Culture Friday – Losing faith in the Supreme Court

MYRNA BROWN, HOST: It’s Friday the 3rd of June, 2020. Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Myrna Brown.

MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: And I’m Megan Basham.

On Monday, the Supreme Court blocked a Louisiana abortion law from taking effect. That law would have required abortion businesses to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles—something often required in the case of other minor surgeries like colonoscopies or laser eye surgeries. So a very reasonable precaution.

But in a 5-4 decision Chief Justice John Roberts once again joined the liberal majority to prevent even this slight obstacle to ending an unborn baby’s life. 

Many court watchers were surprised because Roberts’s reasoning in this case stood in direct opposition to his dissent on a similar Texas case only four years ago.

Here’s CNN’s legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin speculating on what this means for the pro-life cause going forward.

TOOBIN: Something is going on with John Roberts. I mean, John Roberts has sided with the liberals now in three of the biggest cases of the year. It’s a major decision, it is a major message that Chief Justice Roberts may not be who we thought he was.

BROWN: It’s Culture Friday and time now to welcome John Stonestreet, President of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview. 

John, good morning.


BROWN: So John, a lot of Christians applauded President Trump’s conservative appointments to the Supreme Court. Over the last few weeks the applause has been replaced with heavy sighs of disappointment. Even words like betrayal are being used. 

My question is, does that kind of response suggest what Psalm 33:16 warns us about: The king is not saved by his great army, a warrior is not delivered by his great strength. 

In other words are Christians putting too much faith in having the right person in the right role rather than faith in God?

STONESTREET: I think that’s probably true of some Christians. I think we kind of think that there’s a political solution or political appointee solution, in this case, to our problems. But I think that we’re rightly disappointed. We’re rightly disappointed and we should demand more. I think that this analogy that keeps coming up of Lucy holding the football for Charlie Brown is an apt one because that’s what we’re told when it comes to elections is that Supreme Court nominations matter. And, make no mistake, they do matter and they matter a lot and I don’t think anyone is under the illusion that the case would have been decided differently had President Clinton or something like that been in the office. And not only that one, but so many other cases. 

But I do think it underscores—especially the way this particular decision was written, in which a state-level legislation that was a different looking legislation when applied on the ground in Louisiana than it would have been in Texas, when it was struck down earlier—was a state-by-state sort of approach to the issue of abortion. Which is one of the best innovations of the pro-life movement now for quite awhile. And I think that can discourage the state-by-state movement. 

The state-by-state movement, the work on the ground, the pregnancy resource centers reaching out and finding ways to connect with abortion minded women on the ground, there’s never going to be a national solution for the sort of person-to-person love and care and ministry that needs to happen when it comes to women who find themselves in vulnerable situations and unexpected pregnancies and so on. That’s what can’t go away. It’s never going to be the Supreme Court and nothing else. It’s only going to be the Supreme Court because of everything else that has been done. And the Supreme Court’s going to be kind of a cherry on top of a culture that’s already decided that abortion is an unthinkable thing like slavery or some other great evil from the past. 

BASHAM: Now, John, I saw conservative writer David French cautioning against discouragement. He argued pro-lifers are actually winning on the cultural front. And he cited some statistics from the Guttmacher Institute that showed that the abortion rate in the U.S. is now lower than it was in 1973—the year that Roe v. Wade was decided. 

But of course the Guttmacher institute is affiliated with Planned Parenthood and their data likely doesn’t include abortifacients, so grain of salt there.

What’s your take on where the pro-life movement stands now?

STONESTREET: You know, I like David a lot. He’s been optimistic, or more optimistic than the rest of us on all of the Supreme Court decisions in this term that have been so negative. I think he’s wrong, unfortunately. 

Now, I think the pro-life movement has been tremendous and I think the innovation that we have seen, I think the technological innovation in terms of reaching through internet searches and so on to abortion-minded women, I think going medical, I think being combined with post-abortive care, I think there are all kinds of things that show that the pro-life movement is changing hearts and minds. 

I don’t think, though, that we’ve persuaded hearts and minds because I think the statistics still tell us that while more millennials and younger Americans don’t personally like abortion, they’re also full-blown moral relativists. And we don’t actually solve this problem until we think that abortion is just flat out wrong. Not wrong for me but not for you. Not wrong for me but I’m not sure we should legislate morality. But just flat out wrong. And that’s going to require a lot more work even than the very important work of just loving on women who are in crisis pregnancies, as important as that is.

BASHAM: Now John, I’ve been looking forward to catching up with you to ask about something else I could use some clarity on. And that’s removing statues and renaming things. I think on one hand most people feel good about Mississippi deciding to remove the Confederate symbol from their flag. And if a private university like Princeton decides to remove Woodrow Wilson’s name from it’s public policy school, well, sure, that’s up to them.

But what about museums taking down Teddy Roosevelt statues. Or some news that just broke today—the Boston Art Commission voting unanimously to take down the Lincoln Emancipation memorial, a monument that Frederick Douglass dedicated. 

What should the principles be when thinking through this renaming and removing moment?

STONESTREET: Well, I don’t think we can get to principles yet because you can’t make these decisions unless you know your history. In other words, without a fundamental knowledge of the narrative—and I don’t mean the reconstructed narrative of the left or of the right or something like that—I mean just basic civic education. One that’s not whitewashed as it has been and also one that’s not just subject to this ridiculous notion that somehow we’re morally evolved past those who have gone before. There’s a complete loss of what the American story was all about.

And through those new lenses, we’re now trying to make a really hard decision like who’s a good guy and who’s a bad guy throughout history. And does this statue connote some sort of superiority like we know that some of the Confederate statues were intended to do during the Jim Crow era or are these actually talking about history and telling us an important part of our story? 

It’s the same thing, by the way, with being a Christian. If we don’t know what a human being is, if we don’t know what creates us, what gives us inherent dignity as created and the common humanity and the common fallenness that we all share in our humanity, then we’re going to draw these artificial lines of good guys and bad guys. And it’s not going to make any sense. And this clearly doesn’t make a whole lot of sense in how we’re proceeding. Because, by the way, the line that we’re seeing most commonly drawn by those who have lost their story is the good guy-bad guy line. I’m the good guy, you’re the bad guy. I would have been on the right side of history. I’m on the right side of history now. You’re on the wrong side of history. And it’s a bit of historical arrogance. What C.S. Lewis called it “chronological snobbery” at work here because there’s not a frame of reference. There’s not a framework by which to approach these questions at all. 

BROWN: Can I follow up real quick, John? As I hear you talking about this good guy-bad guy line and just Megan’s question made me think of something that I read not too long ago. A group of realtors want to get rid of the word “master” in their real estate listings. So, instead of saying master bedroom or master bathroom, they want to say primary bedroom. Of course, the reason, they say it carries a connotation to slavery and slave masters. What do you make of that? Is that going too far when you think about being the good guys, the bad guys? I don’t know. What do you think?

STONESTREET: Yeah, well, listen I don’t think it’s going too far. I actually think it’s going nowhere. I mean, we’ve been told that now for several weeks, we’ve got to do something. Well, you don’t always have to do something, especially if doing something is doing nothing. We need to do the right thing. And if you don’t have the right principles, you’re not going to know what to do. And so you’re just going to do stuff like this, which is, like seriously, I guess I might be missing something. But I don’t see the point. 

BASHAM: Well, John Stonestreet is President of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview. John, thanks as always for being here.

STONESTREET: Thanks so much.

(Leah Millis/Pool via AP, File) In this Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2020, file photo, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts arrives before President Donald Trump delivers his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington. 

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