Culture Friday - Persecution in the public square | WORLD
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Culture Friday - Persecution in the public square


WORLD Radio - Culture Friday - Persecution in the public square

Christians should prepare to choose between their careers and their convictions

The U.S. Supreme Court is seen on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, June 29, 2021 Jose Luis Magana/Associated Press Photo

MYRNA BROWN, HOST: It’s Friday, July 9th, 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.

STUTZMAN: I think the worst part is when they say I won’t serve gay people. That’s just not true. I’ve never discriminated against anyone in my life.

Barronelle Stutzman, a florist in central Washington state. She is to floral arrangements for wedding ceremonies what Jack Phillips is to custom wedding cakes.

That is to say, she’s in a fight with governments and political activists who won’t respect her conscience.

She makes a crucial distinction here. She does employ LGBT workers, she does serve LGBT customers, but what she doesn’t do is lend her artistic talent to create custom arrangements for ceremonies she says go against her sincerely held religious beliefs. Namely that marriage is the union of one man and one woman.

In the case of Barronelle Stutzman, her long legal fight started about eight years ago.

BROWN: And it may have ended last Friday—as we reported yesterday—when the Supreme Court refused to take her case, seeking to vindicate her rights under the constitution not to be forced to create floral art for same-sex wedding ceremonies.

EICHER: It’s Culture Friday. John Stonestreet is here. He’s president of the Colson Center and host of the Breakpoint podcast.

John, good morning!


EICHER: Here we go again. As we were speaking last week, as the Supreme Court was issuing its final decisions before adjourning for the term, the justices declined once again to take up the case of Barronelle Stutzman. Same song, second verse, John. The court didn’t get involved in a potentially clarifying transgender bathroom case and now the court declines to clarify the religious-freedom rights of small business owners. These are battles that have been going on even before 2015, when the Supreme Court imposed same-sex marriage on the country in its Obergefell v. Hodges case.

BROWN: So John, this isn’t a legal question. It’s more of a “how should we then live” question: What does Barronelle Stutzman need to be prepared to do and likewise what does every other small-business owner need to be prepared for now?

STONESTREET: Yeah, in my commentary on this earlier this week, I kind of asked questions to three different groups of people. The first was to gay activists: Is this really the sort of America you want? I also directed my comments, though, to small-business owners. Because if there's a sense that, you know, this won't come for you, I think that's just kind of foolish. The final question, though, and this is the one that I don't think nearly enough people are talking about: You know, when I directed my comments to small-business owners, it had to do with something I've been calling a theology of getting fired. When is the best thing that you can do to follow Jesus to make that choice between your career and your convictions? And we know that people throughout history have done this. We know people are making choices even right now between their life and their convictions. But there's also a theology of getting fired that the rest of us, who are in personal relationships, church families, with some of these people who are being asked to make these hard decisions, I think that the rest of us actually need to recommend not just with What does every other small business owner need to be prepared for now? But what does every other Christian need to be prepared for now? Through the history of the church, Christians have come around people who have been asked to stand for their convictions. This may be the new normal for us. This may be the theology of getting fired that we need to figure out: What is required of us? How do we keep someone like Barronelle from going into financial ruin? How do we keep people like her from being just demoralized? How do we lift their arms up so that they continue to fight. Barronelle Stutzman and Jack Phillips have played a heroic role in the history of American religious freedom, and they have played a crucial role for us right now. They have carried way more weight than should ever have been asked of them. And they have done it with grace and courage. And the rest of us need to be prepared. I don't know what it's going to look like. I don't know what the financial arrangements are going to be. I don't know what her future is going to be. But the rest of us better be prepared to take care of her and others like her.

EICHER: One of our legal writers here at WORLD, Steve West, noted in one of his stories that the Stutzman case had come up for a second time. The first time, the Supreme Court sent it back and told Washington State to consider her case in light of its decision in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case, the Jack Phillips case.

And in a sense, Washington state did exactly as it was told, because, frankly, the court in Masterpiece didn’t do all that much. West wrote:

“The U.S. Supreme Court’s 2018 ruling … focused on the open hostility of Colorado officials to the religious convictions [of Jack Phillips]. Members of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission [when handling his case] described Phillips’ beliefs as despicable and discriminatory… .”

And I’ll pause from the story to point out that, essentially, it was the boorishness of Colorado that the court said was impermissible. So when the Washington Supreme Court reconsidered the Stutzman case in light of that, it found no boorishness on the part of the government, or as our story says, “The Washington Supreme Court ruled against Stutzman because it found no such anti-religious bias in her case.”

