Culture Friday – Politics, marriage, and Christian journalists

MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: It’s Friday the 12th of June, 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. Before we get going, wasn’t that a fun preroll this morning?

BASHAM: So cute, and as the wife watching from the sidelines, it’s been really fun seeing how WORLD Watch is catching on and seeing what a good time The Big Bash is having with it every day.

EICHER: I was really glad for the generational emphasis, too. News for kids and adults—magazine, web, podcasts, now video, as well as journalism education. 

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BASHAM: That’s the web address. We’re a little more than a third of the way through the month and more than a third of the way to our goal, so that’s an encouragement. Again, if you can give, please do.

EICHER: First up, Culture Friday.

Two weeks ago we introduced a series of questions from some aspiring young reporters. They were part of this year’s World Journalism Institute.

We had planned to run two programs back to back to accommodate all the good questions. But we figured we needed to put the plan on hold for a week so we could discuss the protests and rioting going on across the country. 

We do want to honor our students, honor our promise to them, that we’d put their questions to John Stonestreet. So let’s do that.

BASHAM: Right, John Stonestreet, president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview. Morning, John.


BASHAM: Let’s get started… 

VIVIAN JONES: My name is Vivian Jones and I’m a graduate of Hillsdale College. This election year. The presumptive nominees of both major political parties face credible allegations of sexual assault, sexual misconduct, and inappropriate behavior toward women. To what extent should these allegations impact the way that American Christians vote this November?

STONESTREET: Thanks, Vivian. That’s such a great question and an important one right now. We don’t have another election with other candidates. Those are the ones that we actually have and there’s a level at which politics is a purely or at least inherently pragmatic activity or at least voting is. Hopefully politics isn’t all pragmatic, but certainly voting ends up being a pragmatic action in which we take our principles, we never abandon them, and then we say, “OK, well what do we have to deal with?” And so that’s why it changes, whether somebody’s in a “swing state” or somebody is not. Or whether somebody agrees with 70 percent or 40 percent or 20 percent. And, also, which issues we agree and disagree on. For example, I remember Chuck Colson talking about this years ago, which is not all issues are equally important. What somebody believes about tax policy matters. What somebody believes about the inherent value of human life, well, that matters more. Now, you’re not going to get tax policy right unless you get the foundational ones right, but it is possible to measure out the—or, weight out, I guess, which issues matter more.

The last thing I’ll say is this, is that you are exactly right to suggest that the character issues that both candidates face have to be weighed in. They have to. And maybe this can help put it into a larger context. In addition to the fact that we’re in a moment in history—and we’ve got to think beyond this election to whether our society is healthy or not. 

We’ve also got to remember that whenever you do vote and you try to make these pragmatic calculations, there are three things to be considered. Every candidate comes with three things: Number one, a candidate comes with their ideas and ideas matter dramatically. What they believe matters. Their worldview matters. Their ideals matter, because that will be the root of the policy decisions that they make. The second thing is that—and, by the way, sometimes their ideals are related in their policy, so I’d put ideals and policy together. The second thing is that they come with a whole group of people. And that is, basically every presidential candidate will come with 3-4,000 other people. And those 3-4,000 other people, which pond the president or vice president fishes in for their cabinet, for their staff to fill these unelected positions, who populates everybody from the HHS to Department of Homeland Security to NIH. You can kind of go down the line. There’s thousands of people that are involved in this and those thousands of people themselves have ideals. And they’re coming from policy positions. And they have to be factored in. And then the third thing, which is actually the first thing as well, is character. Character is destiny for every individual. 

Now, I don’t know how to balance these out when you’re talking about poor character but good policy or you’re talking about bad policy but good company. But those are the three things that have to be factored in. And we move forward in faith. And it’s hard. And there’s not a perfect answer and there’s not a perfect decision going forward.

BROOKE NEVINS: Hello, I’m Brooke Nevins from Fredericksburg, Texas and I’m a student at the University of Texas at Austin. In light of the recent Supreme court case RG and GR Harris funeral homes versus Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: the use of preferred pronouns when referring to or speaking with a member of the LGBTQ community continues to spark debate in this country. My question is, how should we as Christians continue to love our brothers and sisters in Christ, while not bending to preferences outside the Christian worldview.

STONESTREET: Thanks, Brooke. And part of the challenge here is you ask how do we continue to love our brothers and sisters in Christ and sometimes what we’re doing is not talking about loving our brothers and sisters in Christ but we’re talking about loving those outside of Christ. Not that our treatment really should differ all that dramatically between those who claim to be Christian and those who don’t claim to be Christian, but one of the things that is important to understand is when we are loving people, we’re loving them in the context of reality, not in the context of something we wish were reality. In other words, you cannot really love someone without truth. And that’s especially true, I think, in a context where what’s good is considered bad, what’s bad is considered good or what’s true is considered wrong and what’s a lie is considered to be a truth, or something like that. Look, this matters. 

I know we live in a cultural moment in which truth and love seem to be in conflict, I get that. It’s like, if you are truthful, well, that’s not a loving thing to say or a loving thing to do. And if you’re loving, then truth can’t even be part of the picture sort of thing. But we can’t choose between truth and love. We have to hold them together. Now, what does that look like. 

