MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: Good morning!
Two popular Christian YouTubers have left the faith. And they’re trying to take their 15 million followers down with them.
RHETT: The more deeply I dug into Christianity with a thirst for the truth, the more difficult it has become to have faith.
NICK EICHER, HOST: We’ll talk to John Stonestreet about that on Culture Friday.
Plus Megan reviews a new series from ABC about an imprisoned man who becomes a lawyer, and fights his wrongful conviction.
And your Listener Feedback.
BASHAM: It’s Friday, February 28th. This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Megan Basham.
EICHER: And I’m Nick Eicher. Good morning!
BASHAM: Up next, Kent Covington with today’s news.
KENT COVINGTON, NEWS ANCHOR: Coronavirus case may be first from unknown origin » A new coronavirus case in California baffled health officials on Wednesday.
California Public Health Director Dr. Sonia Angell said the patient has “no travel history and no known exposure to somebody with confirmed COVID-19.”
ANGELL: This particular case could be the first possible instance of community transmission of COVID-19 in the United States, and it’s here in California. It’s in an individual in Solano County, who is receiving care in Sacramento County.
Authorities are trying to track down people the patient has been in contact with, a process known as contact tracing.
The patient was brought to UC Davis Medical Center from another Northern California hospital on February 19th. The CDC reportedly tested the patient for COVID-19 four days later.
The hospital said the patient arrived on a ventilator and special protection orders were issued “because of an undiagnosed and suspected viral condition.”
Governor Gavin Newsom said Thursday that his state is monitoring more than 8,000 people who recently traveled to California from Asia.
Stocks plunge again amid global virus fears » AUDIO: [Closing bell] Stocks plunged once again on Thursday amid market worries over the virus.
U.S. stocks closed lower for the sixth day in a row as the global coronavirus disrupts international trade and travel. The Dow sank 1,200 points and the S&P 500 has now plunged 12 percent from its all-time high just one week ago.
That comes amid new outbreaks of the virus outside China. And Dr. Anthony Fauci with the National Institutes for Health explained why the virus is spreading.
FAUCI: This virus has adapted itself extremely well to transmissibility in humans. Some viruses when they jump species can be deadly, but they’re very poorly adapted to humans. This one has the capability of spreading readily from human to human.
More than 82,000 people have now contracted the virus worldwide.
U.S., South Korea postpone joint military drills amid virus concerns » The South Korean and U.S. militaries announced Thursday that they would postpone their annual joint drills. The COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak in South Korea has put many troops in quarantine and closed base facilities.
U.S. Army Colonel Lee Peters said a South Korean general recommended postponing the exercises … while the country remains on high alert over the virus.
PETERS: The containment efforts of COVID-19 and the safety of ROK and U.S. service members were prioritized in making this decision.
“ROK” is short for Republic of Korea.
Twenty-two South Korean soldiers and one American service member in South Korea have tested positive for the virus. COVID-19 has now infected nearly 1,800 people in South Korea.
Former Baltimore mayor sentenced to 3 years in prison » Former Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh was sentenced to three years in federal prison Thursday—over a scandal involving fraudulent sales of a children’s book. WORLD Radio’s Kristen Flavin reports.
KRISTEN FLAVIN, REPORTER: Pugh spoke through tears for about 10 minutes before her sentencing in federal court in Baltimore. The 69-year-old veteran Democratic politician apologized and said that “no one is more disappointed than me.”
She pleaded guilty last year to conspiracy and tax evasion charges. Pugh arranged fraudulent sales of her self-published children’s books to nonprofits and foundations to promote her political career and fund her run for the city’s highest office.
Pugh was elected mayor in 2016 and resigned last May amid the scandal.
She was also sentenced on Thursday to serve three years of supervised release after getting out of prison. And she was ordered to pay more than $400,000 in restitution while forfeiting nearly $700,000 to the government.
Reporting for WORLD Radio, I’m Kristen Flavin.
