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Interview with Rob Schwarzwalder – Part 1

What is preventing younger Christians from participating actively in public life? Listen in as I talk with Rob Schwarzwalder about the social and culture “wars” currently dominating our society today.

About Rob Schwarzwalder

Rob Schwarzwalder serves as Senior Vice President for the Family Research Council. He oversees the Policy Department, including the Marriage and Religion Research Institute (MARRI).

Rob spent many years on Capitol Hill as Chief of Staff for two Members of Congress and as a press secretary in both the House and Senate. The Senator and Congressmen for whom he worked held seats on the Senate and House Armed Services committees; the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions committee; and the House Oversight and Government Reform, Natural Resources, Science, Small Business, and Transportation and Infrastructure committees.

From 1997 – 2001, Rob was director of communications and senior writer at the National Association of Manufacturers. In 2001, President George W. Bush appointed Rob to be senior speechwriter at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, where he crafted language relating to all facets of the President’s health care agenda.


EASLEY: Paul wrote the Roman believer in Chapter 13, Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist are established by God. It’s interesting that we have this ongoing collision between so called politics and religion. It seems to have existed from the founding of our nation in the attempt to separate these concepts and yet for the life of the Christian, he or she, we’re to live in a context as believers under the Word of God, yet the law of man. I know of no better person to turn to on these issues than Rob Schwarzwalder. He’s been a friend for nearly twenty years now. Rob is the Senior Vice President of the Family Research Council. In 2001, Rob was appointed by President George W. Bush, to be a Senior Speechwriter at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. You can find out a lot more about Rob on our website, but I’d like to introduce you to him as a friend, a policy writer, and just a great all around guy.

Rob, it is so good to have you on inContext today. Thanks for giving us some time.

SCHWARZWALDER: Oh, it’s my pleasure. Thanks for having me.

E: How are things in the nation’s Capitol?

S: Well things are collapsing, so Family Research Council’s business is very good. There’s always a lot going on. Government is huge. The world affairs that we deal with are highly debated so there’s always stuff.

E: There’s always stuff. You and I have talked as friends over the years about this and I’m curious as to how your thinking has changed on a number of questions.
Why do you find such a malaise and an indifference among younger believers when it comes to politics, the whole notion of voting in a republic, and or democratic process? Why do you think there’s such indifference?

S: A couple of reasons. One of them is that a lot of people who have been involved in politics over the years, went in with expectations that are unrealistically high. They thought if we only elect the right people; if we only pass the right legislation, then we can suddenly transform the culture. Their children and grandchildren were to some extent raised in that milu. Well, here we are forty years after Roe vs Wade and we’ve made substantial progress, but abortion, elective abortion, is still the law of the land. I think that there’s a malaise or an apathy among many younger evangelicals because they think we’ve been in the culture wars for years and we haven’t seen the dramatic change that we were promised.

A second reason has to do with the nature of the family. Right now only forty six percent of young people reach the age of seventeen or eighteen in a two parent home. In the African American community it’s only seventeen percent.

E: Seventeen percent, and the ages?

S: Seventeen to eighteen.

E: Seventeen to eighteen!

S: This is subjective and I don’t have data to prove this but, my hunch is a lot of younger people who have been raised with nothing but conflict are pretty sick of it. When they immerge into adulthood they don’t want to fight anymore; they want to get along; they want to be friends; they’re tired of being oppositional.

They’re facing opposition at a very personal level and that really leads into the third point which is: many of our younger people, evangelical younger people have been exposed to people in lifestyles and to social things that many of us old guys didn’t really encounter when we were young. They have good friends who are gays and lesbians; they have peers who are cohabiting and having children; they are experiencing a different element of social life than their parents did, and as a result it’s easier for someone like me to say the only kind of sexually appropriate behaviour exists within marriage between one man and one woman. I can say that Biblically I can make a strong theological case and I should, but if you’re a twenty one year old and you come from a broken home and suddenly someone is offering you affection, it’s very hard to take a principled stand. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. It does mean that you might feel a little bit apathetic about standing as strongly as you should for truth. So those, I think, are some of the things that are preventing younger evangelicals, at least as many of them as there has been in the past from participating actively in public.

