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Culture Friday: Police brutality and racial strife


WORLD Radio - Culture Friday: Police brutality and racial strife

Plus: Jack Phillips presses on

RowVaughn Wells, mother of Tyre Nichols, who died after being beaten by Memphis police officers, smiles to supporters, at the conclusion of a candlelight vigil for Tyre, in Memphis, Tenn., Thursday, Jan. 26, 2023 Associated Press Photo/Gerald Herbert

MYRNA BROWN, HOST: It’s the 3rd day of February 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: Well, Jack Phillips is back in the news.

The listener will connect Jack Phillips with Masterpiece Cakeshop and its LGBT foes and with the U.S. Supreme Court. He’s probably the most well-known baker of cakes this side of the Cake Boss or the Ace of Cakes from reality television.

But Phillips’s reality is different. It’s death threats, being reviled by elite culture, and legal conflict. And legal conflict renewed last week, as he lost a case brought by a transgender legal activist who’s been pursuing him for years.

And Jack Phillips may have to return once again to the U.S. Supreme Court where he won his case four-and-a-half years ago, only to continue to face challenge after challenge.

John, you know Jack Phillips a little bit. Do you wonder how he’d react if he’d been told back in 2012, “your choice is to bake the cake or be sentenced to a decade-plus of legal harassment and pariah status”?

STONESTREET: You know, I don't want to put words in Jack's mouth or say things on his behalf. I'll just say this. The last time I had the privilege of speaking with Jack—and the time before that—he seemed remarkably encouraged by how God was using his story in his own life, and also to encourage and to inspire others. Jack knows of at least a handful of folks who have come to faith because of his story and he's encouraged by that. Now, look, I don't know if that means he would choose differently or choose the same or whatever. I think Jack has taken the approach that was recommended by TS Eliot when he said "For us, there's only the trying and the rest is none of our business." Or Kierkegaard who said, "Life has to be lived forward and is only understood backwards." I do know that the state of Colorado has been absolutely horrible to Jack Phillips. This last chapter, of course, is a civil case filed by a man who identifies as a woman and is part of a law firm that is under his last name—Scardina. Scardina actually asked Masterpiece Cake Shop to bake a cake. Changed his story about what it was for, but ultimately, it was always to celebrate a gender transition. The Civil Rights Commission was notified about this, and the Civil Rights Commission initially went after Jack for this as well. But after being soundly slapped down by the U.S. Supreme Court in the Masterpiece Cake Shop case for how they had treated Jack and his faith, they actually ended up dropping the case. But a judge in Colorado allowed this case actually to proceed. I think the judge has shown unbelievable bias in this case. And Scardina has essentially been allowed to personally harass Jack saying, in fact, that he would not stop until either Jack changed his mind or he was out of business. So what Jack has been through is a level of personal harassment. Now, not by a nameless commission that has behaved essentially Gestapo-like, but now by an individual citizen who just will not let it go. It is wrong. It is tragic that the state of Colorado has allowed this to continue now for over a decade. And yet here Jack is. I do think it'll go back to the Supreme Court. I think that what this court did was rule on speech that Jack's custom cake making to celebrate a particular cause does not count as speech. That's what they actually said. And I think now that you're going to have to have this adjudicated at the highest court in the land. And, of course, the Court made this bed in the Obergefell decision—even though Justice Kennedy assured us that people could disagree with good conscience. We've known from the very beginning that at least for one side of this it was all or nothing. And really, you know for both, that this is not something we compromise on. This is not something we can just let go. Yeah, it's been over a decade now, Nick, and it's nowhere close to being over. So, as the plaque on Chuck Colson's desk read, "It's about faithfulness, not about success."

EICHER: I want to ask you about a case in Scotland. I wonder whether you’ve heard this one. It involves a man born Adam Graham. He’s a violent offender, convicted recently of rape, and he claimed transgender status and sought to serve his prison sentence in a women’s prison, under the name Isla Bryson. Now, Scotland has a progressive view on transgender questions. But shockingly, this is where the government has drawn a line. Even though Adam Graham-slash-Isla Bryson is legally recognized as a woman, the authorities don’t really recognize him this way, because it’s off to the men’s prison for this particular convict. Carl Trueman, writing for WORLD Opinions, says, quoting now: “Allowing Adam (he/him) to become Isla (she/her) is great, but only so long as Isla is the sort of person that [Scotland’s first minister] would invite to a polite … party [in Edinburgh]. When he’s a rapist, it is quite a different matter and quite inconvenient for the progressive class.” Trueman goes on to say, “There may be hope. Perhaps this confrontation with reality, rather than abstractions, will be instructive.” John, interesting that the line gets drawn here. Are you aware of this?

STONESTREET: Yeah, no, I am. And if that's really the line, right there? That's the one that's going to bring us to our senses? That's the one where we're actually going to acknowledge that there's observable differences between men and women, not only in their body parts, but also in their destructive potential and everything else in between? Then that continues to say a lot about the sort of culture we are, the sort of victims we're willing to allow to be harmed because of our bizarre ideas. And I say bizarre, and really, they're dangerous. They would just be bizarre like freakish sideshow sorts of ideas, if they didn't have so many consequences for real people.

BROWN: John, we’re all still trying to wrap our heads around the tragedy of Tyre Nichols’s death. The Memphis police unit that was created to deal with crime, now disbanded and no longer serving that purpose. Those former police officers, going to pay a high price for such brutality.

And as a mom of sons, I can’t imagine. I don’t want to imagine the pain Tyre Nichol’s mother is living with right now. I’m thankful that in the middle of indescribable grief, she had the presence of mind to speak out against riots and violence as that sickening video was about to be released.

Yet, despite those efforts, you have individuals still bent on creating racial strife. Have you heard this:

AUDIO: “I’ve got a message today for some white people. If we have white people listening and paying attention. I wouldn’t mind if you did this with me… would we rub our chests, find out heart beat and we say we did this. We did this. White supremacy did this. I’m talking about Tyre Nichols. Police didn’t do this. The Memphis Police Department didn’t do this. White supremacy did this.

What do you make of such an outrageous response?

STONESTREET: Well, look, I'm less concerned about a particular radical response like this, which you can always find across the board, as bad as it is, as I am that the same sort of narrative was advanced by CNN, and even to some degree by the President of the United States. And what we actually have in this story is something that disproves our preconceived notions on both sides. The tendency to always defend police as if police never do anything wrong. Of course, we shouldn't believe that from human history. We shouldn't believe that from what we've seen. We shouldn't believe that from all kinds of stories. The idea that this is somehow something that's due to whiteness when you're talking about a group of black police officers, that disproves that one, too. The only thing it points to is the universal human condition that people do things that are wrong, that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. That there is a problem in a culture that cannot govern itself, because then you have to rely on people to govern other people. And those people are fallen too. I think you do have, in some police departments, evidence of a crazy level of aggression that doesn't match what their jobs actually are supposed to be. And so punting now to some sort of racial narrative, as if it explains this is just leaving a lot of people scratching their heads. Maybe a lot more than the last time a story became national news. Thank God for the courage of Tyre Nichols mother and how she actually has handled this. To be able to, at some level, understand the implications of the story that involves your son and being able to step out like this and actually call people to account. What a remarkable show of courage that she has provided. And I'm thankful for that. But we have to deal with the realities on the ground and the realities on the ground start with the realities of the human condition. And until we actually start applying that to this framework, we're not going to understand these issues. We're going to be distracted by explanations that don't match the stories that we're trying to understand. And that certainly has been the case up to this point.

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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