of the unfair slings and arrows.

SMITH: Finally, Governor, I began this conversation by noting that we are here at the National Religious Broadcasters. I would also note in closing that you’re speaking to the group and what are you going to say? What message do you want to bring to the National Religious Broadcasters?

HUCKABEE: Well, I think tonight what I want to try to make sure that I can convey is that while the technology is constantly changing, whether it’s a printing press, or digital television and online digital capacity that goes anywhere, anytime, and any place, the message remains the same. And we have a responsibility to present the truth of the Gospel of Christ. We have a responsibility to present the truth period. And that conflict between using technology for something that is good and wholesome when so many are using it today to spread pornography and obscenity, lies, and defamation, I think there’s an extraordinary sense of urgency for us to use the technology in the right way for the right purpose.

SMITH: Well, Governor, thank you for your decades of public service and for your time today. Appreciate it very much.

HUCKABEE: Thank you, Warren. Good to visit with you again.

(Photo/Associated Press)

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