COVINGTON: Authorities identify gunman, victims in Milwaukee shooting » Police have released more information about the man who gunned down five co-workers at a Milwaukee brewery Wednesday before taking his own life.
Milwaukee Police Chief Alfonso Morales said the attacker was a 51-year-old electrician.
MORALES: He was a current employee of Molson Coors at the time of this incident. The reason for this is still under investigation.
The shooter was a married father of two adult children and one younger daughter.
The victims range in age from 33 to 57. They are Jesus Valle Jr., Gennady Levshetz, Trevor Wetselaar, Dana Walk, and Dale Hudson.
I’m Kent Covington. Straight ahead: Christian celebrities leaving the faith.
Plus, your listener feedback.
This is The World and Everything in It.
MEGAN BASHAM: It’s Friday the 28th of February, 2020. Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Megan Basham.
NICK EICHER: And I’m Nick Eicher. First up: Culture Friday.
BASHAM: It feels like it’s becoming a trend. A disturbing one.
Well-known Christian figures not just leaving the faith, but making apostasy part of their public platform. First there was Josh Harris, former pastor and author of Christian books.
If you’re not familiar with Rhett and Link, your kids or grandkids likely are. Their channel has 15 million subscribers and their videos have over 5 billion views.
EICHER: What you really need to know though is that Rhett and Link are former youth group leaders and missionaries. After college they volunteered with Campus Crusade, making funny videos.
Those videos are what lead to their eventually earning many millions of dollars an “intertainers.” Internet entertainers. It’s also why Christian kids make up a huge portion of their audience.
Here’s a bit of Rhett telling that audience, though, why he doesn’t believe anymore.
RHETT: The deeper I have dug into Christianity with a thirst for the truth, the more difficult it has become to have faith. In fact, for me it, has become impossible. And that was kind of the reckoning for me. That was jumping ship.
I kind of saw Christianity as this boat in a very stormy sea. It’s stable; there’s a lot of other people on it. It’s got a destination. You’re going to get through this. And it gives you something to hold onto. It gives you stability. It gives you direction, and it gives you community. And when I jumped ship, I didn’t jump to another boat. I jumped into the water and I pulled my wife and children in with me.
John Stonestreet joins us now for Culture Friday. He’s president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview.
John, good morning.
JOHN STONESTREET, GUEST: Good morning!
EICHER: So John, it’s almost like these guys are giving their version of testimonies or as they’re being called deconstruction stories.
But since February third, the duo have devoted something like eight hours to their deconstruction stories.
So what it seems to me is that it’s really a kind of evangelism, except instead of bringing good news, they’re saying basically your faith is futile.
So it’s more, I think, than just a courteous heads-up, we’re not who you think we are. But it seems they’re trying to make converts. Well, de-converts. Is that how it strikes you?
STONESTREET: Oh, I think either that or it’s a good way to make money and stay relevant. It’s a pretty common thing where kind of deconversion stories from either evangelicalism itself or from an evangelical point of view on something.
Look, I’ve been around enough youth events and youth pastors to know that the line that, “well, you know, we were on the inside and we just can’t believe it anymore” doesn’t necessarily mean they had really good reasons for why they believe what they believe. So much youth group is a competition to kind of entertain and so on that it doesn’t really get to a level of depth. Very often it’s those who are hired because—and they’re hired not because they have a remarkably deep understanding of the faith, it’s because they’re young and cool and they can attract people and they’re really great and kids really like them and so on.
I was talking about this the other day, Nick and Megan, is that being a pastor is—I don’t know of another job like a pastor or a youth pastor where your success is measured against the one thing that you’re not trained to do. I don’t know if that makes sense. Your job as a pastor or youth pastor is to make disciples and we almost universally measure their success by numbers. In other words, think about if that were your daily job. Like, I want you to do this job but I’m going to measure you on completely different categories. And then we have a media or an ethos in which—kind of a media way of communicating that turn their stories, like this, into stories that for some reason should interest the rest of us. But I’m not really sure why.