E: You raised a host of issues. Let’s try to take them one at a time. First of all, you and I use the term moral relativism a lot. The sanctity of life is less important than a sustainable environment, than the environment, than whatever else, international justice,social justice. How do we begin without sounding like old guys to bring that conversation to the table where we can express life conception is not a minor deal? This isn’t your father’s oldsmobile; this is the image of God.

S: That’s a huge question and you know there’s a prominent conference every Christmas where ten to 12 thousand young evangelicals come from across the country. I can’t recall the name of it offhand, but they deal with human trafficking and poverty. Recently, they were challenged by John Piper, who said, “These are issues that socially and culturally have no opposition. Virtually, no one supports human slavery; no one supports slavery sex trafficking; no one supports a child being hungry.” None of us should and we should all fight against those things. But Piper made the point, “We have to go beyond that and ask ourselves, “Why are we impassioned by these issues when in fact three thousand unborn children every day are aborted in the United States and we shrug our shoulders.” In other words, I think that there’s a human tendency to gravitate towards the things that are non controversial in terms of their social cache. There’s no one in his right mind who would say that a girl who was sold into sexual slavery should not be rescued. That’s beyond question, beyond dispute. Regrettably, there’s a huge debate in our society about the sanctity of unborn life and many younger evangelicals because they’re tired of fighting; they’re tired of the opposition. One prominent evangelical writer, Rachel Held Evans wrote a few months ago, “I’m tired of the culture wars.” We can sit back and say, “Well you shouldn’t be.” But she is tired of it and I think her attitude represents that of a lot of younger people and what we need to do in my view at least, is come alongside of them in two ways: Number one: As friends, as mentors, people who listen to them, who are in dialogue with them, who ask a lot of questions, in other words we need to build relationships. Also there needs to be theological instruction and you and I have talked a lot about this over the years, the lack of strong expositional teaching from the Word of God, from our Sunday School classes, from our pulpits, from our conferences, a lot of the things that young people grew up hearing are basically Dr. Phil with a Bible verse thrown in. That’s not enough and if you want them to take strong moral stands on issues like abortion, or same sex marriage, we have to provide them with the theological tools, the Biblical knowledge necessary to enable them to articulate what it is they believe, why they believe it, and why it’s important.

E: Let’s take same sex marriage. When we think of the social power behind that phrase, when we think of identity, whereas one of my four kids coming home from college one semester is saying, “Well Dad, we’re made that way. We’re either made gay, or we’re not.” That is the baseline for education in most schools today. So my identity is now a sexual orientation, not my identity in Christ, or my identity in some other issue. So the playing field is much flatter today and if you or I stand up and say, “God meant for a heterosexual monogamous relationship,” we can say it theologically correct; we can expositionally well, it doesn’t matter.

