Culture Friday: Protecting persecuted Christians


MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Friday, the 26th of July, 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. It is Culture Friday. John Stonestreet is here now. He’s president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, and, John, good morning to you.

JOHN STONESTREET, GUEST: Good morning!

EICHER: We had some good reporting this week, following up on the second Ministerial for Religious Freedom at the State Department. 

My colleague Mindy Belz attended, she presented a talk on journalism and its role in furthering religious freedom, and she interviewed the secretary of state. She’s very complimentary of the administration’s stated goals of protecting religious freedom abroad. But we’re also watching refugee policy with some alarm: First, the number of refugees admitted has dropped significantly. And second, there seems to be a debate inside the administration of essentially zeroing out the number, and that at a time when we have a global refugee crisis, and persecuted Christians are suffering.

I should make a distinction here: this is separate from the border crisis. Separate issue. Not what I’m talking about.

But I noticed you have taken up this issue and let me quote back to you some words you repeated on a recent Breakpoint commentary:

“Christians have enjoyed nearly unprecedented access to the White House, to administration officials,” you said, and regrettably, “the promise to aid persecuted Christians around the world has not been kept.”

Why do you think that is? Do you perceive a reluctance on the part of Christians here to challenge an administration that they tend to support?

STONESTREET: Well, let me start with the first question, and the answer is, honestly, I don’t know. Because I think it would be a huge political win. As you said, this is different than the border crisis. And I agree. And what that means is that this administration could simultaneously take steps to close off the border, to increase border security, to deal with this issue that’s happening on the southern border, and at the same time, reach out to persecuted Christian minorities, which is something that was part of the campaign promises in 2016—particularly from the president but also from the vice president. I mean, it was in no unclear terms. In fact, there was a distinction made in the promises between what they were going to do—this administration—and what the Obama administration was going to do. And yet, what we have seen here is although I think leading and making sure the conversation about persecuted religious minorities, how to help them, how to punish bad actors around the world, with here we have the second ministerial. We have two very real things that were created out of the ministerial both last year and this year. All of this is good stuff and yet at the same time, we have got historic lows—refugees, especially Christian refugees, being granted asylum in the United States at a time—as you said—when the crisis is at its worst.

Now, the second question you asked was is there a reluctance on the part of Christians to challenge the administration that they tend to support? And I think the answer is yes. And I think this kind of looks both ways. I have some of our friendly critics who anytime we say anything negative about the president, who write to us and their reasoning stops at you don’t criticize your point man. I don’t even know what that means. I think there are some that probably think that any criticism is wrong and that to me makes no sense and it’s not Christian. So, anyway, I’ll move on. 

I think more are looking at so many very real benefits that have come from this president for the things that Christians care deeply about. Obviously the unborn. Obviously the Supreme Court. Obviously protections for Christians here who are not wanting to go along with the LGBT tyranny. All of these things are really good news for us and this is an issue. 

So, for some people, though, we think about Christianity as an American thing. We don’t think about our brothers and sisters overseas, so all the good stuff that’s happening is happening here. And those folks are being forgotten. But it’s not really on our radar. Others, we don’t want to, I think, maybe lose our access to the White House with all of these benefits. I think there are various reasons. 

But, again, I think that this administration could do both: They could increase border security, they could help solve the immigration issue that we have, and they also could provide asylum for persecuted religious minorities. Christians can say thank you for the Supreme Court, thank you for being pro-life and showing up at the March for Life and all those things, and also, hey, our brothers and sisters around the world are suffering. We could do both. We’ve got to do both.

EICHER: In November of this year, it will have been 10 years since the release of the Manhattan Declaration. This is a statement of principles in support of life, marriage, and religious liberty, drafted by the eponymous founder of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, among others. Key leaders here at WORLD were original signers, two of our board members are signers.

But I want to ask you, John, as you think about what’s happened culturally in the last 10 years, what’s happened culturally in the last week, don’t you feel like the culture’s moved more decisively away from the principles rather than toward them? And it causes me to wonder—as good and orthodox and true as the statement is—I wonder about the value of issuing statements like these, honestly.

I expect a robust defense! But I think you have to acknowledge the culture today looks less like Manhattan Declaration principles than it did when it was written.

STONESTREET: Well, of course, yeah. It does look a lot less like the Manhattan Declaration principles than it did when it was written. And I think in a very serious way. I mean, the last line of the declaration is that we will ungrudgingly render to Caesar what belongs to Caesar but can’t render to Caesar what belongs to God. And if you look at the extent of Caesar’s grasp 10 years ago, it was really just life. I mean, there was a lot of cultural noise around marriage and religious liberty, but now we have Caesar grasping life, marriage, and religious freedom in new and unprecedented ways. 

But that is actually what makes the Manhattan Declaration more important and more valuable because the Manhattan Declaration wasn’t a statement to the culture, “Hey, be more like these principles.” The Manhattan Declaration was a statement to believers, that no matter where the culture goes, here’s where you have to stand on these three things. And now, on all three of these issues, what comes along with standing where Christians are called to stand on the dignity of life from conception to natural death, on the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman with no substitutes, and that our conscience ultimately belongs to God. To stand there 10 years ago invited ridicule. To stand there today invites financial ruin and invites dismissal from a position. And so now the pressure to move is even greater. And the statement was never one that was written to the culture. It was never even one to Christians, “Hey, Christians, you have to change the culture in these ways.” 

What it was is no matter where the culture goes, here’s where Christians must stand. And I think it came along at the time with a very real warning that the culture may very well go in a direction that’s going to make our clarity on these issues more important than ever. And we all know that you’ve got to make these kinds of conscience decisions, these decisions about our deeply held beliefs not in the middle of the fire. You’ve got to do it before you get into the trouble. And that was the value 10 years ago of saying, “Hey, Christian, you may not have thought about this. Here’s where you need to stand.” Half a million Americans signed it. 

Now, what we’ve done this year, of course, is that my good friend and Colson Center board member, David Dockery, one of the gurus of Christian education and higher education in the 21st century and I worked on an update, essentially: A book, a collection of essays on the Manhattan Declaration from some of the thought leaders that were behind the original document and were some of the original signers who are trying to update what does Christian conviction look like today? How are the challenges of life, marriage, and religious liberty different today? And what is it going to look like to stand where we need to stand—no matter where the culture goes—in this cultural moment?

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

STONESTREET: Thanks, Nick.


(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky) Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks at the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, Thursday, July 18, 2019, at the U.S. State Department in Washington.

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