EICHER: I mean, really, it’s kind of like journalism versus clickbait.
BASHAM: John, something that struck me over the course of those videos–and I’ll confess I didn’t listen to all eight hours because after about three I felt like I had a pretty good handle on their arguments–was their description of what sounded like a fairly typical journey to wokeness.
They made some jokes about finding a more comfortable home in “California Christianity.” That was how they described urban coastal churches that keep Jesus but nix the Biblical sexual morality. They talked about how damaging evangelical churches are for women because they believe men and women have different roles. That was a little ironic because Rhett and Link led their wives out of the faith.
And they really just disparaged the evangelical church as an “oppressive environment” They said the main reason they didn’t feel that way when they were younger is because they’re “straight white dudes.”
Any lessons we should take from that?
STONESTREET: Yeah, I mean, it kind of underscores my point. It might be that the reason they changed their minds is because they’re straight white dudes and they just realized that. But that’s not the reason to be an evangelical. That’s not the reason not to be an evangelical. And that’s the one thing.
The second thing that I think is a really hard lesson is one that the evangelical church should have been learning for a long time, which is this idea that the quickest way to empty your church is to agree with the culture. That liberal mindset is so non-distinct from the larger culture that church becomes irrelevant. So the attempt to make the church relevant to the ideas predominant in the culture actually ends up making the church non-distinct. And why should I get up and go to hear a sermon—even if it’s really cool and there’s a rock band and a smoke machine—on a Sunday morning when I can just listen to NPR. You know? It’s like it stops having any relevance. And I think the perpetual search for relevance by the evangelical church has always been its undoing in so many ways.
BASHAM: Before we turn from this topic, I want to ask one more thing that’s really preying on my mind as a mom of an almost-middle schooler who likes to watch some of these Christian entertainers on YouTube. And she’s starting to come to me with some pretty tough theological questions.
I actually thought Rhett made a couple of good points. He talked about how he first let go of the idea of a literal Adam and Eve and other stories in the Old Testament. Then he realized that you can’t make sense of Jesus if you don’t believe those things.
So overall, what I heard was someone who seemed to be actively feeding his disbelief. But at the same time, I believe we can bring our questions and doubts to the Lord and His Word. But would you say there’s a difference between feeding faith and feeding doubt in ourselves and in our kids?
STONESTREET: Well, I wouldn’t make the distinction between faith and doubt because I think doubt is very often an ingredient or a part of faith. And doubting is part of the human experience. It’s part of the way God made us. And I think a much more important question is not am I doubting, but am I doubting well? The Biblical distinction that I think is made maybe more clearly is the difference between a seeker and a mocker. Proverbs really talks about those who seek truth and the Psalms are filled with people who if you read the statements in any other context you would think it’s a doubt. But the inability to take hard, fast stances on things leads to kind of an ethos where the cool kid is not the seeker but the mocker. The one who assumes upfront that truth is never going to be found, so he mocks the search himself, even while he’s on the journey.
And a mocker has given up any ability to recognize truth if he actually ever stumbled upon it or it fell out a window and hit him on the head. And I think the book of Proverbs gives us some really good stuff there.
EICHER: Well we don’t want to leave on this down note because there are also some things to celebrate when it comes to entertainers and faith. And, man, I have to say, this one really surprised me!
First it was Kanye, now Justin Bieber!
Last week Justin Bieber gave an interview to Apple Music about how his faith in Christ has really been rekindled.
In it, he described being a lukewarm believer for a long time.
BIEBER: I really took a deep dive in my faith, to be honest. I believed in Jesus but I never really, like, you know, when it says following Jesus is actually turning away from sin … what it talks about it in the Bible is that there’s no faith without obedience. So I had faith like I believe Jesus died on the cross for me but I never really implemented it into my life. I was never, like, I’m going to be obedient.