S: I think that that’s a very valid point. The articulation of truth concerning these difficult issues has to be beyond just a propositional statement. I mean I could sit here and I could say, “Well Captain, the boat we’re in is sinking,” and the Captain could say, “ As a matter of fact that’s right. Now should we go have lunch?” I propositionally made a statement that is accurate; no action has been taken, nor have I explained the significance of it. To a lot of younger people, and you used an excellent analogy, you look at the issue of same sex marriage, same sex relationships, and they have been told that this is a biogenetic thing, that it’s natural, that it’s the way a person is, the way he’s born, and it seems awfully cruel to come along and say well you can’t fulfill sexually the desire that you have naturally. We need to take a step back from that and say, “Why does God only call for monogamous heterosexual relationships in marriage?” Frankly, I don’t think a lot of us, and I to refer to older evangelicals who are in the public sphere who teach and who preach; a lot of us have probably never really thought about that because to us it’s so obviously wrong. Instead of going back to maybe what some would call the first principles, is in fact sexual identity immutable? Is it something that has anything to do with character? Colin Powell years ago said that, “Race and sexual identity are not analogous because race is a benign and immutable characteristic.” It has nothing to do with character and it cannot be changed, whereas homosexual conduct is an intrinsically moral decision. Anything sexual of a sexually intimate nature, is intrinsically moral. We need to make those kinds of arguments and explain why God’s plan is for the good. The other thing though is, I don’t think we can say this often enough. When we say “no” to someone because of a sin that they’re engaged in, we are not rejecting that person, even though it might sound that way. The most gracious man who ever lived is our Lord Jesus Christ and He was crucified. He was a friend of sinners; they hated Him. He said, “If they hate me, they’ll hate you.” Take a stand for the truth. We have to be willing to be misunderstood; we have to be willing to be disliked, and I think for many younger people, for all of us really, but for many younger people, raised in broken homes, in broken cultures, broken schools, that’s really hard to do.

E: Again, so let’s go back to a point. We have to find the right language in the way and even the way you just articulated it, Rob. It’s brilliant, but I’ve got to reduce that down to a lingua franca for a millennial.

S: I wish I had a good solid answer for that. I can tell you that at the Family Research Council we’ve been involved for about three years in addressing issues, how younger people communicate differently, think differently, value things differently, and we’re still trying to think that through. I don’t think there’s any substitute for relationship. I think you and I could both point to myriad examples in Scripture where older men have come alongside younger men, older women alongside younger women, and mentored them, discipled them. Your great mentor, Howard Hendricks, was one of the fathers, maybe the Father of the Modern Mentoring Movement. There’s no substitute for sitting down with some eighteen year olds at a coffee shop and saying, “So, you don’t believe in Jesus or if you do, you have a very… Tell me about that and just listen, engage him, and be prepared to be frustrated maybe for a few hours only over  an extended period of time because you’re thinking all the time, “That’s wrong. That’s wrong. I want to tell him the truth.” What he needs is somebody to affirm that he’s important by virtue of listening to him. I think for many of our evangelical people, whether individually or in small groups, we need to take a step back and say, “You know, I could give you a truth serum for the next five fours. I could talk nonstop about what’s true, moral, honorable, good, but it’s going to bounce off you like a BB unless I hear what you’re thinking, why you’re rejecting it, how you’re integrating it and so forth. “

E: Someone told me, five or six years ago that the current generation worships dialogue and you stated it earlier, we were more propositional. If it’s true, you learn the true answer, you write it down, you pass the test and life was built on the presumption that there are truths, there are foundations. It can’t be true for Rob and not true for Michael. It’s either true or not and that doesn’t translate across the decade.

S: That’s absolutely right, in fact, I wrote something a few days ago and one of the responses I got from a respondent on the web was, “This is your truth.” Immediately, I thought exactly what you just said, Michael. Truth is truth. It’s either right or wrong; it’s either accurate or not. How can you say when I make all of these statements that are declarative, propositional, definite,  and I’m not asking you to agree with them, but you can’t just say, “Well they’re your truths.” They’re true or they’re not, and yet in the morally, relativistic age, the age of Postmodernism, the age where if you proclaim something as absolutely right or wrong, you’re seen as being harsh or cruel. We have to get past that and go underneath it and we have to get back to developing the relationships that build trust and to give us a platform whereby we can make those propositional claims that we’re used to making.

E: You have recently been involved for many years with the Boy Scouts. Two of your sons have gone through the scouting program and you took a very unpopular position to speak out against the Boy Scouts decisions. Bring us up to date and for those that don’t know about that.

