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Kirsten Powers on Faith and Freedoms

Kirsten Powers on Faith and Freedoms

Newspaper columnist and Fox News contributor Kirsten Powers discusses the growing suppression of conservative viewpoints in American society today.

Opening:

John Fuller: This is “Focus on the Family” with Jim Daly. I’m John Fuller, and today we’re discussing one of the most closely held freedoms that we have, the freedom of speech, that right to express facts and opinions.

Jim Daly: John, so often in the culture today we see this conflict of expression. You know, people that believe one thing, another group that believes another. We often call that “polarization.” And the country seems entrenched in that approach, that we’re not able to sit down and talk to people who may differ with us, that we can come up with solutions, not just identify the problems.

John: Hm.

Jim: And you see it every night on the news. We seem to kind of fall into two or three camps, and that’s where we get entrenched. Today we want to talk about that. I think it’s vital that we have a national debate on all the big topics. But how do we engage in that debate. How do we not silence the other side? And I think today we’re gonna have a very interesting discussion about respecting each other.

John: And we have somebody who is in the media business joining us as a guest, Jim. Kirsten Powers is well-known. She’s a columnist for both USA Today and The Daily Beast. She’s a FOX News contributor where she brings a slightly different perspective to the conversations and has a new book out called The Silencing: How the Left is Killing Free Speech.

Body:

Jim: Kirsten, welcome back to Focus.

Kirsten Powers: It’s great to be here.

Jim: You’ve been here before–

Kirsten: I have.

Jim: –and I so appreciate that. I think it’s important for listeners to kinda know you better. Talk about your story. You’re raised in Alaska.

Kirsten: Fairbanks, Alaska, the metropolis of Fairbanks, Alaska. (Laughter)

Jim: And you describe it as, you know, being raised in a liberal home–

Kirsten: Yeah.

Jim: –mom and dad, Democrats.

Kirsten: Yes.

Jim: But just talk about that environment and growing up with a diverse opinion within–

Kirsten: Yeah.

Jim: –you know, a rather red state.

Kirsten: Very conservative town and but my parents were professors at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks. They were archeologists. And so, there’s a few liberals in town where, you know, sort of ensconced over here at the university and I have a very Democratic family, just, you know, as far back as it goes, Democrats, basically Irish Democratic family.

And so, and then add in the professors and you know, you have a lot of sort of liberalism and Democratic views, but a lot of intellectual rigor and the idea that you need to be able to make your case, that it’s not enough to just dismiss other people and plus I, of course, was surrounded when I would go to school. All my friends’ parents were conservative for the most part. And so, more of my friends growing up were conservative and I was really used to debating and still being friends.

It was my best friend, you know, who is still, is still a friend, but was really my closest friend through college and after college, she worked at The Heritage Foundation, you know, while I was volunteering for Bill Clinton and we’re still able to be friends and have these really vigorous debates, and help me really understand what the other side’s views were, which unfortunately I talk about in my book a little bit. Then I kind of went in a different direction and really got ensconced in this liberal Democratic bubble and I got away from that. And I got to this place where I really didn’t know people who were different than I was.

Jim: Hm.

Kirsten: And it was very easy to stereotype people, in particular, Evangelical Christians.

Jim: (Laughing) That you were stereotyping.

Kirsten: Yes, you know, that I was sure they that were bigots and anti-intellectual and all these other things, even though I didn’t know a single one. I’d never met … I don’t know that I ever even met an Evangelical, but I was absolutely convinced that they were, you know, terrible people. (Laughing)

Jim: Right.

Kirsten: Truly. I mean it’s embarrassing.

John: Hm.

Jim: And well–

Kirsten: Yeah.

Jim: –and so often in the Christian community we think that of people that are on the Left.

Kirsten: Yes, absolutely.

Jim: And that’s the first barrier–

Kirsten: Uh-hm.

Jim: –trying to break that down to try and get to know people. I think it’s why Jesus said, “Love your neighbor.”

Kirsten: Yeah.

Jim: Don’t you think?

