Culture Friday – Survival mode strips away pretense

MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: It’s Friday the 20th of March, 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, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. First up: Culture Friday.

Well, had the world not changed so drastically in the last week or so, we’d have been sitting together in Greenville, South Carolina, in front of a live audience, maybe even talking about something other than COVID-19.

Yet, instead, we can be thankful to God for technology, and specifically, working technology, that allows us to say hello to the socially distanced John Stonestreet, president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview. 

We are connected by way of a studio setup in John’s home in Colorado Springs—way out there in the west.



EICHER: John, I want to read you a message we received from a listener who’d planned to be with us today. It’s so nice.

Dawn Shelton is her name, and we know that she and her daughter are listening now. So let’s say a socially distanced “Hi” to the Sheltons! 

She posted a picture of herself with her daughter. She’s got a nice water bottle there, powder blue, complete with a swag sticker with The World and Everything in It logo, and they’re smiling.

And here’s what she wrote:

We might be a little sad that our trip to the Greenville Live event this sweet daughter planned for my birthday had to be cancelled. However we’re grateful we can listen to the podcast together the next 2 days while she’s in town!

So, happy birthday to Dawn, and we sure wish we could be with you right now.

But I think if God will grant that we return to normal and we start putting events back on the calendar, I know I’ll have an even stronger sense of gratitude simply for the joy of meeting together. 

Maybe we take things for granted until we lose the ability to enjoy the simple pleasure of a face-to-face conversation.

But John, before we dive into the wider culture, you know, we’ve been doing lots of reporting here at WORLD about how people are handling social distancing. So tell me about the Stonestreet culture. You have young ones, and a really young one at home. 

Just very briefly, how are you and Sarah creatively spending the time?

STONESTREET: Well, I think the biggest difference is that I’m going to be here and not traveling at all—not a single week between now, what looks like, and Easter. We homeschool so we’re not one of the millions of brand new homeschool families in America as of a couple weeks ago. And so there’s still a whole lot of school going on, but we’re also, you know, using the time to catch up on some shows that we had planned to binge watch. We’re using the time to read a lot of books that we weren’t thinking that we would have time to get to. And also getting a lot of projects done around the house. I will say, though, that with Hunter there is no such thing as social distancing.

BASHAM: So John, talking about the lead-up to our live event and, sadly, having to to postpone it. Just one week’s history seems so distant, but I’d like to go way, way back! 

All the way to January. Which to be honest, seems like a lifetime ago now.

So this is a first, I think, on Culture Friday. But I’d like to a play a soundbite of January John Stonestreet for March John Stonestreet to comment on.

This was something you said about the latest Star Wars movie, The Rise of Skywalker, before the coronavirus was more than blip on our news radar. And it’s something I found myself thinking about this week.

STONESTREET: Whenever you have a survival sort of universe like we’ve seen through history, you don’t have an LGBT movement. An LGBT movement is the luxury of a wealthy society. You don’t find it anywhere on the planet that is one that’s working—or in history—that’s working for survival, which is of course what we’re talking about in this fictional Star Wars universe.

So maybe it’s a little premature to say the U.S. is in survival mode now. But then again, things are changing quickly, so maybe it’s not.

Certainly it seemed a little surreal to see stories about Walmart offering its employees preferred pronoun buttons only a few days before schools and restaurants started closing up and California started issuing shelter in place orders. It really felt, as you described it in that Star Wars conversation, decadent and out of step with the moment the world is facing. 

We can already guess how this pandemic might shake-up the way a lot of industries do business. 

But any sense yet of how this might affect us on a cultural level?

STONESTREET: I mean, I do think it’s a little premature that we’re in survival mode. The means and production, the supply chains, short of the nationwide rush on toilet paper is still pretty much in place. But I do think that comment has aged pretty well because, look, on a given weekly basis as I scan the headlines, there is just a dramatically disproportional number of headlines, social media posts, national news stories having to do with something LGBTQ. And that has dramatically been reduced even this week—not a single LGBTQ headline. And even in our paper in Colorado Springs it would be 20-30 percent. I think the only story that I’ve seen in the last week or so has been a story about Lance Bass and his husband losing their ninth attempt at in-vitro fertilization in order to have a child. And so I think—I saw that, I don’t know how many other people saw that, but it just seems, again, so—oh, good heavens—just decadent, out of step.

I think, too, though, that in times of emergency, we find ourselves reinforcing biological realities like male and female. So, it’ll be window dressing in the future, but any sort of substantial change kind of gets revealed to be what it is, which is kind of bizarre. And I think the word decadent that you used is the right one.

BASHAM: So John, we’re not the first generation of believers to face something like this. And many faced much worse and redeemed that time through faithful ministry. I’m thinking of Zwingli and Martin Luther during the plague in the 16th century. Or Charles Spurgeon during the cholera outbreaks in the 1800s. Those men changed their cultures in times of sickness. 

This is historic stuff that we’re facing right now. There’s a lot of panic and fear out there. What are the marks God’s people might leave on the world in the age of coronavirus?

STONESTREET: Yeah, it’s a fascinating history and we’ve been saying it in terms of things like addiction or in terms of sexual brokenness that the church belongs there, too. And it’s such an important thing to think about. And here we are with a legitimate, actual sort of plague. And so we find ourselves in the history of the church. 

We were talking about this earlier in light of Christians in China during the early days of this pandemic and what they were doing in terms of caring for the elderly and so on, thinking it’s OK that I get infected and so on because I want to share Christ’s love with others. Now, I think there’s a way of loving neighbor that involves going online with church services. 

But there is something just remarkable about the history of the church and something that I hope we don’t drop the ball on. I’ve kind of thought about it in terms of a couple ways. First of all, one of the greatest contributions that I think God’s people can make right now is through hope, being people of hope. Because we forget that not only is this culture going through this, it’s going through this with a whole kind of environment of bad secular thinking that’s framing the way they’re looking at it. And secular thinking, first of all, involves a Darwinian sort of thought that the world has survived thus far on razor thin margins of error. And so this is why that sort of catastrophic sort of thinking dominates us and we’re always looking for the next thing that’s going to end because we shouldn’t be here in the first place, in a Darwinian sort of sense. And so to realize that, first of all, the world’s not out of God’s control. 

Second, the opposite side of that—secularism—because the universe is not a place of God’s control, the only people left to control it is us. And so there has been this kind of illusion that we can make the world whatever we want it and we forget that kind of in a sense we’re here at the invitation of the created order and the fall and that invitation is subject to be rescinded at any time without notice with natural disasters or with evil acts or things like that. It’s just not a world that we can control, and yet we are the first generation in history—really, the first, the last 50 years or so—that really think they have a handle on reality, that we can kind of stop things and we can kind of economically determine it here or politically process it over there. And there are moments like this when we realize, look, we really aren’t in control. And so that right thinking, that this is a world in God’s hands, not out of control and not in our control, is probably one of the best things that the church can be crystal clear on. Which means we can’t panic. We can’t overly politicize this thing like has been done in ridiculous ways. That we have to ground our understanding of the value of human life and of the tragedy of the universe and a Christian worldview and there’s no way around that. We’re going to have to figure out how to keep that straight.

EICHER: Well, John Stonestreet is president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview.

John, we’ll talk to you again. Lord willing.

STONESTREET: Yes, thanks so much.


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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