BASHAM: After that Bieber went on at some length about his new understanding of the Holy Spirit has helped him turn from drug use and other sins.
Now, John, I don’t want to suggest that it’s any more important when a celebrity who was lost is found. But nor is it any less important. Hearing Bieber talk about sin and grace, using some really sound doctrine, had me cheering! So what do you think, should we see if we can book a group rate to the Kanye-Bieber concert tour I hope is coming?
STONESTREET: Ah, I think I’m busy that night, but I will say talking about sin and things as sin is remarkably refreshing and Biblically orthodox.
EICHER: Well, John Stonestreet is president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview.
John, thanks so much.
STONESTREET: Thank you!
NICK EICHER: When Dan Cain of Cleveland, Ohio found out he had mail waiting for him at the Twinsburg Post Office, he was a bit surprised. But for reasons that will be clear in a moment—the mail in question would not fit in his mailbox at home.
In fact, when he showed up at the post office, the clerk told him to pull around to the back door so they could load it into his car!
And what was it?
Well. Just letters. Not a big box, not a shipping container, letters—except more than 50,000 copies of the same thing!
It took 80 plastic bins, each containing 700 letters—all of them concerning his student loan. Cain said he later learned a glitch in the company’s computers generated this pile of paper that really brings new meaning to the term mass mailing.
AUDIO: We were like are you kidding me?! Who makes that kind of mistake?!
Um, upper left-hand corner, have a gander at the return address. The College Avenue Student Loan Company. The audio from TV station WOIO.
AUDIO: I may start a fire, bonfire, and burn it all! [Laughs]
Yeah, feel the bern, so to speak.
Oh, and to top it off, every single letter, all 50,000-plus, were wrong. The statements had the incorrect interest rate. So the company has to re-send it—let’s hope just once.
It’s The World and Everything in It.
NICK EICHER: Today is Friday, February 28th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.
MEGAN BASHAM: And I’m Megan Basham. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: ABC’s newest primetime show.
On its surface, it’s hard to imagine a timelier TV series than, For Life. Law and Order may boast that it’s ripped from the headlines, but this inspired-by-a-true-story legal drama feels as is if it owes its existence to the campaign trail.
CLIP: Are you saying the district attorney’s office is racist? I’ll leave that for other people to decide. But there’s no question the system’s broke for anybody that doesn’t have power or money. Overcharging people who can’t afford a lawyer then forcing them into a plea is an epidemic in this country
Part of the pitch President Trump made to black voters during this year’s State of the Union address included his administration’s support for criminal justice reform. He especially highlighted the problem of mandatory sentencing for non-violent drug offenders.
Isaac Wright Jr. was once caught in the net of such a law. He was sentenced to life under New Jersey’s “drug kingpin” statute in 1991. He then spent his time in a maximum-security prison becoming, first, a paralegal and, later, a lawyer. Eventually, Wright used his newfound expertise to overturn his own conviction. But in the meantime, he represented his fellow inmates, winning freedom for some and reduced sentences for others.
CLIP: I don’t know if I want to get involved in all this. What did they promise you? I hope it’s protection because you’re gonna need it when people find out you rolled on him again. Are you threatening me? It’s not a threat, it’s a fact. And I won’t be able to stop it. That’s messed up. No, what’s messed up is this kid’s been rotting in here for six years and he’s gonna do 14 more because you lied. Freddie this is your chance to make things right.
ABC executives had to be blessing the day they got to Wright’s life story before John Grisham did.
But that’s all exterior. Pop the hood and you find overly oiled machinery that differs little from a dozen other courtroom dramas that have rolled off the broadcast assembly line in the last few years.
Perhaps it’s because Wright himself is an executive producer on the series. But he and co-producer Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson seem intent on making Wright—here named Aaron Wallace—an overly noble figure. Perhaps he is, but they’ve forgotten that Aaron also needs to be flawed to be interesting. The Bible lives so large in the imaginations of even unbelievers in part because it only portrays one figure who’s without sin. Everybody else is left to flounder in their realistic humanity.