Kirsten: Right.

Jim: But talk about also, you’re kind of in a unique spot because you do and did have a moment where you said, “I believe Jesus is who He said He was”–

Kirsten: Yeah.

Jim: –and you embraced that.

Kirsten: Right.

Jim: That’s unique in that space that you’re in.

Kirsten: Definitely unique. Yeah, it’s funny, I was talking to a friend last night who’s African American and there’s another person who is a liberal media person who’s come out recently as a Christian, right?

Jim: Come out? (Laughs)

Kirsten: Yeah, we were talking about it. It really is, you’re coming out of the closet–

Jim: Right.

Kirsten: –and we were talking about when I did it, and he’s African American though. And he said, “I’m so glad that I’m black, ’cause like, nobody cares like, that I’m a Christian.” You know, whenever one of these white liberals come out, you know–

Jim: Right.

Kirsten: –everybody’s like, “What is happening?” And so, it is a kind of big deal and it wasn’t something I was looking for at all. And it’s something that just sort of happened to me frankly. It was, you know, I wasn’t a seeker. I wasn’t, you know–

Jim: Hm.

Kirsten: –[like] a lot of people. I wasn’t miserable. I wasn’t like at rock bottom. I wasn’t a drug addict. You know what I’m saying? Like I had a boyfriend who honestly was gonna break up with me if I didn’t start going to church pretty much, ’cause he basically said, “I can’t, you know, marry somebody who’s not a Christian and would you be open to [going to church]?” And we sort of just went back and forth and I thought, well, he’s really smart and I really respect him, and if this is something that he believes–

Jim: Hm.

Kirsten: –then maybe I should check it out. You know, and so, I had started going to Tim Keller’s church, Redeemer Presbyterian in New York City, and was just captivated–

Jim: Hm.

Kirsten: — not because I believed anything he was saying, but because he’s just such an interesting [preacher], you know, philosophical–

Jim: Oh, sure.

Kirsten: –ethical, you know, believing in all these different things. And so, I just started going and then over that year basically ended up becoming a Christian.

Jim: You know, so often when I meet with people that don’t embrace a Christian worldview and we’re talking about that, they’ll point to a bad experience or people that claim to be Christian–

Kirsten: Um-huh.

Jim: –but acted poorly. And I often will say, you know, don’t let another human being get in the way of that pursuit of yours.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Jim: That would be unfortunate.

Kirsten: Right.

Jim: I mean think of that.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Jim: And you didn’t, didn’t allow that to happen.

Kirsten: Yeah, but I also didn’t know that the church I was going to was Evangelical. So, it was Presbyterian and I didn’t know anything really about Christianity, so I thought it was just sort of mainline Protestant [church]. You know what I’m saying? Like, I don’t know that I would’ve gone because of all the baggage–

Jim: Sure.

Kirsten: –of what I had thought Evangelicals were and that I thought, first of all that you couldn’t, as a Democrat, you just couldn’t be an Evangelical. So, it was sort of just an open and shut case. Why would you ever go to an Evangelical church?

Jim: Well, and all that background really to give people a sense of who you are. I know it’s a light, kind of just the thin part of the crust here–

Kirsten: Uh-hm.

Jim: –but it does give people an appreciation for your spiritual journey, for your perspective on life. You’re very pro-life. You broke, in the mainstream media; you broke the Gosnell abortion clinic story–

John: Uh-hm.

Kirsten: Uh-hm.

Jim: –which we deeply appreciated. You’re a staunchly pro-life in that regard. But talk about the idea of speech, the theme of your book, The Silencing: How the Left is Killing Free Speech. Boy that’s like calling your house in a bit of disarray, right?

Kirsten: Yeah.

Jim: What, first of all, what are your observations in that regard? How are they killing free speech?

Kirsten: Well, so one thing is, I would distinguish, in the book, I refer to them as the “Illiberal Left” —

Jim: Illiberal.

