Culture Friday – Top cultural news of 2020

MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Friday,  January 1st, 2021. Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It.

Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher.

Well, we’ve left 2020 behind and I think we have broad agreement that it was a rough year, with the Covid crisis, the resulting lockdowns, the illnesses and deaths, the economic devastation, the racial tension, an impeachment, and then of course the difficult election. 

We had wildfires, we had murder hornets, we had a split in the royal family.

And then we came to the end of the year to discover our critical national-security infrastructure had been hacked.

REICHARD: But we ought not to leave it behind without a final examination and a look ahead to the new year that is 2021.

It’s Culture Friday and so let’s welcome Katie McCoy. She’s assistant professor of theology in women’s studies at Southwestern Seminary in Ft. Worth, Texas.

EICHER: Katie, good morning to you. Happy New Year!

KATIE MCCOY, GUEST: Good morning to you both. Happy New Year! If ever there was a year we were so excited to be able to greet, I think it’s 2021.

REICHARD: Indeed. As we recounted yesterday, clearly Covid was the big story of the year. But what about from a cultural standpoint, what do you think we’ll point to in 2020 where we say, OK, that’s where everything changed and we’re probably not going back?

MCCOY: Yeah, it’s a great question. I think that, first of all, this year is going to be one that we’re going to be talking about for decades. This is going to be a pivotal year in, certainly, a generational sense but culturally, as you pointed out as well. 

I think on the negative, if we could pinpoint anything, it would be our relationship to society and our government. That you saw so many conflicting ideas come to the forefront of what our relationship to society and government should be. 

On the positive side of that, though, I think it showed with the disruption and everything that happened this year was a disruption of what we were trusting in, in our own lives, and with that it was a return to, I think, looking at what do we actually value and consider important. 

And on the plus side, with the pandemic, certainly, you saw a return to the basics of what it means to be a good person in society. You saw people being concerned about hunger and food banks and taking care of their neighbors and making sure we spread good news. And there was a return to being aware of your community in a way that I don’t know we had before. 

Certainly in churches. You saw churches go back to the basics of what does it mean to be a church. And it means that we proclaim God’s word, that we take care of each other, that we are present in our communities. So, you saw also, I know I found this in my church, there was this return to really valuing and even treasuring the ordinances of the church—baptism and the Lord’s Supper. That’s something that I don’t think we really treasured before like we did before this pandemic, when we couldn’t meet. 

And then also on the positive, I think we saw an appreciation of the people we often overlook: the bus drivers, the teachers, the grocery store workers. All of a sudden they became what we called the essential workers. They became the people without whom we couldn’t function. And we saw this kind of return of valuing the individual who just gets up and does the grunt work that we all need and thanking them and having a deeper appreciation for those people who are often unseen and overlooked in our society.

EICHER: In academics, we’ve talked about this in times past, I know you’re concerned about illiberalism in academia, threats to freedom of speech on campus, cancel culture, with that remarkable letter from academics on the left wondering whether we’ve gone too far, the hounding out of journalists like Bari Weiss from The New York Times

Reflect on that a bit.

MCCOY: You know, cancel culture is another way that we are seeing our values system disrupted and we’re, again, having to ask that question of “What is our relationship with society and our government? What do we value?” And this really is a clash of values. On the one hand, you have what some would call the traditional culture of faith, family, individual freedoms, individual liberties. And then on the other side, you have a movement that is looking at all those things and saying it has been a tool of oppression. It’s been a tool of keeping other people marginalized and how do we disrupt that? And one of the things that I think we see from this year is this difference between reforming and replacing. Some people say we need to reform certain institutions or certain spheres of society. And other people say we need to completely disrupt and replace them. 

The challenge of that is what are we going to hinge our sense of morality on? Because it is very much a sense of morality. It has right and wrong. It has sins and pennants and atonement and all of that that you practice to be part of it. But we haven’t yet found with this new illiberalism, we’ve not yet found what the true doctrines are. 

It’s something that we’re seeing evolve and there’s no anchor. We’ve not yet found a solution to it. And I think it’s going to continue to spiral out of control.

REICHARD: I want to ask you about something else: the transgender moment. Your area of academic specialty is women’s studies. 

We had a major Supreme Court decision advancing transgenderism in the law, despite warnings of harm to biological women and laws meant to lift them up: women’s sports programs, promotion of women-ownership of businesses. Practical questions like that, but from your perspective, what does the transgender moment really mean to you?

MCCOY: In 2020, the transgender movement really made mainstream the idea that gender is a feeling. We saw it on the fringes. We saw it in certain pockets of society and certain academic arenas, but now it became mainstream. And you can always tell when something is becoming mainstream when the language shifts. And we saw that throughout this year that now women are not women, they’re birthing persons. They have uteruses. All of a sudden, it is separating personhood from biology. And, ironically, it is doing so in an attempt to downplay the significance of biology to personhood. Go figure. 

And this is, again, where the Christian worldview enters into the conversation and provides a holistic view of humanity that we are both material and immaterial beings, that we are created intentionally male and female, man and woman. 

But with transgenderism, this year we saw it become far more mainstream and couple that with your point about the cancel culture, now it becomes a social sin to challenge it. 

We saw the attempted silencing of a very important book by a woman named Abigail Shrier called Irreversible Damage. And what Abigail Shrier points out is that there is an undercurrent in especially our public school system that is pulling young people into transgender ideology because it is a socially influenced idea. It is a socially influenced identity. 

I’m hearing more and more from people who talk to Sunday school classes and small groups in their church and say that now my daughter is graduating from high school and it’s the cool thing to be trans. It’s now the minority to be cis-gendered. So, this year is one that we will look back on and see that it became mainstream not primarily because it became an adopted identity, but because it became an accepted part of society that we see in language and we’re about to see it in laws. 

You mentioned the election. Well, with a Biden presidency, one of his main priorities is to pass the Equality Act and that is hinging on a Senate vote. If the Republicans lose the Senate in this Georgia runoff election, we can almost certainly look at the passing of the Equality Act. And that will be another step towards making the maintaining of a biblical sexual ethic and the insistence that God created us male and female intentionally, that gender is a binary idea, that will increasingly become a hostile concept in our society.

EICHER: Christians are people of hope. So let’s end that way. Looking into 2021, this is day one of the rest of 2021. What are you looking forward to in the new year?

MCCOY: I think taking the good that happened in 2020 and I would love to see that flourish. One of the best stories that came out of this year was from a church in Nashville. 

And it traced a horrible tragedy that led a mother to seek Christ and come to Christ and if we were to look at this spiritually and see this through spiritual eyes, we would hopefully welcome the disruption of what we are trusting in—whether that is our political processes, whether that is socially dominant morals or ideas—and we would become the church that Jesus intended us to be, that we would cling to the values of loving God and loving our neighbor, that we would continue to focus on what is important and enduring. And I would love to see us become and continue to grow in becoming that type of church in the community. 

The early church, they faced even greater odds than we do today. And they turned the world upside down in a few generations. And they did it simply by proclaiming Christ, living set apart lives unto the Lord, and loving each other. And I think we can do that again.

EICHER: Katie McCoy, assistant professor of theology in women’s studies at Southwestern Seminary in Ft. Worth, Texas. Katie, thanks for being with us and happy 2021.

MCCOY: Happy 2021! Great to be with you all.

REICHARD: Thanks, Katie.

(AP Photo/LM Otero) Amid concerns of the spread of COVID-19, a worker restocks chicken in the meat product section at a grocery store in Dallas, Wednesday, April 29, 2020. 

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