Aaron’s conviction stems from the fact he ran a nightclub through which massive amounts of cocaine were being trafficked. This suggests he might at least have been a guy who cut a few ethical, if not legal, corners. Or maybe he was especially unobservant. Or maybe his business partner took exceptionally effective pains to hide his tracks.
But at least in the first few episodes, For Life doesn’t treat this as a question worth exploring. A few flashback scenes of Aaron as a great dad and husband are all we get of this backstory. We’re to take it on faith that the prosecution had no basis of any sort to start investigating him.
CLIP: I used to be just like you. I had a wife I loved. I had a family and a home. I owned a business. I paid my taxes. I had my friends. Some of them were the kind of friends you’d be better off without. Maybe I should have known. The powers that be came down on me. So here I am now, nine years later. For the first time back in the same courthouse where they came to take my life away.
The case of real life, first-time offender Alice Johnson, who received the same penalty for a similar conviction until President Trump commuted her sentence, offers a lesson. One need not be innocent in every respect to have been punished unreasonably.
The district attorneys, too, are a little one-note. There’s no doubt from a little internet research into the case that they acted more criminally than many of the felons they put behind bars. But again, in a realistic drama like this, characters who offer only villainy quickly feel cliched.
CLIP: I’ve seen the court records. Smells like you were playing footloose and fancy free with witnesses, discovery, snitches. Then let him prove that. Hard to without seeing what you and the cops are withholding. Of course that’s what you count on. Dragging your feet with your limitless resources, grinding people down. Holy smokes, what happened to you? Moral clarity. You ought to try it some time.
The legislation we passed protecting police misconduct. We ruined people’s lives. How many lives, Glen, while we were doing our jobs?
That said, there are a few signs of life. Like when Aaron makes the utilitarian choice to join forces with a White Supremacist gang leader. Less promising are several ill-fitting LGBT side plots. The stories of those like Isaac Wright, aggressively pursued by corrupt government agents, shouldn’t have to share the spotlight with an irrelevant agenda.
For Life, which airs on Tuesdays at 10 pm, is a good idea. We can only hope ABC’s execution gets better.
MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: Today is Friday, February 28th. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Megan Basham.
NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. It’s time now for our February edition of listener feedback! And, boy, do we have a lot to get to today.
BASHAM: We sure do. And here to help us do that is managing editor J.C. Derrick. Morning, J.C.!
DERRICK: Good morning! We do have a lot, so let’s dive straight in with a couple corrections.
First, in a piece about Chinese influence in the United States, we mentioned a 75-year remembrance for the Tiananmen Square massacre. Obviously, we meant 25 years there.
Also, on the newscast we said an American woman who tested positive for the COVID-19 coronavirus disembarked from the Diamond Princess in Cambodia. She was actually on a different cruise ship.
BASHAM: OK, first up, we have listener Lisa Kendall. She recorded her feedback on her smartphone after hearing last week’s Culture Friday conversation about traditional families versus forged families.
KENDALL: One of the things I would have added is that we have a forged family in Christ: the church. Especially small, local bodies can meet needs and help support families and help them stay together when times are hard.
EICHER: Good point, Lisa. And by the way, thanks for recording on your iPhone and sending us that audio. Sounds good.
Now, Megan, here’s one for you. It’s from Leta Powell in Cedar Crest, New Mexico:
POWELL: I would just like to thank Megan Basham for her piece, “God’s decade challenge.” I was listening normally as I do during the day and it just caught me off-guard how she was speaking so many things that I had felt about the New Year. And so I listened again, and I sent it to a couple of my friends. And I just wanted to thank her for that piece because it really spoke to me.
BASHAM: Aww, thank you, Leta! Nice to know I’m not alone.
DERRICK: You’re definitely not. I think a lot of people probably resonated with that commentary.