S: A year ago in January, the Boy Scouts issued a tentative policy that they would allow open homosexuals to serve in the Boy Scouts. There would be no change in behavioral requirements in terms of moral conduct, sexual conduct, but if someone professed to be homosexual, he or she then could serve openly as a leader or as a student participant. That produced a firestorm and over the next couple of months they redefined that and they came back with a counter proposal saying, “Well, what we’ll do is we’ll allow any boy who wants to affirm that he is gay to remain in the Scouts and as long as he doesn’t act out on it.” Well, the reason that many of us opposed it was not because we hate homosexuals, not because we fear homosexuals, it’s for several reasons. One of them is young boys are impressionable and when they’re around older boys who model a certain lifestyle, even if they don’t actively participate in it, they’re going to be swayed by that. As Christians, we believe there is a certain moral code and believe that it’s the Bible’s moral code and so we can’t just treat human sexuality as though it’s the difference between coke and pepsi. It’s something far more profound than that. Second, I did a review of over nineteen hundred case file summaries that the Los Angeles Times published. Of nineteen hundred and thirty two case files, roughly nineteen hundred and twenty of them. I’m sorry I should have backed up. I did a review of nineteen hundred and thirty two, what the Boy Scouts themselves called perversion files that were published by the LA Times and they were case summaries. In reading thru these summaries, and these had to do with predation within the Boy Scouts over a roughly twenty year period, of the nineteen hundred and thirty two incidents, roughly nineteen hundred and fifteen were homosexual, man and boy, or older boy and younger boy. I want to be as clear as I can. Is every homosexual a predator? No!  Are most homosexuals horrified by child molestation? Yes! Are the homosexauls as a movement trying to enter the Boy Scouts to recruit or to prey upon boys? No! But individual homosexuals have gravitated to the Boy Scout because as one author wrote, “That’s where the boys are.” That’s a very hard thing to say; it’s factually true. I talk to many younger scouts and even older scouts who said, “I wouldn’t want to be in a tent with a boy who’s sexually attracted to me.” On top of all of that, the Boy Scouts historically was founded along Judeo-Christian principles. If you look for example in Boys Life Magazine, every month there’s still a Bible story at the back of Boy’s Life. Now, they’ve said, “Well, we’re secular and we believe, but we believe in God, and you can define God however you want to.” They explicitly say that. They put up this arbitrary eighteen year old limit saying, “You can proclaim your gay or lesbian until you’re eighteen and remain in the Scouts. The moment you hit eighteen, you’re out.” Well, that’s arbitrary; it removes them from the protection of the law because already there are lawsuits planned. The first openly gay Eagle Scout, a young man here in Maryland actually, said that, “As soon as he hits eighteen, he’s going to sue the policy .” They now have no legal basis to stand on to prevent open homosexuality in the Scouts. If Scouting cannot say, “Certain things are right and certain things are wrong,” then the Scout oath and the Scout promise are meaningless because they talk about things like honor,morally straight, and all the great virtues that we esteem. You can’t have two boys standing next to each other, one meaning one thing by those affirmations, and the other one meaning something fundamentally different. They just become words. Either they have subjective, important, valid meanings or they don’t. So, a bunch of us got together and went to the National Boy Scouts Convention and sadly, our side did not win. We founded a new group called Trail Life USA, which we now believe has somewhere between thirty and forty thousand boys already involved and we’re very active in trying to raise up a new generation of young men who are grounded in firm Judeo-Christian principles and around men, their dads, and other men who model Biblical morality. So, it’s an exciting new venture and we believe that the Lord is going to honor that.

E: Rob, you and I both come out of an evangelical church background, generally speaking, evangelical, fundamental, Bible teaching church. Evangelicalism today is a loaded term. It’s parsed out a lot of ways and the voting and demographic is much different than it was say, two decades ago. Talk to that a little bit.

