MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: Good morning!
A series of landmark cases from the Supreme Court has Christians debating where religious liberty now stands. Plus a center-left New York Times reporter makes a dramatic exit.
We’ll talk with John Stonestreet about that.
MYRNA BROWN, HOST: That’s ahead on Culture Friday.
Also a new movie about a courageous reporter in Stalin’s Russia.
And Christian artist Rebecca St. James on God’s faithfulness.
BASHAM: It’s Friday, July 17th. This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Megan Basham.
BROWN: And I’m Myrna Brown. Good morning!
BASHAM: Up next, news with Kent Covington.
KENT COVINGTON, NEWS ANCHOR: Two more states issue mask mandates » Two more states will begin requiring face masks in public. In Arkansas, GOP Governor Asa Hutchinson announced a statewide mask mandate on Thursday.
And in Colorado, Democratic Governor Jared Polis said his state must curb the coronavirus surge quickly.
POLIS: There is a small window of opportunity, because if we don’t act, at the current rate that we saw, if you extrapolate that out, the state would exceed its ICU capacity in September.
As of today, everyone in Colorado over the age of 9 will be required to wear a mask in public.
In Ohio, GOP Governor Mike DeWine said his state is expanding its mask mandate to 19 counties—covering about 60 percent of the population.
But in Georgia, Republican Governor Brian Kemp has issued an executive order Thursday, keeping current health policies in place for another two weeks. That means no mask mandate. The order vetoes local ordinances requiring masks, including one in Atlanta.
White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Thursday that President Trump has not changed his stance on a national mandate.
MCENANY: We leave it to localities to make the decisions with regard to face coverings. And the CDC guidelines remain the same today, recommended but not required.
More than half of all states now require face coverings in public.
But residents of states that don’t require masks will soon have to wear one if they want to shop in certain stores.
Several large chains say they’ll soon require all customers to wear masks in their stores. The list includes Walmart, Kohl’s, and the nation’s largest grocery chain, Kroger.
RNC limits convention attendance » As the coronavirus continues to surge across the Sun Belt, President Trump’s plans for this year’s GOP convention keep shrinking. WORLD’s Kristen Flavin reports.
KRISTEN FLAVIN, REPORTER: The Republican National Committee announced Thursday it is sharply restricting attendance on three of the four nights of its convention. It’s slated to start August 24th in Jacksonville, Florida.
RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel said only the roughly 2,500 regular delegates to the convention would be permitted to attend the opening three nights. Delegates, their guests, and alternate delegates would be permitted to attend the final night, Aug. 27th, when Trump is set to deliver his acceptance speech.
GOP officials familiar with the planning have reportedly said Trump’s speech is expected to take place outdoors to accommodate the largest crowd possible.
The GOP moved most of the convention from Charlotte to Jacksonville after local officials ruled out a full-capacity crowd during the pandemic.
Reporting for WORLD, I’m Kristen Flavin.
Jobless claims top 1 million for 17th week » More than a million Americans filed jobless claims again last week.
The number of laid-off workers seeking assistance remained stuck at 1.3 million—lower than the previous week, but another indication of COVID-19’s impact on the economy.
It was the 17th consecutive week that jobless claims surpassed 1 million.
Mark Hamrick is a senior economic analyst with BankRate.com.
HAMRICK: A year ago, claims were at 217,000. So when we get something that’s 1.1 million new claims above a year ago, that tells you just how serious the situation with the job market is.
The Labor Department’s Thursday weekly report showed layoffs rising in Florida, Georgia and California by tens of thousands.
First COVID-19 vaccine tested in US poised for final testing » But there is good news in the race to find a vaccine for the coronavirus: The first one tested in the United States revved up people’s immune systems just the way scientists had hoped.
Biotech company Moderna developed the experimental vaccine along with the National Institutes of Health.
Researchers said the early volunteers developed what are called neutralizing antibodies in their bloodstream at levels similar to those found in people who survived COVID-19.