Kirsten: –Illiberal Left. So these are people who say that they’re liberal but they behave in a very illiberal manner when it comes to free speech. So, it’s not that I necessarily disagree with them on most policy issues, whether it’s immigration or raising taxes or Obamacare or these other things. It’s that where I differ from them and what I think most honest, your average Democrat probably and even a lot of old liberals would disagree with them, is the way that they believe that the debate is over, that they have decided on certain issues, and that everybody else is supposed to just sort of shut up and get in line–

John: Hm.

Kirsten: –and if they don’t, they’re going to be delegitimized because their views are not legitimate. So, it’s not that you’re pro-life, it’s that you are a misogynist and you hate women. It’s not that you oppose same-sex marriage; it’s that you’re a homophobe and a bigot. You know, and so those are conversation enders, not conversation starters. Once you say that, that kind of ends the conversation, ’cause who wants to listen to a homophobe or a misogynist, right? And then other people see this and they say, wow, well, that person sort of stepped out and said this and look what happened to them. I don’t want to do that. Most people don’t want to get in the middle of some big cultural battle. They just want to raise their families–

Jim: Right.

Kirsten: –and spend time in their communities. They’re not looking to get into these big fights and yet really average people are getting pulled into things without, you know. I talk about Brendan Eich at Mozilla. I mean this was not somebody who was trying to be in the middle of a cultural debate.

Jim: Uh-hm.

Kirsten: He made a private donation against, you know, for an anti-same-sex marriage initiative that I opposed, you know. But I think he should have the right to do it and I don’t think he should lose his job for it, and I don’t think he should be caught up in the middle of this public maelstrom which, you know, where his, he has this character assassination against him based on a view which has nothing to do with his job, that he had never expressed at work as far as we can tell, and that no person has ever complained about him.

And so, that to me is just, is going an extra step. There’s just a sort of garden-variety intolerance. But then there’s the extra step of, it’s not just I don’t want to be around people who, you know, I don’t want to hear it, but I don’t anyone else to hear it. We’re gonna silence people so that nobody hears these views.

Jim: Well, and it’s really dangerous. I want to be fair though, because there are some in the same-sex marriage community who do not believe that’s a wise approach–

Kirsten: Oh, absolutely, yeah.

Jim: –is approach, and you know–

Kirsten: Right.

Jim: –I’ve talked with them—

Kirsten: Right.

Jim: –and they don’t like that approach either.

Kirsten: Right.

Jim: The question is how do we create an environment where we can have disagreement–

Kirsten: Right.

Jim: –like you and your family in Alaska.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Jim: How can we sit at a social table and have disagreement and respect each other in this regard?

Kirsten: Yeah. Well, I think that what you just said is exactly right. I don’t think most liberals even think the way that the people who went after Brendan Eich think or the people who I outline in my book think. I know plenty of liberals and I tell them the stories in this book who are horrified–

Jim: Hm.

Kirsten: –absolutely horrified.

Jim: Well, that’s interesting, ’cause I think my perspective would be as a conservative that there is a monolithic think there–

Kirsten: Yeah.

Jim: –so I’m guilty of that.

Kirsten: Right, I don’t think there is. I think they honestly don’t, most of them don’t know that it’s going on, ’cause this isn’t, which is part of the reason I wanted to write the book, because I mean, have you ever seen this talked about it in TheNew York Times or–

Jim: (Laughs) No.

Kirsten: –or on the evening news?

Jim: No.

Kirsten: You know what I’m saying? And actually when the Brendan Eich situation had happened, I was writing a column about, I was visiting my mother and she reads The New York Times every day. She watches all three evening newscasts. And she said, what are you writing about? And I said, oh, you know, this Brendan Eich thing. And she’s like, “Who’s Brendan Eich?” and that–

Jim: (Laughing)

Kirsten: –and that happened over and over where they don’t, and then when I told her the story. She said, well that’s not right.

Jim: Let me ask you this. How do they not see that reflection? They want diversity.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Jim: And I’m saying “they,” the liberal community. but they don’t see that flaw. It’s kind of like in the Christian vernacular; we talk about the log in our own eye–

Kirsten: Uh-huh.