S: I think that’s exactly right. The evangelical community is not a monolith. That applies not only along racial lines where many African American evangelicals tend to vote very differently than White evangelicals, but also Latino evangelicals who are a very divided voting block. Both political parties see this and they want to make inroads into populations or sectors that they would like to accrue for their political support, but it goes beyond politics. You and I have both observed in the last few years a number of prominent evangelical leaders who have been touted with their books and conferences. One of them came out and recently denied the existence of hell; others have fallen morally; others have said, “Well you know pretty much all issues are created equal,” or “I’m not going to worry about the slaughter of the unborn, I’m just going to fight global climate change.” These are things that have created enormous rifts, not just politically, but sociologically, and more importantly theologically within the evangelical community. In my view, one of the things that we have to do is come to a deep commitment to understanding the essential truths of the Word the God, which is one of the things, Michael, that I was so blessed by when you were my pastor teaching Sunday after Sunday. We don’t need to have five ways to do this, and ten ways to do that, and all of that. We need to know Christ, and the body of Christ it seems to me is fragmented in part because many of us and sometimes I’m in this category, it’s almost as though we think we’re doing God a favor by following Him. For example, “Oh, I’ve had such a hard life. Oh, this and that, but I’m still believing.” Well that’s great. Keep believing. Keep being faithful, but remember you were bought with a price. This isn’t about you fundamentally, it’s about living for Christ, living for His Kingdom, living to advance the gospel, and I think if we got our focus more on Him, more on His work, and less on our needs, wants, desires, feelings, I think there would be greater unity in the body of Christ.

E: It’s so hard because of, even the notion of the Millennium phrase, pejoratively me being the prefix. I think was it Sapphire who wrote the piece about, sort of a scathing piece, about what it all entailed and yet you and I had our issues with our dads. Every generation reacts and overreacts typically to their parents ideologies, much less Christianity.

All that you said is beautiful! Take it down a few more notches for me, Rob. How do we as parents, as neighbors, as friends, as church, as people that go to church, not even church leaders but just folks that go to church, how do we embrace a community that is this confused and divided? And in some of these things we’ll never have that “Judeo Christian” community that we all pine for, right? I mean this is a brave new world and yet Christ teaches us to be in the world, but not of it.

S: I think in terms of evangelism and reaching people and people in our cul de sacs, and people in our apartment buildings, and so forth, when I was first married and like you, I’ve been married over thirty years and been very blessed with a great life partner, my wife Valerie, somebody told me early on in my marriage that the greatest gift I could ever give my wife is my time. That has been invaluable for me over the years. I think it’s transferrable to the way we relate to our culture, to our neighbors, to our colleagues at work, just generally across the board; if you want to influence someone’s life for Christ, you have to be able to spend some time with them and extend to them an amount of time over a long period of time. Does that mean you’re going to have to say, “No,” to certain activities or things that you may really enjoy, or things you might find really profitable? It probably does. It also means though, that you’re going to have to prioritize certain relationships so that you’re winning those people to Christ, if not immediately then ultimately. I also think too, part of what we see among younger evangelicals and this comes back to something you asked me initially. Some of it is simply a feeling of the oats. I deal with ten to fifteen interns every term here at Family Research Council. I talk to them all and we go out for coffee and often times what they’re dealing with particularly at their colleges and universities, is just trying to figure out why they believe what they’ve been told they should believe. Some of that, you and I went through, and it’s perfectly legitimate; they’re internalizing their faith; they’re making it their own, and I think for some crabby old men and I include myself in this category, we need to be patient. We shouldn’t have expectations for younger people that others didn’t have for us and that they graciously gave us freedom to work through our own questions and issues. It really comes down to the heart, I think. If a young person’s heart for God and for people is where it should be, He will direct their paths. That’s where I think we need to focus a lot more of our attention.

E: Rob Schwarzwalder, the Senior Vice President at Family Research Council. It’s been a privilege to have you on the broadcast, Rob. My best to Val. Thanks my friend. Keep on fighting the good fight.

S: It’s a joy, Michael. Thanks for your and for Cindy and for all that you do.

E: Again, thanks for listening to the broadcast. You can find more information at Michaelincontext.com. Thanks for joining us. This is Michael Easley inContext.

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