In less than two weeks, researchers will put the vaccine to a much larger test—a 30,000-person study. That will prove whether the shots really are strong enough to protect against the coronavirus.
U.S., Canada, U.K. accuse Russia of trying to steal coronavirus research » While scientists continue work to develop a safe, effective vaccine, Russia is reportedly working to steal it. WORLD’s Anna Johansen reports.
ANNA JOHANSEN, REPORTER: Britain, the United States, and Canada accused Russian hackers on Thursday of trying to steal information from vaccine researchers.
Intelligence agencies in the three nations said the hacking group APT29, also known as Cozy Bear, is part of the Russian intelligence services. They found that the group is trying to hack academic and pharmaceutical research labs. And they’re warning scientists to be alert for suspicious activity.
Intel officials believe Russia is trying to steal intellectual property, rather than to disrupt research. It’s unclear whether any information actually was stolen.
The U.S. government has also accused China of trying to steal coronavirus research.
Reporting for WORLD, I’m Anna Johansen.
U.S. government executes another federal inmate » The federal government carried out its second execution in three days on Thursday after a hiatus of nearly two decades.
Wesley Ira Purkey died of lethal injection at a federal prison in Indiana. Purkey was convicted of kidnapping and killing 16-year-old Jennifer Long.
In a final statement, Purkey said “I deeply regret the pain and suffering I caused to Jennifer’s family. I am deeply sorry.”
His last words were: “This sanitized murder really does not serve no purpose whatsoever. Thank you.”
Jennifer’s family said delays since the 2003 trial were excruciating. Her mother Olivia Long told reporters…
LONG: It just took way too long, all these appeals, some of them he put through several times. And then we sat in a van for four hours this morning while he did a bunch more appeals, some of them he had already done. We just shouldn’t have had to wait this long.
As with the execution of Daniel Lee Lewis on Tuesday, the Supreme Court issued a 5-to-4 ruling—cleaning the way for the execution. The four liberal justices dissented.
While Purkey’s final words were lucid and contrite, his lawyers argued the execution should be halted because he had dementia.
The Supreme Court also lifted a hold placed on other executions set for today and next month.
I’m Kent Covington.
Straight ahead: religious liberty rulings at the Supreme Court.
Plus, a conversation with Christian singer Rebecca St. James.
This is The World and Everything in It.
MEGAN BASHAM: It’s Friday the 17th of July, 2020. Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Megan Basham.
MYRNA BROWN: And I’m Myrna Brown.
The 2020 Supreme Court term drew to an end last week. And Christians are looking back on a series of surprising and, sometimes, deeply disappointing decisions like Bostock v. Clayton County. That ruling made sexual preference and gender identity protected classes under the Civil Rights Act. Many churches, religious organizations, and individual believers are wondering what these landmark cases will mean for religious liberty going forward.
Attorney and writer David French has argued, this concern is often overblown. He says Americans enjoy more religious freedom now than we ever have.
Here’s French explaining why he feels Bostock won’t mean much to most people:
DAVID FRENCH: If you’re somebody who’s say, working for, say, an insurance company in Alabama, the odds are that your company had already adopted this prohibition as its own policy. So for an awful lot of people they won’t notice anything really different.
BASHAM: But other Christian intellectuals, like Ryan Anderson at the Heritage Foundation, don’t share French’s upbeat outlook. Anderson contends that part of the reason Christians have lost so much ground on so many fundamental issues is because we feel bolstered by winning narrowly tailored legal cases even while losing much bigger cultural arguments.
Anderson said on Twitter that French is “myopic” to view what the court did this term as balancing “gay rights” against “religious liberty.”
I’ll quote him here: “The redefinition of marriage is not the court protecting ‘gay rights’—unless you think the reality of marriage violates ‘rights.’ And much more than ‘religious liberty’ is at stake in Bostock’s embrace of gender ideology.”
And with that we now welcome John Stonestreet to the conversation. He’s president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview.
John, good morning.
JOHN STONESTREET, GUEST: Good morning!
BASHAM: Now, French, a very smart, thoughtful guy, has some complicated views on this subject, John. And we won’t be able to fully vet them here.