Jim: –before going after the speck in your brother’s eye.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Jim: That really discounts the credibility, at least in our community, when we hear people not even able to reflect on what they just said which seems so discriminatory.

Kirsten: Because they don’t think it’s diversity. They think it’s righteous that they are silencing people who are saying things that are intolerant or anti-scientific or all these others things. So they, they really believe that they’re righteous and there’s a very authoritarian impulse behind it.

Jim: Well now we’re in both camps–

Kirsten: Yeah.

Jim: –because the Right can do that as well.

Kirsten: Yeah. The Right can do it. The difference is that the conservatives don’t have the influence over the major cultural institutions today. So, I’m not saying conservatives aren’t’ capable of doing it and don’t try to do it. It’s just they’re not running academia. You know, they’re not running the media.

Jim: Hm.

Kirsten: They’re not running Hollywood, and they’re not running the internet companies. So and I say this in the book, for liberals, it’s like it doesn’t mean they’re never going to. They’re just not right now and people should think about that. Like, you know, they’re enjoying, these liberal left are enjoying, you know, shutting down debate on certain issues without thinking about, well what would happen if someone else is in control–

Jim: Hm.

Kirsten: –and shutting down what you want to say? And like I say, they don’t care about the inconsistencies. I talk about Jonathan Heidt, who is a social psychologist at NYU, and he’s, you know, I think a moderate Democrat. And he gave a speech at their annual social psychologist conference talking about intellectual diversity. And he said he tried to find conservative social psychologists to interview for the talk and he couldn’t find a single one. And so–

Jim: Hm.

Kirsten: –he said he found two people who were just not liberal. So it wasn’t that they were conservative, it’s just that they had some conservative views and some liberal views, and both of them he said reminded him of, of talking to gay people, closeted gay people in the 1970s. They were afraid–

Jim: They were afraid to speak.

Kirsten: –to speak. And so they didn’t want to be named and , one of them said actually, I’m not gonna pursue this any further, because no one’s going to let me do the research that I think is important–

Jim: Hm.

Kirsten: –because it’s gonna reach the wrong conclusions.

Jim: Hm.

Kirsten: And he said to them, “Look, we have a mission statement that says we have to have diversity of gender. We have to have diversity of, you know, sexual orientation. We have to have diversity of race, but we don’t have anything about intellectual diversity and we can’t have real science if we don’t have people asking different kinds of questions.

Jim: Hm.

Kirsten: And in the end, they wouldn’t change the mission statement, because they feel like what they believe is Truth, capital T, Truth. You know–

Jim: Yeah.

Kirsten: –it’s not that they have something to add. It’s just that they’re wrong.

Jim: Yeah, it, it sounds like—

Kirsten: Yeah.

Jim: — and again, in our terminology, a Pharisaical left.

Kirsten: Yes, absolutely.

Jim: You know, that they’re so righteous–

Kirsten: Yeah, well —

Jim: –in their beliefs that—

Kirsten: –well, one of the—

Jim: –they don’t want dissent.

Kirsten: –things when I was reading the book, I just thought, they remind me of religious zealots–

Jim: Right.

Kirsten: –in the sense that they really have found the capital T, truth, and that they will not tolerate anyone deviating from it, which of course is ironic among a bunch of people who claim to be, you know, first of all, they hate religion (Laughs), you know and they’re so open-minded–

Jim: Hm.

Kirsten: –you know, and all these things (Laughs), that it’s like, but you’re not. I talk about this stuff on the campuses are these trigger-warnings and safe spaces, when people come on campus that are expressing views they don’t like, you know, it’s like they can literally cannot tolerate other people. And it’s like, it’s not they don’t want to hear it. They don’t other people to hear it.

John: This is “Focus on the Family” with Jim Daly and I’m John Fuller. We’re talking today with journalist Kirsten Powers, as she describes what she calls the “illiberal Left” and the attempt to clamp down on religious free speech. And her book is The Silencing: How the Left is Killing Free Speech and you’ll find details about Kirsten and the book at www.focusonthefamiy.com/radio.

