Culture Friday: how to fight the culture war

MYRNA BROWN, HOST: It’s August 12, 2022.

Glad to have you with us for today’s edition of The world and all in it. Hello, I’m Myrna Brown.

PAUL BUTLER, HOST: And I’m Paul Butler. It’s Culture Friday!

Let’s bring in John Stonestreet. He is president of the Colson Center and host of the Breakpoint podcast.

Hi John, it’s been a few weeks. Happy to have you back!

JOHN STONESTREET, HOST: It’s good to be back. Thank you Hello to you both.

BROWN: John, the Biden administration made a surprising U-turn this week, dropping a transgender mandate that would have required leaders at a Tampa school to implement policies that were in direct conflict with their faith.

The government was asking them to guarantee a student’s choice in gender, pronouns, grooming, clothing – you get it or you’re kicked out of the National School Lunch Program.

That would have meant there would have been no lunch for around 50 low-income children at Grant Park Christian Academy. The principals did not agree. They sued and the Biden administration backed down.

I heard you say many times that Christian needed to develop a theology of getting fired, losing friends or at least being willing to do so. As we stand up for the truth and protect the vulnerable. This seems like a great example.

STONESTREET: You know, one of the guys that hangs out in the Colson Center is a guy named Glen Sunshine. Isn’t that a great name? He’s actually a historian and taught in our Colson Fellows program for years. And we do a lot of work on different historical figures – Christians who have made a difference in the world – and not just the Wilberforces and the Bonhoeffers whose names we know. But people of all times and places, whose names we don’t know.

But one of the commonalities that continues to emerge is that Christians who live out their faith in a cultural setting almost always involve the protection of children. Protecting children from forced prostitution, protecting children from labor camps, protecting children from, you know, losing their parents. To take care of the orphans, to take care of those who would be victims of a particularly powerful party in this cultural region.

And this is ours. We must protect children’s minds from harmful ideas. We need to protect their bodies from abuse or mistreatment. And we need to protect their most important relationships, because that’s what secures their future. It must be front and center that ideas have consequences and bad ideas have victims. And the ideas of our cultural moment almost always tend to victimize children.

I would say this though, it’s another example of what I often call the inevitability thesis – that we’re on the wrong side of history, and it’s inevitably going to get worse. It’s just not something we should be buying. We shouldn’t give up the 50-yard line on the first play of the game as if we were bound to lose.

Because the Supreme Court has been incredibly clear that a government or state program is offered on a large scale, then it cannot be restricted to people of faith just because they want to be people of faith and experience this in any setting where they are Doing. Including state agreements with Christian schools. This was further reinforced this year with this program in Maine. We have the Trinity Lutheran case. I mean, it’s about as clear as the Supreme Court can get that religious institutions aren’t penalized just because they’re religious.

And we can fight. And it’s good to fight. And we fight in the right way. And we do. Good for Grant Park Christian Academy. Good for the state of Florida. And I think that’s a good lesson for all of us.

BUTLER: I want to build on that more John. In a recent WORLD Opinions article, Kevin DeYoung poses this question: Should Christians be engaged in the culture war? He writes that not only is the answer yes – we should be engaged – but he also talks about the “how”. He identifies a few suggestions: let’s not forget to reason with our adversaries. We have to fight in the right way. And we must remember that culture is not ultimate.

John, what would you add to this list?

STONESTREET: Well, I think that’s a good place to start. I think part of that is, you know, there’s an element to the so-called culture wars. I don’t like this frame more than anyone else. But in many ways, believers get shot.

I think the other takeaway is that we fight for each other’s good. In other words, it is not just the right of Christians to be Christians. But Christianity has brought incredible good into the world. And even though so many other Christians get the chills about it and try to run away, we have a number of historical books coming out right now that explain how without Christianity we don’t have the cultural air that we breathe of categories: like human dignity and children’s rights and women’s rights and minority rights and freedom and conscience rights and all the other things.

