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Culture Friday: Millions driven to prayer


WORLD Radio - Culture Friday: Millions driven to prayer

Plus: the legacy of Pope Benedict XVI

Buffalo Bills players and staff pray for Buffalo Bills' Damar Hamlin during the first half of an NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Monday, Jan. 2, 2023, in Cincinnati Associated Press Photo/Joshua A. Bickel

MYRNA BROWN, HOST: It’s the 6th day of January, 2023.

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: John, yesterday was the funeral for Pope Emeritus Benedict the 16th. His was certainly a life of consequence and I think, even as Protestants, we can certainly appreciate Benedict.

Here’s what WORLD Opinions editor Albert Mohler wrote yesterday:

The most important years of Benedict’s influence came long before he was Benedict. In the years when he was known as Archbishop Joseph Ratzinger, Cardinal of the church and Prefect of the Congregation for the Defense of the Faith. In that role Ratzinger reinvigorated and lent massive intellectual credibility to the conservative resurgence that dared to defy theological liberalism and, most specifically, Marxist-infused liberation theology.

The most significant question that remains is whether Benedict, mostly in his years before the papacy, changed the doctrinal direction of his church or will be seen as a temporary (but formidable) obstruction to an inevitable progressive victory within Catholicism.

How do you see it: Did Benedict change directions or was he just a temporary stop?

STONESTREET: Oh, that’s a great question. I don’t think there’s any way to sufficiently predict this. I think that one of the great legacies of Benedict will be the fact that he emboldened so many others to be proudly stalwart on the doctrinal issues that matter, and on the public implications of those doctrinal positions. He advocated for a refusal to apologize for holding onto the faith and the substance of the faith in terms of the supernatural elements and the elements that are based on a vision of what it means to be human that so much of the rest of the church had been attracted by.

I think that’s going to be the long-term thing that we look back at. Benedict really was not just an important voice in and of himself. The number of people inspired by him and the influence that he had is immense. I know I’m among many that wished his papacy—even as someone not a part of the Roman Catholic Church—had lasted longer because the church needed that sort of reinvigoration around things that are true and good, and it needed the clarity on some of these moral issues that Ratzinger had. And so I wished his papacy had had lasted longer, because I think his influence would have been even more dramatic.

BROWN: As you know, as everyone knows, it seems, there was a scary moment on a pro football field in Cincinnati this week. What led up to it wasn’t anything you’d hadn’t seen before, nothing especially remarkable: hard hit, players go to the ground, they get back up.

But then after getting back on his feet, Damar Hamlin collapsed to the ground.

Such a sad story.

But what followed was extraordinary.

AUDIO: [Montage]

Lots of praying around the country for Hamlin. WORLD sports correspondent Ray Hacke called it a nationwide virtual prayer meeting.

John, Nick, you are my brothers in Christ and we know the power of prayer. Here’s what strikes me, people who don’t profess Christ but still pray and yet deny the existence of the One they are praying to. How do you respond to all this?

STONESTREET: I think the verdict’s out on whether there is such a thing as atheist. There are these moments where we realize as individuals and as cultures—personally and collectively—that we hope that there’s something outside of ourselves to which we can appeal. I was struck by that in particular while I was watching the coverage of this horrific event with Damar Hamlin. I didn’t see it live. But the next morning on Tuesday, another former player and ESPN football analyst, Dan Orlovsky, he didn’t know what to do any more than I did. And so he did what a lot of people do when they don’t know what to do: He prayed. And I don’t know if you saw this, but it was absolutely stunning. He said (and I’m quoting here,) “Maybe this is not the right thing to do, but it’s on my heart that I want to pray for Damar Hamlin. I’m going to do it out loud. I’m going to close my eyes. I’m going to bow my head. And I’m just going to pray for him.” And then he did. And the other two hosts bowed their heads; the shot from the camera was pulled back.

I mean, what a remarkable moment on ESPN. One network that (given its ABC influences) hasn’t necessarily been favorable to faith. The other co-host was saying amen along with him. And there is that thing about faith and about prayer.

We may not know what we believe in, but we’ve reached that point, we’ve all reached that point, or we will reach that point where we don’t know where else to reach. We don’t know what else to do. And thank God there’s people like Dan Orlovsky—and forgive me if I’m mispronouncing his name, I probably should know—who are willing to just step up and point other people in that direction. He actually followed that prayer on Twitter with a couple other statements, which pointed to the fact this wasn’t the first time he had done that. He had been taught where to look. And who knows how many people prayed for Damar Hamlin at that moment? Who knows how many people were just given a glimpse that there’s something else? Maybe some people didn’t know you could talk to God like that. And he just did it. And maybe I could do it too. I just thought it was a remarkable moment.

And it is interesting here that Damar Hamlin—who by all indications has lived a remarkable life—is an incredible athlete and also a very charitable person of faith as I understand it, and his life now is pointing other people to Christ even in the midst of this situation. So I guess that’s my response: There comes that moment where you have nowhere else to look. And thank God that there are people who point us to Him.

BROWN: It’s not lost on me that just last year, a high school football coach who wanted to pray on the field, had to take his fight to the highest court in the land. Is this an example of the culture trying to dictate when it is appropriate to pray?

STONESTREET: Oh, of course, yeah. I mean, it’s an inherent secularism. It’s an inherent vision that when you’re talking about something like prayer or you’re talking about the existence of God, you’re not talking about reality. You’re talking about preference, or you’re talking about a personal private selection, maybe for personal meaning. And so in other words, it’s not just an attempt to dictate when it’s appropriate to pray, it’s an attempt to define what prayer is, and that it’s a purely internally referential, psychological sort of thing, not an actual conversation with the Creator of the universe.

But it’s moments like these when secularism shows how it’s just too small of a worldview. Because you’re not going to keep people from praying on national television at a moment like this, when both teams kneeled down and prayed, where person after person after person after person talked about prayer. And we’ve seen that anytime a natural disaster is covered. We see that in so many different ways. And not just kind of traditional or formalistic expressions of faith, but the inherent like, “I don’t know what else to do and I need to look outside of myself.” And look, even if Coach Kennedy had lost his case (and he didn’t, by the way, let’s remember: Praise God) it’s not like his school was keeping prayer out of classrooms. Somebody once said, “as long as there are tests and pop quizzes, there’s going to be prayer in schools.”

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

STONESTREET: Thank you both.

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