Culture Friday – America needs to look in the mirror

MYRNA BROWN, HOST: It’s Friday,  January 8th, 2021. 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.

AUDIO: Today was a dark day in the history of the United States Capitol.

Not just one window, but many windows. Rioting protesters climbed through the openings of the Capitol building and then eventually stormed into the chambers of the Senate and House.

AUDIO: Get down under your chairs if necessary. So we have folks entering the rotunda and coming down this way, so we’ll update you as soon as we can. But just be prepared. Stay calm.

This was cell-phone video recorded as those inside the House chamber sheltered in place, with protesters pounding on doors and facing guards with guns drawn.

BROWN: Media reports captured the chaos and uncertainty.

MONTAGE: Protesters have penetrated the capitol, tear gas has been deployed, members now have masks / we’ve been hearing flash-bangs every few minutes for the last hour / there’s an overwhelming number of people for the Capitol Police / this is despicable, this is not who we are as a country.

It’s Culture Friday and time now to welcome John Stonestreet, president of the Colson Center and host of the Breakpoint podcast.

EICHER: Morning, John. It’s been awhile.

JOHN STONESTREET, GUEST: It has. And I’d love to say Happy New Year. We spent so much time around New Years saying, “Goodbye 2020” and it looks like 2020 turned 21 and got drunk already. It’s the first week. Unbelievable.

EICHER: Yeah, what an unbelievable day. I thought we were going to come in today and we talk about the preposterous “Amen, Awoman” prayer, a Christian minister who’s a congressman, praying in the name of a Hindu god, and new rules in the new Congress on gender-neutral language. All important things. 

But then an all-out assault on the seat of our government. And as you heard there a few seconds ago something we heard over and over on that terrible Wednesday, that this is not America. What do you think?

STONESTREET: There’s so many thoughts and it’s hard to do it in real time here because the political landscape has moved so fast this week. It seems like forever ago that the Georgia runoffs actually happened and now we have a trifecta. And we should be talking about that, too. There’s so many things that we should be talking about. 

But I think your point of, “This isn’t America,” I heard that from so many different people and I think that’s maybe a good place to start. What does that mean? 

Do we mean that we’re somehow less fallen people in developing nations that we see in other places? That’s clearly not the case. Being technologically or financially sophisticated is often just a better way of being bad. 

Are we saying that America will go on forever because we’re some sort of kind of special chosen group that is exempt from the universal rules of civilizations that—civilizations that are made up of people who can’t govern themselves, cannot be governed? Are we somehow exempt from that rule? 

That when we become people who seek to be free from any sort of restraint whatsoever rather than being free for goodness and beauty, that somehow we’re exempt from the rules that have always governed civilization? 

Do we think that if people aren’t formed in virtue, when people put their hope in individuals rather than in eternal truths that transcend a particular individual, that somehow we’re exempt? These rules are universal of human nature. 

Civilizations come and go. Countries come and go. Nations come and go. It’s hard to look in the mirror and see something this blatantly unsettling. But, good heavens, I hope we look in the mirror. Because if we pretend somehow that what we witnessed this week is an anomaly? That we’re somehow better people? That this won’t happen to us? That what made our nation great were individuals rather than eternal truths that were ultimately sourced in God? And that’s true on the right or the left. 

The other thing, too, is the intense certainty that this was caused by very, very recent events. I was reminded, Nick and Myrna, of a book called The Content Trap. The author is talking about how something goes viral. And it’s a fascinating take because it begins with the story of the Yellowstone fires in 1988, which ended up lasting for months, and the typical story is it was all caused by a dropped cigarette. What gets missed in that whole analysis, as he says, is the fact that there were millions of dropped cigarettes that year, maybe dozens within Yellowstone that hour and then why did this one cause it? And the point he was trying to make is this is a trigger. The preexisting conditions, the environment of dryness and fire policy and then the response and all of that sort of stuff, that’s what caused it. The trigger just lit it. 

And what we saw this week has to be understood the same way.

