Last week, I talked with John Stonestreet of the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview about the recent racial strife in Ferguson, Mo., and an interesting take on marriage from James Dobson and his son.
NICK EICHER: John, I spent some time last weekend right in the middle of what much of the nation sees as a microcosm of racial chaos. I did try to listen to the angriest voices—the demands for justice—but I also deliberately sought out Christian voices. The setting was far from an air-conditioned conference room with microphones and a moderator. I heard a lot about everyone coming together in Christ, about Jesus healing wounds. This was the classic back-fence conversation, neighbor to neighbor, that you’ve talked about frequently here on the program. How do we use this occasion, white Christians to African-American Christians, to come together to try to heal wounds, to seize this opportunity to glorify God? How ought this conversation go?
JOHN STONESTREET: First of all, it needs to go with an awful lot of patience. There are still so many details coming in. It’s hard to know what really happened in this specific situation. But there also needs to be a lot of listening. This is something we Christians need to stop and listen to and understand. Our brothers and sisters in Christ who are African-American, who hold the same convictions that we do on so many issues, see this as a problem in a way that many white, American Christians don’t. There needs to be an awful lot of listening. What do you mean by this anger? Where is this coming from? Take it seriously. Now, there’s going to be plenty [of people] who hear that and say, “You’re making more of it than there is, it doesn’t exist any more.” But they’re not the only voices that get to speak. The church should be the tip of the spear in this [conversation] because the church has the resources to understand what makes humans human. The government does not. Those from another worldview do not. This issue of race cuts to the very heart of what it means to be human. One of the things we’ve got to do, though, is get past our political talking points of right vs. left. That’s how this thing tends to break down, which is really unfortunate because this is the last issue that needs to be made a political issue. It’s the first issue that many are trying to make a political issue. We have to break down and actually listen to each other and then talk to each other.
NE: I talked to Tamara King, who lives in St. Louis City. She did notice I had one of my teenage sons with me. She said:
“You don’t have to worry about your son being shot down in the middle of the street as often as we do. Do you realize this is the second cop shooting in 60 days? … We can overcome anything. We can get above and beyond all of this, and we are one. If everybody started to think as one community, rather than as separate municipalities, then we’d get a lot further.”
I asked Tamara, “How do you do that?” She responded:
“I honestly don’t know yet. I can say this: one way is through educating people correctly. When you open a book in school, as a black child you see one, two, three pages about people who look like you. People who have struggled like you. You see [on] every page there is about ‘this white person did that’ and ‘that white person succeeded in this,’ but where’s the success among black people?”
I asked her whether President Barack Obama wasn’t a prime example of success among black people, and she said she sees him as a symbol of hope, but that the Obama presidency in and of itself doesn’t alleviate racism. Boiling it down, John, she’s talking about the importance of story, of seeing one’s self as part of a larger and better story, isn’t she?
JS: That’s what she is talking about. Unfortunately, we’ve got this trickle-down idea that has started in the university in various forms of post-modern thought, particularly in issues surrounding sociology and anthropology. It is the classic line from Jean-Francois Lyotard that post-modernism is the incredulity toward meta-narrative. That’s a complicated way of saying it’s a disbelief in any big stories, that we don’t have to try to see our own story … in light of anything bigger, more fundamentally or overarchingly true, than our own personal experience. I’ve just been reading through an interesting book by Luc Ferry, who’s an atheist philosopher from the University of Paris. He’s written a book on the history of ideas. He says Christianity introduced a concept of an inherent dignity, and that was where the West got its entire democratic inheritance. It’s a remarkable statement. When you start seeing where this common story disintegrates, you can sense the heart behind Tamara’s comment. How can somebody from another neighborhood see her story in [Tamara’s] neighborhood, and what can she appeal to beyond, “This is just my experience.”
NE: That reminds me of a column this week by Ryan Dobson in The Wall Street Journal. The title of the piece is, “Get over your selfie: Gazing in the digital mirror, we lose the habit of seeing ourselves as part of a bigger story.”
I’d like to quote from it and get your reaction:
“While I was dating, … dad would ask me about the women I was seeing. I’d say this woman made me feel good, so-and-so seemed to support me, that sort of thing. My reasons for dating, he told me, seemed selfish. He said, ‘Do you make each other better people’ Of course, now I see how right he was. Marriage isn’t about me; it’s about us. And very soon it’s us with children.”
Dobson’s making the point about our stories connecting with something much, much bigger. What do you say?
JS: I loved Ryan’s column. Ryan’s a friend, and, of course, the son of James Dobson, and he was saying the selfie generation isolates us in many ways from our histories and our stories, especially multigenerational stories. … Now we have, taking over the West, this fascination with self-image that comes from whatever we portray on Facebook or Pinterest or Twitter. We can see it now in the current marriage debate. What Ryan’s dad told him marriage is for is fundamentally different from what the general population tends to think marriage is for. This “us” that may get bigger is essential to the larger “us” that we call a community. That is just flat-out contradictory to the selfie way of seeing life in the world.
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