Jim: Kirsten, let’s continue that discussion about colleges and universities–

Kirsten: Uh-hm.

Jim: –because that environment seems so antagonistic.

John: Uh-hm.

Jim: I know so many Christian parents who want their kids to have a great education. They want to be challenged.

Kirsten: Uh-hm.

Jim: But they’re fearful that so much will be taken away in terms of their kids’ worldview if they go. And that is happening. I know some friends whose kids have gone to Harvard or Yale and they’ve really been dumbed down in their spiritual appetite. Talk to that parent about that environment, what they could do or say to encourage their young people to stay bold–

Kirsten: Yeah.

Jim: –in their beliefs.

Kirsten: Yeah. I think that that’s a legitimate fear, actually. I have a friend whose son is, who was just applying to colleges and he’s applying to all the Ivy Leagues, and I just said, “Just keep as far away from Harvard as possible.

Jim: Hm.

Kirsten: It literally is where faith goes to die. I mean–

Jim: You know how interesting that is–

Kirsten: –yeah.

Jim: –coming from you,

Kirsten: Yeah.

Jim: A Democrat?

Kirsten: Yeah, because of how many people I know who will tell you that, you know, that someone in their family, you know, went there and lost–

Jim: Hm.

Kirsten: –completely lost their faith. Now there are people who go there and don’t, it’s not a foregone conclusion. But I think I do actually think this book actually helps people sort of understand what’s going on so that they can be informed and that they’re kids can be informed. And frankly, it’s not just the Ivy League schools though. It’s really across the board.

If you’re going to any secular school, a lot of state schools, I mean I have state schools in here that we talk about. Vanderbilt, you know I interviewed Tish Warren, who was the head of the InterVarsity graduate fellowship that would be “de-recognized” there. And here you have a woman who is, she’s a Democrat. She describes herself as progressive. She’s never voted for a Republican. She thought she was kind of one of them, but she’s an orthodox Christian. And she found out, you know what? Like, I … we crossed the line on one issue and they don’t like it. And–

Jim: Hm.

Kirsten: –they were basically told, she was flat out told by the administrators that, you know, [the] so-called all comers policy, which I explain in the book, which is how they are derecognizing Christian organizations at different campuses. They claim it’s meant for all student organizations, but I interview somebody who is the head of a free speech organization, who is actually a liberal atheist, who says I spend all my time defending Christians and conservatives on campuses.

Jim: (Laughing) With disdain, let’s say that.

Kirsten: Yes, yeah, and I mean because it’s just kind of funny that this is what I’m doing, but he said he said it is absolutely false that it’s not intended to target Christians. He said these are absolutely meant to target Christians–

Jim: Hm.

Kirsten: –and then get them off of campuses because of the same-sex marriage issue, or the homosexuality issue. And so, Tish Warren was told, flat out by administrators. So again, she felt like she was kind of one of them. She’s this progressive-minded person.

John: Uh-huh.

Kirsten: You can’t even have any doctrinal requirements for your Bible study teachers. She said, “What are you saying? I can’t require them to believe in the Trinity?” And they said, “Yes.” And so, there’s this kind of hostility, so it’s not just the Harvard and the Yale and you know. It’s across the board of these universities that are just developing this real hostility toward Christians. And she said, “Look, you’re welcome to do this if you want to, but you need to be honest in your advertising. Like, put it in your brochure. You know, don’t say like, “We love Christians; come here,” because the truth is you love certain kinds of Christians.”

Jim: Hm.

Kirsten: And you know–

Jim: That believe or think the way you think.

Kirsten: –yeah, right. And she put out, so she wrote something for Christianity Today and the title was “The Wrong Kind of Christian.”

Jim: Hm.