EICHER: So, sticking with that analogy, which is a really interesting one, that it’s not the spark as much as it is the fuel that’s already there, so what’s the spark and what’s the fuel in this metaphor, John?

STONESTREET: Look, I think the fuel was all kinds of things. I think the fuel is lost faith in institutions. That is partially the fault of people who lose the faith and partially the fault of the institutions. When institutions become untrustworthy. I think loss of faith in the system. If you think that’s just Trump voters who think that the election got stolen, you’re forgetting the last four years. I mean, depending on which side wins, the other side can’t imagine that there’s any possible way that they could lose unless there was some sort of malfeasance. This is an unsustainable way to go forward where corruption is the only thing that always drives our story, our national story forward. And that’s really where we’ve landed. 

We’ve certainly landed in the place where we have thinned out the institutions that form people into the sort of people that can govern themselves with the loss of family, church, all the other mediating structures of society. You’ve got a media that continually choses to offer opinion pieces and call them reporting. Bury ledes, bury stories, mistell stories, jump to conclusions, play kind of an elite strategy, and you’ve also got a system of people who aren’t discerning enough to know the difference between true information and reliable information and false information and counterfeit sources. Those are just the things off the top of my head. I’m sure there’s plenty of others. And you have a president who many people justified because the other side was worse and on many of those issues I agree. But character’s always been destiny. It will always be destiny. Again, we’re not exempt from the rules of civilization that say the character of our leaders matter. And that’s not to say—and I know the emails you’re going to get in my name, which is going to be “Would Hillary have been better?” No one is saying that at all. I’m just saying that character is destiny and the evidence is right up in front of us.

EICHER: And no question that the new crew that’s coming in, worse, but probably in different ways.

STONESTREET: Oh, listen, again, the lead of the league should have been, look, what do we do now when this sort of reprieve that maybe the last four years offered at least those of us who cared about issues of social conservatism and Christian morality — we’ve been able to say what we want, think what we want, unless you’re in certain corners of the academic campus and now that’s gone. We thought that the Equality Act, for example, was way out. It’s not way out now with a Senate that looks like it will be under Democratic control and a House and a White House, then you absolutely will have the Equality Act brought to the floor and there’s plenty of Republicans who don’t see any problem with advancing it. In other words, suddenly what was far off and unthinkable now is something that will change our way of life. So, no. There’s no que– and here’s the thing, Nick, that’s what we should be talking about right now because that’s the issues that we face.

BROWN: John, you just mentioned a Democratic controlled Senate, very likely, and it feels like a lot of Christians may be going into political exile, maybe that’s a good thing. What kind of cultural progress do you think we might be able to make on the sidelines here?

STONESTREET: Well, I think that the most important work that we have right now—to borrow the words of many thinkers, most recently Rod Dreher—is to thicken our Christian institutions. The most important work we can do is to prepare good citizens to govern themselves so we don’t need a big government. I think, also, that what we really need to consider as well is the revolutionary ways the church has influenced society in almost all the ways we would never thought. 

And I wonder how many of Proverbs—if we spent time to go through them—would emerge as being profoundly simple but profoundly impactful if Christians actually lived them out. Like, for example, a soft answer turns away wrath. Sounds just revolutionary in our day, but what if it does and what if we need to be beholden to it? What about this: what about forgiveness? Where do you find forgiveness in our culture anywhere? But Christians are called to forgive as God forgave us. What a revolutionary thing. And, by the way, we’ve seen glimpses of that, right, with the Amish community to that school shooter years ago in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. To the members of Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston, South Carolina to Dylann Roof. And when you see it up front, it’s completely unexplainable by any other source than divine intervention.

EICHER: John Stonestreet is president of the Colson Center and host of the Breakpoint podcast. John, thank you so much!

BROWN: Yeah, thanks, John!

STONESTREET: Praying for you guys. Pray for us. Pray for each other.

(AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana) Supporters of President Donald Trump climb the west wall of the the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington. 

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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