But part of his argument is that he draws a distinction between religious liberty and religious cultural and political power. Particularly the power he says white evangelicals have enjoyed. Now, I’ll be honest, when I talk to the folks who are feeling angst, it doesn’t seem like loss of privilege or power is what’s driving their worries.
For example, my sister and her husband own a girls volleyball club. They are very concerned the Bostock decision could require them to violate their religious convictions. And they don’t see much protection for them in recent decisions.
Do you think she’s right?
STONESTREET: Well, I think perhaps. I don’t know her particular situation, but I think what we have from the court is a further delineation that what happens in religious institutions is protected, and what doesn’t happen in religious institutions is not protected. And I think that’s a real net loss for religious liberty, which is best understood not as the right to believe and act in the privacy of your own head, your own home, and your own house of worship, but actually in ordering your public life—whether it’s as an employer, whether it’s as a voter, or anything else.
And I think one of Ryan’s fundamental points, and if you ask me what team I’m on, I’m on Team Anderson on this one 100 percent because, I mean, look, it’s never a good thing for a society when something that is not true is just further entrenched into law. And that’s what Gorsuch’s opinion in Bostock actually did. Now, he didn’t do it the way that I think some LGBT advocates would have wanted, in which he would have equated the category of sex with sexual orientation and gender identity, but he basically set this bar which said if you will do anything in which it’s ok for a woman but not ok for a man or vice versa, it’s committing sexual discrimination. In other words, to discriminate against gays or lesbians or transgender in their behavior at your place of work is to necessarily discriminate against their sex.
That’s just a fundamental wrong. Seeing categories of sexual orientation and gender identity as a fundamental category of identity itself is a wrong. And we don’t want our laws to reflect that which is not true. And that’s a fundamental wrong direction and I don’t think it’s something necessarily to celebrate.
I mean, look, I am glad for the wins that we got. But, look, there’s also this reality–and I think it’s important—the Little Sisters of the Poor have been to the Supreme Court three times. Why would the state of Pennsylvania think that after the court already decided against the federal government on the same issue, that they could turn around and force them to buy contraceptives. Or why would the state of Montana, after we got an overwhelming decision in the Trinity Lutheran case, think it’s OK to discriminate against religious schools?
The fact that there have been so many cases like this that should have been slam dunks, that should have been obvious, and that should have never gone to the Supreme Court in the first place says an awful lot about the culture in which we live.
BROWN: OK, John, there was a legal case back in 2001, called Good News Club v. Milford Central School. Because of the ruling in that case, for the last two years, I’ve gotten to be the Bible teacher for the Good News Club at Starling Elementary. In fact, my church leads several of these clubs in our county. It blows my mind when I think about being able to share Jesus, in a public school with these 1st—5th graders. And some of them come to know the Lord through Good News Club.
But here’s the thing, part of the reason the Good News Club prevailed in that case is because it was able to appeal to legislation that bolstered a culture of faith in the public square, specifically the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
When we consider these latest SCOTUS opinions what seems to be happening is in the absence of congressional action the Supreme Court has taken upon itself the responsibility to be the ultimate authority on how competing interests will be proven in our country. Do you agree with that assessment and if so, how should we be responding as Christians?
STONESTREET: Yeah, I don’t know if it’s—it’s obviously true that the court is doing this, and of course the question is is it because Justice Kennedy set them on this path of having to arbitrate between various forms of animus or is it because there is a vacuum of local governments protecting the rights of citizens. And I think the answer is probably yes. It’s probably both of those things. And so I just think that’s going to leave all kinds of messes that are going to have to be adjudicated going forward. So, I think that’s going to be an inevitability.