You specifically asked about the use of preferred pronouns. I am much more comfortable calling someone by the name they want to be called even if it seems like a male name or a female name than using a pronoun. Because using a pronoun actually specifically is a gendered thing. In other words, every language in the world is gendered in some sense. Some languages are gendered all the way through, top to bottom where a noun has both a male and a female form or certain nouns are male and certain nouns are female. Others, you know, will be gendered in a sense through, really, the use of pronouns. And so when you’re using pronouns, you’re saying this person is a he or this person is a she. And we ought not say something that is not true. That doesn’t mean, by the way, that you’ll get away with that. That you won’t be accused of being hateful if you choose to use a pronoun. And I think one of the loving things maybe we could do is to avoid pronoun use, at least upfront, at least in direct reference, at least in early meetings and use the chosen name so that we can actually be truth-tellers. I just know, look, we’re in a cultural moment that tries to divorce truth and love and if we do that we’re not being loving and we’re not being truthful because they both require each other.

SHELLY NOVO: Hi, my name is Shelley Novo and I go to Biola University and I’m reporting here from San Jose, California. Oftentimes I see Christian sharing about the quote/unquote shocking sinful things that they see different people in the world doing. And my question for you, John, is how can journalists with a biblical worldview report on these quote/unquote shocking things in a way that is both compelling to the Bible believer and to the non-Christian?

STONESTREET: Shelly, what a great question. Good news is there’s a journalism school that helps you think through all those things. And you’re in it. These are really hard things. I think journalists have to wrestle with that because sometimes I think love, which should be the guiding principle, right? We just talked about that. But also the love of God and the love of neighbor is the whole summary of the entire expectation that God has for people. And so in order to really think through that well what it means to love, we need to know what love does. Sometimes I think we see that love confronts and sometimes we see that love covers. And journalism can be done in a way that both confronts and then can also respect and cover at the same time.

I’ve got, for example, real problems with there’s a group of bloggers on the internet that feel like everything that they see that’s wrong they have to call it out. And do it in such a way that questions a person’s character. I think that’s one thing to think about is can somebody disagree? Can someone even be wrong? Can we actually even believe somebody is desperately wrong about what they think when it comes to something of grave importance but us not actually think that they’re a bad person for believing it? I love a quote that I heard long ago that I think is credited—I heard it was credited to Father Serico, who runs the Acton Institute, that we’ve got to be ruthless with ideas and gentle with people. That division is a helpful one for me. For example, when I speak on LGBT issues, same sex marriage, God’s design for marriage, I don’t make any jokes. I make self-deprecating jokes about my own self, things like that. But never about the issue, never about, certainly, the people. Because it’s just not in this context a way to be ruthless with ideas and gentle with people. So, I don’t know. I mean, that’s a number of thoughts. These are really hard things. 

Number one, be the right sort of person. Be shaped by all the classical and Christian virtues. 

Number two is be charitable. Don’t assume people’s motives when you don’t know them. 

At the Colson Center when we do our Breakpoint commentaries, we say we won’t do any “get off my lawn” scripts. Get off my lawn means you should know this and you’re an idiot for not knowing it, so get off. In other words, everything is I think an important opportunity to go back to first principles. There’s a wonderful story about Vince Lombardi, who after the Green Bay Packers lost in the second round of the playoffs, started training camp the next year by holding up a football and saying, “Gentlemen, this is a football.” In other words, let’s go back to square one. And I think we’re in a cultural moment where we are going to have to do that more and more. And that focuses us in on ideas more than people, which I think is important.

EMMANUEL NWACHUKWU: Hi, I’m Emmanuel Nwachukwu. I study at Near East University in Cyprus. A few weeks ago on Culture Friday, you addressed the dropping marriage rates in America. Towards the end, you said that the church has been teaching marriage in a ‘exclusively functional way.’ Can you explain the right perspective young Christians should have towards marriage?

STONESTREET: Emmanuel, thanks for listening to Culture Friday and I did say that, that we’ve been teaching marriage in the church in an exclusively functional way. And what I meant by that is before you know what to do with something, you need to know what something is for. This is a line from T.S. Elliot that you need to know the purpose of something before you can actually teach on the function of something. So, to properly use a computer, you need to know what a computer is for. You can use a computer as a hammer or as an item to skip across a lake, but that’s not what it’s for. You need to know what it’s for. And that’s fundamentally what I meant by marriage is we need to go back to “Gentlemen, this is marriage,” to paraphrase Vince Lombardi. This is what marriage is for. 

I, for example, have heard numerous sermons dealing with Genesis chapter two, the creation of Eve, and completely misses the purpose of marriage because it says, essentially, it takes the text that says it’s not good that man is alone and needs a helper and it turns it into it’s not good that man is lonely and needs a companion. Those are two fundamentally different purposes of marriage. So, we’ve got to go back to the biblical text. What does the Bible say marriage is for? What is the inherent connection between marriage and our bodies, our created bodies? It’s fascinating. If we don’t go back to this, then we risk resurrecting again, which the church has done over and over and over again. The greatest and longest standing heresy in the history of the church, gnosticism. The question over LGBT, the question over sexuality in our culture in various ways is the question over do our bodies actually matter? Do our bodies have a purpose? Or, is what’s really important our inner feelings and our bodies should be transformed or conformed and our behavior transformed or conformed to whatever we feel like? That’s a new gnosticism. So, we go back and say, well, what’s God’s purpose for our bodies? 

I’ll tell you, there’s a fantastic new book that walks through the purpose of our bodies and how that answers that question what are we for. And I think when you answer the question what are humans for, then you can answer the question, what did Adam need help for? And then that answers the question, what’s marriage for? So, if you follow that line of thinking, maybe it’s helpful. 

But there’s a wonderful new book by Christopher West who has been kind of the best translator for protestants of John Paul’s theology of the body. But the book is called Our Bodies Tell God’s Story. And he starts with what our bodies are for and then ends up with what marriage is for. So, I would give two thumbs up for that book in order to answer your question.

EICHER: Great Culture Friday questions from our World Journalism Institute students for John Stonestreet, President of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview. And great answers, thanks John!


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