Culture Friday – The Philadelphia Statement

MYRNA BROWN, HOST: It’s Friday, the 14th of August, 2020. Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Myrna Brown.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. It’s Culture Friday and time now to welcome in John Stonestreet, president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview.

Hey, John, good to talk to you. Good morning.


EICHER: I wanted to ask you about a new statement from Alliance Defending Freedom on cancel-culture and freedom of expression. Lots of signers—including yourself—Christians and Jews, scholars and theologians. Impressive group.

STONESTREET: Well, it’s called the Philadelphia Statement and it was led by some of the folks over at ADF, but, really, if you look at the list of signatories, it’s really an amazing list, I mean, present company excluded, of course. These are amazing leaders, which made me so excited to be a part of this. 

And, listen, it’s almost in a sense like the conservative counterpart to the Harper’s letter from a few weeks ago. We need the ability to debate ideas otherwise we’re actually going to not learn from the wisdom of the past and we’re not going to be able to sustain our projects in humanity, particularly in education or the arts or in journalism or anything like that. 

And when you talk about the significance of the freedom of speech and the freedom of religion and the freedom to own private property, these are ideals that are deeply grounded in a way of seeing life in the world from a previous day and age. And by and large, a lot of these ways of seeing life in the world have been replaced by things not nearly as helpful or good. 

For example, the idea that property rights that give one a level of freedom and a level of ability to make their own way in the world now basically is dominated by this socialist impulse that if the rich get richer, the poor get poorer and everything’s a zero-sum game. The freedom of religion is dominated by this idea that religion is nothing more than a personal, private belief in a fairy in the sky or an invisible friend that’s a crutch to help you personally, but it doesn’t deal with ultimate truths. Well, then that makes freedom of religion sound like the right of imposition of one’s belief on others. 

And the freedom of speech is the same way. If you think the entire story of the world can be boiled down to those who have power and those who don’t, and the only way those who have power could do anything right is to give up their power and give up their platform and give up their speech and that their ideas have to be judged by the power that they have instead of anything else. Well, then freedom of speech is not the core at which ideals get debated and ideas get kicked around so that we can advance as a society. 

So, all of these things point to the upstream work that we have to do. And that’s what I was really pleased with the Philadelphia Statement. And it’s an essential thing. Look, the future of the Christian faith does not depend on our political success or even the preservation of our freedoms. We’ve seen the faith succeed in all kinds of arenas. But Christians should absolutely—let me say this again—Christians should absolutely be about the common good and these are things that are worth stewarding and protecting for the common good.

EICHER: You mentioned it’s something of an answer to the Harper’s letter that criticized cancel-culture, and I wonder about that. Opposing cancel culture, it seems to me, cuts across all kinds of ideological commitments. Why was it necessary to have another of these and how’s it different?

STONESTREET: Well, first, we weren’t invited to sign the other letter, of course—

EICHER: Well, there’s one reason—

STONESTREET: Because the tolerance of ideas only goes so far. 

But I think it is important that we can at least demonstrate that those of us on different sides of all kinds issues can at least agree on this call to civility and the significance of debating ideals instead of just canceling them. 

And I also think it’s important to say that I believe that this is something that people on our side of the so-called “aisle,” whether we’re talking about political aisle or whatever, need to hear as well. Mainly because we have Christians who are I think captivated to critical theory in an attempt to explain and deal with injustice. Though the impulse to deal with issues of injustice is the right one, critical theory’s absolutely the wrong tool 

But also I think people on the right, there’s this sense that our ultimate allegiance is to our political sides rather than to truth and goodness. And so we’re quick to talk away or justify wrongdoing or bad ideas or bad strategies or bad practice because we don’t want to ultimately lose. And I get the impulse of not wanting to “lose” this or that or the other, but to advance one’s views by power is a Nietzschean way of doing things, not a Christian way.

EICHER: Before I let you go, I wanted to ask about something that you placed on social media. It was a communication that you had received from Amazon. It had to do with a book you were offering for sale online. It’s titled, Growth Into Manhood: Resuming the Journey. And Amazon indicated the book violated Amazon guidelines. The company said: “During a review, we found the subject matter of your book”—again, not your book— “the subject matter of your book violates our content guidelines …”. What was that all about?

STONESTREET: Yeah, it was an interesting thing. I got an email on Sunday morning. I was flying back from a burial service that I attended over the weekend, sadly. I was flying back and I got a notification from Amazon that had to do, I think, and it’s been so long—we used to have a resellers account on Amazon because I have so many books on there and I posted this one and I didn’t really remember the book very well. I investigated it and it’s a book written by a man who came out of the homosexual lifestyle. He founded a couple organizations—neither of which actually advocate anything close to the worst versions of what we might call reparative therapy from shock treatment or guilting or shaming or anything like that. Certainly holds to a conservative view and a Christian view of sexual morality in dealing with same-sex attraction. No promises of changing orientation, but only that behavior and desires can be curbed by following Jesus. And it’s his own story. Well, I dug into it a little bit and what I found was that the gentleman who wrote this book died a few years ago after founding these organizations and working to help people who had—and let me emphasize this—unwanted same-sex attraction, OK? 

So apparently that book and two others that had to do with changing sexual orientation had been banned from Amazon because of that belief. 

Now, to me, this underscores the importance of the Philadelphia Statement. Like, let’s have a real conversation about the people who do exist who so many in culture pretend don’t who, like this author, maybe their orientation didn’t change but their sexual behavior did to the extent that this man lived a married life with his wife and children for years after dealing with this. It’s an amazing story. It’s one of the many that we hear about if you know where to look, but otherwise the culture silences. 

Anyway, that was the backdrop of this. Well, a couple people that had written controversial books reached out to me and said, “Why is mine not canceled?” Well, they haven’t started canceling those books yet, but the fact that Amazon will de-platform books that have positions that are considered to be controversial … So, it is an example of this cancel culture and that some views are immediately pre-debate, without actually talking through these things, “settled” where opposite sides are considered hateful. So, anyway, it’s a shame and it’s also a warning sign. This is a precursor of more things to come.

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

STONESTREET: Thanks so much, Nick.


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