I think the same thing is true, by the way, in the June Medical Services case, which is the Louisiana abortion law. Not necessarily a religious freedom in the same sense, but you do have the court making a nationwide decision on a local abortion restriction. Abortion restrictions are typically up to the state. And now the court basically saying, well, if it didn’t fly in Texas, it’s not going to fly here. It doesn’t matter if Texas and Louisiana are the same situation on the ground or not. Well, that seems to me to be kind of an almost nationalized way of resisting any sort of restrictions on abortion. So, all of those now restrictions that we figured out, like parental notification and mandated literature and medical information and parental notification laws and bans after particular weeks and so on, all of that is going to have to be adjudicated now as well. So, I certainly think the court has secured its future employment. There’s no question there’s going to be tons of things that are going to have to be adjudicated based on the decisions that were given in this term.
BASHAM: You know, lately John it feels like every week we need to hit some topic related to free speech. I don’t want to be redundant, but I don’t think we can let you go without asking about Bari Weiss resigning from The New York Times and the stunning letter she wrote.
And Andrew Sullivan, another center-left writer, announced he’s leaving New York Magazine for what sound like pretty similar reasons.
Do you feel like this, combined with the Harper’s Letter from last week, might bring about some sort of cultural correction?
STONSTREET: That is the question that I wish I knew the answer to. I don’t know. But it’s fascinating. I mean, there’s that wonderful meme of Michael Jackson in the Thriller video sitting there watching the movie shoving popcorn in his face. I kind of feel like I’m that meme looking at this because certainly the fact that it happened, these three things happened in such a hurry and it was—Weiss’ letter was just so scathing.
It’s really amazing and, you know, to look at what the letter that was published in Harper’s said, I mean, this is really non-controversial stuff, right? I mean, except for the kind of obligatory slam of Trump in the middle of it. But this is really non-controversial stuff. This is stuff that everyone would have agreed upon yesterday and now, I mean, the very fact that so many of them showed up with J.K. Rowling, she was the one, I think, that probably made this an intolerable letter at the end of the day.
So, anyway, look, I’m not sure, but I’ll be watching, just like you.
BROWN: Well, John Stonestreet is President of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview. John, thanks for being here.
STONESTREET: Thanks so much.
MYRNA BROWN: Police are investigating an attempted robbery of a pizza store owner. We say attempted robbery because it was unsuccessful—yeah the owner fought back!
The incident occurred around 10:30 p.m. last Friday at Stargate Pizza in Greenwood, Delaware.
Here’s what happened: A man walked in wielding a machete and demanded money. But the shop owner was having none of it. He took up arms and went after the robber with the closest available weapon—a pizza.
That’s right, the police report states that the shop owner “threw a pizza at him, causing the suspect to flee.”
The owner was not hurt.
This might be the first time police have ever put a pepperoni pizza in the evidence locker!
It’s The World and Everything in It.
MEGAN BASHAM: Today is Friday, July 17th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Megan Basham.
MYRNA BROWN: And I’m Myrna Brown. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: The true story of a journalist who risked his life and defied The New York Times to tell the truth about Josef Stalin’s crimes.
CLIP: What do you want? The story no one is talking about.
Midway through the excellent 2019 film, Mr. Jones, available to rent on streaming platforms, a pretty, young Moscow reporter tells British freelancer Gareth Jones she’s convinced the Soviets are fighting for the real people. She tells herself that burying information on Stalin means restraining Hitler.
She believes she’s a crusader on the right side of history, a moderating force for good. So she declines to follow a few leads, neglects to question some narratives that might undermine the cause.
CLIP: Look who has the agenda now. I don’t have an agenda, unless you call truth an agenda. Yes, but whose truth? The truth. There is only one kind. That’s so naive. I believe in a movement that is bigger than any one person. Look, there are cycles of history just like there are cycles of nature. There’s been nothing but war and depression and now is the chance to rebuild. To fight for the future. The people, the real people, the workers. And that’s what the Soviet’s are doing.I believe that this moment is bigger than any of us.
This woman is one kind of corrupt journalist Jones, played by James Norton, encounters in his efforts to uncover the truth about how Stalin is financing his brave, new industrialized nation. And her idealism contributes to millions of deaths from state-orchestrated starvation.