We always emphasize the limits of politics, but when things like this happen can you blame people who say politics means nothing?

STONESTREET: Well, I mean, maybe. Look, it shouldn't surprise anyone that when basically, the Washington Supreme Court was asked to check whether or not the state of Washington had shown any anti religious bias, that they took a total of three seconds to, you know, mitigate that that whole question and then just decided, 'Oh, no, we're great. We were right, she was wrong.' They made it clear from the very beginning. This is why the Supreme Court needed to take up this case. And I think there was actually indication of anti religious bias on the state of Washington. And now you have this whole, you know, trail of consequences, legal consequences, they made this. They have to pick this up at some point. So politics is going to matter. And, you know, we can also say this, given the ruling in the Philadelphia case, I think we've got a real issue right now about whether the court is going to extend the same religious protections to individuals, and the people in the public square, and particularly to people in the world of commerce, as they very clearly have two distinctly religious organizations. Drawing that line that religious freedom belongs to those who you know, magically get a tax-exempt status from the government gives the government the power to determine what religion and religious conviction is, that's not the sort of power they should have. And it isn't a way to extend religious freedom to all. So I know there's a lot of commentators right now, including some conservative ones, that are saying, you know, this has been the most friendly court to religious freedom ever. And I think there's probably you've seen this consistent ruling in favor of religious organizations. What you've also seen is an absolute unwillingness to deal with the religious freedom of individuals in the public square. And that's not historically what religious freedom has been understood to be.

BROWN: John, it’s summertime and so lots of conventions and professional-association meetings are going on.

I took note that the two big teachers’ unions had their conferences: the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association.

Critical race theory, of course, was a hot topic, and these unions are all in on it.

And one big story that came out is that the unions say they’re ready to fight local parent activists or non-woke school boards. According to Education Week:

Both unions, the AFT and the NEA, are “vowing to defend their members against any backlash over how they teach” on the subject of race.

I've read numerous comments from teachers who say these unions are political machines and do not speak for them and they feel powerless. This is different from the business owner. What advice do you have for the classroom teacher or the parent who just wants a good education for their kids?

STONESTREET: Well, I think the first thing is to realize, fundamentally approaching education and education of a child is the responsibility of the parent, not the state. And so what the state decides needs to serve the interest of the parent. Now, I know that with the sorts of powers that be and by the way, isn't there a great irony here? Because we were just told for the last three weeks, that the whole fear over critical race theory being mandated and taught in schools was made up and it wasn't really an issue. And then you have the these two teachers' unions essentially going, 'Oh, no, no, it's a real big deal. And we're gonna enforce it on everybody.' But look, I think the, the thing to realize is exactly what we mean by education, and that has to first and foremost belong to the parent, I would also say, to explore the alternatives. There's an amazing amount of educational creativity happening right now in the United States. And it's primarily being driven by people of faith, whether you're talking about homeschooling, homeschooling hybrids, classical schools, Christian classical schools, charter schools, and the list goes on and on and on, and on and on. But fundamentally, I also want to say this. There is one part of the critique of those of us that have concerns about critical race theory and education that's a legitimate critique of our side. Which is, that there's too much of any time a question or a conversation or a statement about race comes up. There's too many people identifying every conversation as critical race theory. So just like it's wrong for the teachers unions to take legitimate concerns over critical race theory and say that they're nothing but right-wing, racist bias, it's also wrong to take any conversation about the racial issues in the United States history, and ongoing questions and concerns to be, you know, automatically an indicator of critical race theory. And I'll go back to something I've said now over and over and over, which is, look, my issue with critical race theory isn't the word race. My issue with critical race theory is critical theory, which in and of itself, is based on a flawed understanding of the human person, a wrong understanding of what's wrong with the human condition, and offers no way forward. It actually just leaves us in a kind of a postmodern sense of brokenness that we can never recover from. So it locates identity and categories that fundamentally aren't good, and cannot preserve human dignity in the long run. And what is critical race theory this year turns into critical queer theory or whatever else next year. And trust me, the success of the LGBTQ movement to hijack the civil-rights movement that will seem like nothing in terms of their success in hijacking this this latest chapter in the racial conversation.

EICHER: John Stonestreet, president of the Colson Center and host of the Breakpoint podcast. John, thanks!

STONESTREET: Thank you both.

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