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Culture Friday: First Amendment freedoms


WORLD Radio - Culture Friday: First Amendment freedoms

Plus: keeping celebrities at an arm’s length, and puberty blockers as a rite of passage

A person holds a sign that reads "There's No Hate Like Christian Love" as people on both sides of a debate rally outside the Supreme Court in Washington, Monday, Dec. 5, 2022 Associated Press Photo/Andrew Harnik

MYRNA BROWN, HOST: It’s the 9th day of December, 2022.

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!

Joining us now is John Stonestreet, president of the Colson Center and host of the Breakpoint podcast.

Morning, John.


EICHER: You know, I hate to pile on the Kanye West story, because you feel like you’re watching a person melting down in public. When Alex Jones is the voice of reason, you know it’s going to be a difficult day. But I want to ask you to talk about how we Christians tend to glom on to celebrity conversions and I have to confess to having, frankly, enjoyed the Kanye West album Jesus is King. We reviewed it favorably in WORLD and all that. But my question for you is, is there a better way to hold celebrities at more of an arm’s length? I think of Elon Musk, frankly, or Jordan Peterson. I find myself rooting for these guys and appreciating what they do. But you’re kind of waiting for the public implosion, because that’s exactly what it would be.

STONESTREET: Well, it would be… Maybe it’s a little unfair to put Kanye West into the same category as Elon Musk and Jordan Peterson. We’re talking about dramatically different bases for being famous between these individuals, but your point is well taken. What is similar with all three is that all of them are at some level propped up; the church tends to do this because we want to claim people that are famous. And I think what that reflects is that our churches are shaped by a culture of celebrity more than by biblical explanations and ideals. It reflects our condition as fallen image bearers.

We also should be wickedly clear about the human condition, which is to say we must be clear that the human condition is wicked. We should be absolutely clear that—no matter how many followers one has on Twitter or Instagram, no matter how many people buy their albums or watch their movies—the heart of man is sinful above all things and desperately wicked beyond our ability to comprehend. And this condition is not just true of that super popular person over there who happened to do something really cool. It’s also true about you and me.

And another thing we can look to—even if you don’t kind of get into the depths of the theology of the human condition to the extent of folks like Cornelius Plantinga who wrote his book about sin—is how Biblical celebrities are discussed. And what I mean by that is that the Bible is full of famous people—people that were really, really famous in their day. Moses, and Samson, and David, and Abraham, and Solomon. Solomon was super famous; he was even famous in Sheba, right? I mean, he was a famous guy the same as celebrities in the modern world. What all of these celebrities have in common is that shared human condition, and if that same condition is present in all of the heroes of the Bible, then it’s certainly part of the rest of us. This understanding hopefully pulls us right back to the foot of the cross to ask for grace and mercy, and it compels us to pray for grace and mercy for these folks as well.

I think it was Blaise Pascal—and this is John Stonestreet’s 21st century English translation of the French there—who talked about humans as the glory in the garbage of the universe. And it is something about the Christian worldview of this statement that just nails the inherent contradiction of the human condition. If you’re an atheist, you just think humans are animals. If you’re a new-ager, like Oprah, you think us humans are divine in our own right, that we’re gods absent God. What Christianity says is that we are made in the image of God, but we have a tendency to act like animals. That’s the one that gets it right.

EICHER: The Supreme Court this week took up the case of Lorie Smith, the Christian web designer. Our legal reporters here at WORLD seemed to think this is going to be a big win for the First Amendment, and what it protects: free speech and freedom of religion. Suppose that’s the outcome: Do you think that’ll settle it and we’ll all live happily ever after? Or is there a potential unintended cultural consequence that you could imagine?

STONESTREET: That’s the darn thing about unintended cultural consequences: They’re all so unforeseen, aren’t they?

And here we are. It’s hard to imagine, you know, where all this is going. I don’t think there’s any question. I mean, there’s always a question I guess. It’s dangerous—as I think Yogi Berra said—to make predictions, especially about the future. That said, I think pretty much people assume that Lori Smith is going to win. The question is what the court will be wanting to do? How broad is this ruling going to be? Is it going to be something that deals with speech? Or is it really going to extend to freedom of religion? There’s enough here to make this just about speech and specifically the problem of compelled speech, nothing else.