CLIP: I have no expectations. I just have questions. The numbers just don’t add up. The Kremlin is broke, so how are the Soviets suddenly on a spending spree? Who is providing the finance?
The other kind of journalist Jones meets in the Soviet Union is even less principled, and to this day holds a Pulitzer Prize for the lies he told in the pages of The New York Times.
Brilliantly played by a greasy, snake-eyed Peter Sarsgaard, Walter Duranty is circumspect about the dictator. He knows what Stalin is, but acting as the Times’ man in Moscow affords him wealth, international fame, and opportunities to indulge in debauchery.
CLIP: You don’t drink, you don’t appreciate the gorgeous girls at my party. You are rather dull, Mr. Jones.
A five-minute party scene, more gross than alluring, earns Mr. Jones an R rating, but it’s at least based in fact. Biographies about Duranty go so far as to suggest he participated in Satanic orgies. So perhaps, by that light, the film’s characterization is mild. Still it’s disappointing that the scene includes nudity and drug use, it’s unnecessary and easy to skip. And it’s the only moment of that sort in a film that is otherwise eminently worthy of our attention.
CLIP: You knew, Mr. Duranty. How much is Stalin paying you? What’s keeping you here lying for them? You wouldn’t know the first thing about how difficult it is to report from Moscow today, would you? You’re just a child. It is not the job of a journalist to say how dare you sir? You actually thought you could interview Stalin and make a difference.
Disgusted by Duranty’s cynicism, Jones risks his life to travel to Ukraine to discover for himself what’s happening to the peasant population. The images of starvation he sees there call to mind Old Testament passages like Jeremiah 19:9: “They will eat one another’s flesh because their enemies will press the siege so hard against them.”
As far as the real Gareth Jones’ experience went, this sequence is somewhat dramatized. But it is representative of the widespread cannibalism that occurred in the region. So much so the Soviet government printed posters proclaiming, “To eat your own children is a barbarian act.” And chilling folk songs grew up around the practice.
CLIP: [Singing in Russian]
Yet for all the horror, Mr. Jones is ultimately an uplifting film. The fact that producers made it at all, with such an impressive cast, is something of a minor miracle. Jones’ example braces the viewer to champion the cause of candor, whatever the personal cost. It’s a lesson that goes far beyond one profession.
Back in England, the intelligentsia rolls its eyes at Jones’ tedious insistence on contradicting popular opinion, but he does inspire one other writer: a middling novelist by the name of George Orwell.
CLIP: The world is being invaded by monsters but I suppose you don’t want to hear about that. I could be writing romantic novels, novels people actually want to read. Maybe in a different age, I would. But if I tell the story of the monsters through the talking farm animals maybe then you’ll listen. Then you will understand. The future is at stake. So please read carefully, between the lines.
Riches and honor and a long, comfortable life can be had for the price of suppressing truth, going along with the party line, or even just being careful not to look very hard.
Mr. Jones’ unflinching gaze reminds us, doing so, to borrow the Washington Post’s latest tag line, creates the darkness where democracy really dies.
MYRNA BROWN: Today is Friday, July 17th. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Myrna Brown.
MEGAN BASHAM: And I’m Megan Basham.
Over the last few years we’ve heard well-known pastors, authors and musicians make abrupt shifts in their Christian walk, severing relationships and renouncing Christ.
Myrna recently met a Christian singer and songwriter who started young but is determined to finish well. Here’s her story.
SONG: Jesus Loves the Little Children
MYRNA BROWN, REPORTER: The oldest of seven children, Rebecca Smallbone spent the first decade of her life in Sydney, Australia.
REBECCA ST. JAMES: I also grew up very much around the Christian music scene because my dad was a Christian music promoter. So, I went to my first concert when I was six weeks old in the Sydney Opera House.
Along with the love of music, the Smallbones also taught their children to pursue godly disciplines, like purity.
ST. JAMES: I think my parents were always just really upfront about how God’s way is just the best. They talked about the consequences of sin, but it wasn’t super heavy handed. It was more just they appealed to me and my siblings in the area of wisdom. We waited so we want to encourage you to as well because it worked for us.