Kirsten: You know, and these are groups that have been, that have long relationships on these university campuses. I mean, the Cal State system for decades they’ve been there, and now suddenly they’re sort of treated as pariahs. And so, I think that people need to be informed about what’s happening. I’m not saying we shouldn’t go to the colleges, but they just need to know, sort of what they’re in for. And also, maybe find out when you go around and you’re going to the different colleges, ask them, what do you think about these things?

And there was another really chilling incident at Marquette University, ironically a Jesuit school, where there was a slide that showed … this was for professors, teaching them how to deal with the students and it showed two students talking and it was two girls talking about how they opposed same-sex marriage and a third student overhears it and he’s offended. And he reports them to the campus administrators and they say, “This is the correct way to handle this.”

Jim: Hm.

Kirsten: And you know, so it’s like you’re informing on people having opinions that you disagree with. It’s not even that they were saying anything hostile, you know, or negative. It was just a mere discussion which should be happening on a college campus. And so, again, like that’s offensive. That conversation is an offense.

Jim: Right, it’s frightening when you think about it.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Jim: I mean, again I think there were governments in the past that have manipulated that environment to create fear and control and power. What’s different with how it’s happening in the United States, it’s kind of a social movement—

Kirsten: Exactly.

Jim: –which is far more dangerous.

Kirsten: Exactly.

Jim: It’s not people fighting a government like the old Soviet Union—

Kirsten: Yeah.

Jim: –that they’re trying to control thought and speech. Here it’s more insidious. It’s—

Kirsten: Yeah.

Jim: –coming from within. Kirsten, within the Christian community, you know, I’ve had discussions about the future. A lot of people are concerned about young people, but one of the things that I think that’s taking place is, the person who is truest to their belief structure, I think will win the next generation, whatever institution, including the church.

In other words, if we can live up to the ideals we talk about, young people are looking for that honesty and that authenticity in the institutions. So, as we compete with education or government, we being “the Church,” I think we’ve got a great opportunity to actually live it well—

Kirsten: Uh-hm.

Jim: –meaning we live it in our families. We live it with our neighbors and community. We do the things that actually bring, I think bring esteem—

Kirsten: Uh-hm.

Jim: –to the church. I think the younger generation will gravitate in that direction. Do you agree?

Kirsten: I hope so. I think, you know, unfortunately I do feel a lot of them are being indoctrinated, you know, in the schools about this idea that, you know, Christian views are intolerant, you know, but I think that the way to respond to that is just to continue to treat people, like you said, in a Christian way.

Even if this is happening to you on a campus or if this is happening to you in your workplace, the response, as hard as it is, is you know, to be loving and to continue to try to serve people—

John: Uh-hm.

Kirsten: –and to, you know, turn the other cheek. That doesn’t mean you don’t fight back in the sense of explaining, well, this isn’t okay. But like I said, I really don’t think the response is to turn into a culture war issue where, you know, fight fire with fire, just coming back. And that’s not going to solve the problem and I have seen that impulse.

Jim: And you know, I’m thinking of Luke 6 and I speak about this often. In Luke 6, which is the Golden Rule, there’s quite a definition to what the Golden Rule is there and in the very end, the analysis is, treat people as the Scripture would say, those who aren’t embracing God—

Kirsten: Uh-hm.

Jim: –the wicked, which is one of the ways the Bible describes that, but to treat them with kindness.

Kirsten: Uh-hm.

Jim: That is different than what the world’s gonna do to those who claim Christ.

Kirsten: Right.

Jim: It doesn’t say, “Treat other people the way they treat you.”

Kirsten: Yeah.

Jim: It says, “Treat them the way you want to be treated.”

Kirsten: Yeah.

Jim: And that’s what Jesus said and I think we’ve gotta be very careful not to fall into that trap to start using the tools that the world is using against us.

Kirsten: I agree; I agree and what was interesting when I interviewed Tish Warren at Vanderbilt, she … she said, wow, it was an absolutely horrific experience of what they went through, you know, being derecognized. The faith of the students—

Jim: Was stronger.

Kirsten: –was flourishing.

Jim: Yeah.

Kirsten: You know, you have to remember that I’m not saying we want this to happen and I

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