In other words, we don’t just do it so we can worship the way we want or live the way we want. This is because Christianity brings unique and distinct goods to the world. And that’s the only source for these things. And so if we love our neighbor, and we have to do something about the culture that victimizes our neighbor.

And so I think that’s something to frame this whole culture war. It’s not just what’s good for us. That’s what’s good for the world, because Christianity is actually true. And I think a lot of Christians don’t realize that. I think a lot of Christians still think about the truth in a secular way. That’s true for us, but not for them. And that’s fundamentally the wrong definition of truth insofar as it’s the wrong way to see what’s at stake.

So we have to be very clear about the Christian understanding of these ideas from the start, so we have to do the hard work of catechism with our children and with ourselves and public theology.

BROWN: One last question John. The Pew Research Center just released a new report revealing what I suspect we already knew… American teens are now more engaged with social media than ever before. Here is a quick overview of the results:

TikTok is the first multimedia platform for teenagers. Nearly 7 out of 10 people say they use it and 16% of them admit to using it all the time.

YouTube is the first online landscape: 95% say they use it.

In terms of demographics, teens are more likely than girls to use YouTube, Twitch, and Reddit, while teenage girls prefer TikTok, Instagram, and Snapchat.

I know you have teenagers at home, John. As a parent, how does this report affect you? And I’d love to hear your thoughts on this – the survey doesn’t distinguish between Christian and non-Christian teens, so they’re likely mixed up in these numbers. Thinking back to Paul’s question, how do we combat this aspect of the culture war?

STONESTREET: One of the ways to combat it is not to abandon our future soldiers to the enemy from the start. I mean, sorry. It really is no laughing matter. I mean, I look at this list and I wonder, “What the hell are we thinking? There’s a definition of insanity that Proverbs continually assumes and presents, where it’s like “it just doesn’t make sense”. It is against all wisdom.

Reddit is where mass shooters get radicalized, where conspiracy theories flourish. YouTube is a place where you can access all kinds of bad ideas about yourself, about the world, about everything. TikTok and Instagram? I mean, there was just a campaign against Instagram saying, you know, the harm you cause, especially to teenage girls, right? Wasn’t there a congressional hearing on this last year? I mean, it’s foolish, you know, to give children unregulated and unaccountable access to the internet, especially social media channels, is foolish in the worst way Proverbs describes it.

I used to say in front of parents that it was like putting your kid in a lion’s den all night, you know, to give them uncontrollable access to the internet. And this mom came to see me afterwards, she said to me: “That’s a stupid analogy, you should stop using it. I said, “Well, what’s the best analogy?” She said: “It’s like putting your teenager in a room with a naked woman all night.” I was like, “yeah, that’s a better analogy…” because that’s exactly what you do on apps like this, but it’s even worse than that, because you don’t not just tempt sexually, although you are, you’re essentially putting them before a firing squad that directly targets their conception of self, their understanding of right and wrong, their framing of reality itself.

I mean, if you want your daughter, for example, to struggle with her body image, the best strategy you would use is to give her unlimited access to Instagram. If you want your kids right now to be subjected to the worst ideas about gender and self, you’d basically put them in front of a classroom, where people are saying the things they’re accessing moment by moment on TikTok.

Now, whether to completely disconnect from these things or not, I think it has to do with how you conceptualize the spiritual maturity and growth of your children. Their mission in the world. The future of these applications and you know, the kind of knowledge they will need. If there is a redeeming way to live these things. And I think there are on some of them, but I’m not sure about all of them. I think there’s a redemptive way, but you don’t put a five-year-old into a battle for a reason and you don’t put an immature, underdeveloped moral conscience, you know, in front of these kinds of platforms at the daily .

It’s just, it’s just stupid. It’s just stupid. And you say that if there is a culture war, it’s not just giving up the 50-meter line, it’s kind of handing over all our future soldiers as prisoners of war from the start.

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

STONESTREET: Thank you both!

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