Rebecca stood firmly on that foundation. When her family relocated to Nashville in 1991, the 14-year-old began writing Christian songs. By the time she turned 16, she was singing professionally as Rebecca St. James.
ST. JAMES: So that’s actually my grandfather’s name and his name is James. He was a wonderful, amazing man of God. It was really an honor to use that name.
In 1994, 17-year-old St. James released her first commercial recording. Four years and two additional albums later, she won a Grammy for Best Rock/Gospel Album. Then, at 23, she wrote and released the song Wait For Me. She calls it her anthem.
ST. JAMES: It’s a song that I wrote about my future husband way before I met him. And it’s a song about purity. It was really tied to my heart to encourage not only myself, but people who would listen to just live in purity in relationships.
In 2002 Wait for Me was nominated song of the year by the Gospel Music Association. St. James also published a book, journal and study guide, all inspired by that one song.
ST. JAMES: There’s a line in that song it says I want to be now and always faithful to you. So, it’s like when you practice purity before marriage, you are prepping yourself for faithfulness in marriage.
But after more than a decade of singing her signature hit she was still single. St. James says she became anxious and often experienced stress on stage.
ST. JAMES: I was so committed to purity and all in on the concept, it wasn’t like I was going to throw in the towel with some guy. It was more of just the internal conflict of saying I’m waiting and praying for you darling. I think it was more the question of will this happen? Will this ever happen?
Heading into her thirties, St. James says she also faced another possibility.
ST. JAMES: I’ll probably meet a wonderful man, but he may not have waited for me and he might have gone through a challenging time at some point in his life where he questioned the value of purity.
But in 2010 St. James met bassist Jacob Fink through mutual friends. After a Christmas Day proposal, on Easter weekend 2011, the couple married.
AUDIO: I have to say, with all my heart, marriage is the best gift of God ever, in my life…
They spent the first few years of matrimony on the road sharing their story and encouraging others.
ST. JAMES: A lot of people that I’ve spoken to have regrets in that area, the relational part. And so, I just wanted to speak to the forgiveness of God. Because we all need the forgiveness of God. All of us have fallen short.
After two decades of singing professionally, St. James took a seven year break from full-time music ministry to start a family. They’re raising two little girls and a baby brother due in August.
ST. JAMES: My schedule had been very, very intense for a long time and I just think I didn’t know that margin was such an important thing. But I really needed that time to just focus on family and our kids and our marriage and just be all in on living that dream that I wanted for so long. It was lovely.
SONG: The Battle is the Lord’s
Today, 43-year-old St. James is back in the studio and sometimes shares the stage with her two younger brothers, Luke and Joel Smallbone, front men for the Christian band, For King and Country. St. James says when she does tour as a solo artist, they travel as a family and homeschool their daughters.
Looking back, she says the life God has given her was worth the wait.
REBECCA ST. JAMES: I think it just comes back to this whole idea. God’s way is the best. It’s not that it’s pain free. It’s not that we don’t experience curveballs. I miscarried a couple of times in between our first daughter being born and the second and a lot of different variables that were very hard. And so whether it’s the purity or remaining true to God in hard times, we knew the truth, that God’s way is best.
SONG: Ending of Wait For Me
MYRNA BROWN: It takes a lot of people to put this program together each week. Thanks so much to our team: Brian Basham, Joel Belz, Paul Butler, Kent Covington, Nick Eicher, Kristen Flavin, Katie Gaultney, Kim Henderson, Anna Johansen, Leigh Jones, Jill Nelson, Trillia Newbell, Onize Ohikere, Sarah Schweinsberg, Les Sillars, and Cal Thomas.
MEGAN BASHAM: The guys who stay up late to get the program to you early are audio engineers Carl Peetz and Johnny Franklin. J.C. Derrick is managing editor, Marvin Olasky is editor in chief.
And you. Without you, none of this happens.
1 Peter exhorts us to use the gifts we have each received to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.
We’ll talk to you again on Monday.