Next up, our friend Robert Mineo called in with some great feedback about the accents he hears on the program. Listen to this:
MINEO: As a New Yorker, I just want to really thank you for bringing nice accents into your program. For example, Sarah Schweinsberg often says “federal” and “roof.” And Onize Ohikere just recently said “jihadist.” So from a person who says “water” and “coffee,” I think it’s great to hear that…
DERRICK: That’s awesome! And not an accident. We do strive to include a diverse set of voices. Sarah is from South Dakota, Onize’s from Africa, and we’ve got several Southern accents. And how can you not love Les Sillars’ Canadian brogue?
EICHER: Yeah, I love that. And speaking of Southern voices, we heard from listener Dan Beaty in Huntsville, Alabama. He called to tell us about a problem quite a few of you had earlier this month. He listens to the program on both Google Play and Stitcher. And as those of you who also use those platforms know, we had a connection issue and new episodes weren’t showing up like they’re supposed to.
BEATY: I’m missing my WORLD podcast! Let us know what’s happening. Or where else can get it. Please don’t tell me the only place I can get it is from the fruit-flavored place. That’s way too expensive for me. I can’t do “i” anything.
BASHAM: Well, Dan, rest assured, there are many different places you can listen to the program. There’s actually more than we can keep up with.
Just in the last month Pandora began carrying the program. But there’s a lot of them out there. So yesterday we posted a list of the podcast platforms we support. Just go to worldandeverything.org, and you can check that out.
DERRICK: Yeah, we are actually establishing relationships with each one of those dozen platforms, so that anytime there’s a technical glitch, we have someone to go to. And that post also tells you where else to look if your provider is having an issue. It’s at worldandeverything.org. Posted yesterday.
And don’t forget to subscribe to WORLD’s newest podcast, Effective Compassion. Here’s what one listener had to say in one of the many 5-star reviews the show has on iTunes:
I find it so difficult to know how to help others effectively and efficiently. Thank you for causing us to think about these issues with a view to actually helping others.
EICHER: OK, and we received a call from Southern Indiana, Kevin Shelley.
SHELLEY: This really has nothing to do with your radio program has to do with your magazine. What have you guys done to it? I don’t know what you guys were thinking, but you spent way too much money to ruin a perfectly good magazine. Have a good day. Bye.
EICHER: Well, listen. My experience has been with magazine redesigns, you typically hear more negatives than you do positives, and we did receive some really sincere positives. But the substantive criticisms we’ve received, we will address, and they boil down to readability in a few places in the front of the magazine. We’ll fix them. We’re very responsive to our magazine readers.
All that said, let me remind you today’s the last day to get WORLD Magazine for friends or for yourself, for two months free. We’ve had a lot of takers, and we’ll be taking down the offer tomorrow. So if you’d like to see, haha, what all the fuss is about, kidding, if you think you’d enjoy sound journalism, grounded in God’s word, head over to get-world-now-dot-org for the details. You can refer friends, you can refer yourself. Just give us a look: get-world-now-dot-org
And that’s today’s Listener Feedback.
NICK EICHER: Every week, a whole lot of people put this program together. So our thanks to these hardworking folks: Ryan Bomberger, Paul Butler, Janie B. Cheaney, Kent Covington, Kristen Flavin, Katie Gaultney, Anna Johansen, Leigh Jones, Trillia Newbell, Onize Ohikere, Harvest Prude, Mary Reichard, Sarah Schweinsberg, and Cal Thomas.
MEGAN BASHAM: Our audio engineers are Johnny Franklin and Carl Peetz. J.C. Derrick is managing editor and Marvin Olasky is editor-in-chief.
And all of this is made possible by listeners like you. We are grateful.
With all the scary news we’re hearing, let’s remember this: The Lord is good. He’s a stronghold in the days of trouble and knows those who take refuge in Him.
I hope you have a restful weekend. We’ll talk to you again on Monday.