The court has been really clear about compelled speech. I think that most of the justices realize that. Most of those remaining justices who don’t realize or respect this consensus seem to be trying to figure out ways to convince everybody else that it wasn’t speech, but that argument has already been decided in other cases. If something does happen, there’s sure going to be a lot of questions. It’s not clear if a website is speech. What does that mean about a cake artist? What does that mean about a florist? Or what about somebody else who provides services and participates, and by the manner of participating then has to make some statement of endorsement or non-endorsement? You know, how fascinating was it that the same week that the Lori Smith’s case was tried at the Supreme Court, that also in Virginia, the Virginia Family Foundation was refused service at a restaurant, right? Their reservation was canceled because they were too conservative and because they made LGBTQ customers feel endangered; now they were turned out because of who they were.

There was no message being said. And you know what I gotta tell you: I think it’s horrible. I think it’s going to hurt their business. Virginia Cobb is a friend of mine. She runs that organization and does a tremendous job. She’s super nice. She has convictions. And I think the way she’s handling it so far is just absolutely fantastic.

A restaurant has a right to choose who they serve. I don’t think it’s an issue of public accommodation despite still thinking personally that the owner mistreated Virginia. That’s just another example of something that’s going to happen. We already have far more cases of people choosing not to serve Christians or other people who have strong beliefs about sexuality and marriage than the other way around. More Christians have been cancelled for their beliefs than have been cancelled by Christianity. If the issue weren’t so consequential, it’d be super interesting to make a prediction and see what comes true. I don’t know.

BROWN: John, can we do a little show and tell? Let’s start with something you posted the other day, really needs no introduction…

“Boys are boys from the beginning. Girls are girls right from the start. Everybody’s fancy. Everybody’s fine. Your body’s fancy and so is mine.”

Of course, that’s a clip of Mr. Rogers singing a song he wrote in 1967, Everybody’s Fancy, a song that unapologetically celebrates the differences between boys and girls.

Stay with me here. This is Addy, an American Girl doll. She belonged to one of my daughters—a popular collection of dolls, sort of a rite of passage for girls.

The same company that produces the American Girl dolls has also published a book that gives gender changing tips.

Here’s a quick excerpt: “If you haven’t gone through puberty yet, the doctor might offer medicine to delay your body’s changes, giving you more time to think about your gender identity.”

55 years ago we would have never imagined anyone suggesting puberty blockers as a rite of passage.. And yet here we are. How optimistic are you about the next 50 years?

STONESTREET: Optimism is such a tough word because it implies things are going to work out. I think we're going to see a reckoning on this issue. But I think it's going to come through the suffering of an awful lot of children who were told things that aren't true and were victimized by adults who in the end were just really trying to justify their own wishes. By the way, I think it's important too to mark something, a moment in time between this Mr. Rogers song in 1967 and the American Girl dolls and Blue's Clues and all the other expressions today. And that's Barney. And I just want to make a public case that Mr. Rogers was way better than Barney the Dinosaur. Because Barney the Dinosaur said you're special. And what he meant by that was this kind of emotional, happy-clappy you're special you go back to this song in 1967, Everybody's Fancy by Mr. Rogers. And what you have here is Mr. Rogers, a Presbyterian minister, let's remember this, making a compelling and powerful case against Gnosticism. He not only says boys are boys and girls are girls, he talks about the body as being an important part of what makes someone special. Barney was a Gnostic. Barney was just talking about how you feel special, and I feel special, and I feel you're special, as if there weren't any physical realities. So in between a world in which Mr. Rogers could articulate a creation theology of the human body and of maleness and femaleness in a profoundly important and compelling sort of way and the day of today, we're we're actually advocating child abuse in the name of medical and psychological and chemical interventions. You have to have this this mid-ground, this ground that Carl Truman talked about in The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self and Strange New World, in which you basically denigrate the physical body, you make it completely irrelevant to the question of human identity, and you turn all identity factors inward. And once they're turned inward, they're completely untethered from any external realities and from any creation norms, and actually, from any sort of critique. And suddenly what we feel becomes reality and that is a dangerous place. But here's the thing we actually do live in a world. We do live in a world that is physical, and in which we have physical bodies. And so you can only jump off the roof for so long before you hit the ground. So if you're asking me 50 years from now, there's going to be a lot of hitting the ground and it's going to be awful, and it's going to be painful. Christians are going to be called to do an awful lot of victim care. But all that to say, I stand by my statement: Mr. Rogers was way better than Barney or Blue's Clues.

BROWN: John Stonestreet is president of the Colson Center and host of the Breakpoint podcast. Thanks, John!

STONESTREET: Thank you both.

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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