Phil Vischer: Life After Veggie Tales
Phil Vischer: Hey there. I'm Phil Vischer and I choose Truth over Tribe. I hope you do, too.
Keith Simon: Are you tired of tribalism?
Speaker 5: I think a lot of what the left supports is satanic.
Speaker 6: The only time religious freedom is invoked is in the name of bigotry and discrimination.
Keith Simon: Are you exhausted by the culture war?
Donald Trump: If they don't like it here, they can leave.
Speaker 8: You could put half of Trump supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables.
Keith Simon: Are you suspicious of those who say Jesus endorses their political party?
Speaker 9: Is it possible to be a good Christian and also be a member of the Republican party? The answer is absolutely not.
Speaker 10: From certainly a biblical standpoint, Christians could not vote democratic.
Patrick Miller: We trust the lamb, not the donkey or the elephant. This is the podcast that's too liberal for conservatives and too conservative for liberals. I'm Patrick Miller.
Keith Simon: I'm Keith Simon. We choose Truth over Tribe. Do you?
Patrick Miller: Phil Vischer is in your home. No, he's not a creeper, he's the Veggie Tale creator, but he's had a new gig for the past few years. Instead of creating family entertainment, he's using his innumerable talents to create the Holy Post. That's a podcast where he talks politics and culture, especially as it relates to the Christian Church. That means Phil talks about a lot of controversial topics. He's willing to challenge Christians, but he's so transparent about his own personal failures that even when you disagree with him, you can't help but still like him and respect him. But my question is, how did the guy who developed Veggie Tales, the iconic Christian family entertainment of the'90s and 2000s start challenging Christians to give their loyalty to Jesus and not politicians? Let's ask him. Phil Vischer, welcome to Truth over Tribe.
Phil Vischer: Thanks for having me. Glad I can be here.
Patrick Miller: My kids grew up watching Veggie Tales. I guess you hear this all the time, but I just want to say from one family to another, thank you for all that you did for our family. I have to admit that when my kids were in that stage of life, they're much older now, I was in seminary up in Chicago, life was a blur. I don't know if this is a compliment to you or an insult, I don't mean it that way, but I knew Larry, Bob, and Junior, but I had no idea who Phil Vischer was.
Phil Vischer: Yes, because you weren't watching the DVD bonus features or you would've gotten to know me quite well.
Patrick Miller: But years later, I hear about this podcast called the Holy Post and I'm like," What's that about?" They go," Phil Vischer does it." I'm like," Who's that?"
Phil Vischer: Who's that guy?
Patrick Miller: Oh, he's the Veggie Tale guy. I'm like," Oh, that guy." Do you get that all the time, that people see you and your life through the Veggie Tale lens? Or, is that so far in the past?
Phil Vischer: Of course. People know you for what you are most known for. Since that's what I'm most known for, it's like," You used to play football for the Rams." Yes, well I've done a lot of things since then. Well, yes, but you used to play football for the Rams. Well, yes.
Patrick Miller: Mike Tyson's always going to be a boxer no matter what he does afterwards, right?
Phil Vischer: Yes, and I'm always going to be a vegetable. It's similar but different.
Patrick Miller: One of the things that I loved about your book," Me, Myself and Bob" is that you were really transparent and humble in that book. You were saying that the Veggie Tale idea, it wasn't just a hobby, it wasn't a job, it was the way you were going to serve God. All of that kind of fell apart eventually, but where did that dream come from?
Phil Vischer: Well, I grew up in a high functioning Christian ministry family. My great- grandfather was the first non- denominational radio preacher in America who went on the radio in 1923 and preached every Sunday morning until 1964 when he died. He started a Bible and missionary conference, I was there every year. One of my great uncles was the first White person to enter a whole section of Irian Jaya, bringing the gospel to cannibals, actual cannibals.
Patrick Miller: I feel like I'm reading Hebrews- 11 right now.
Phil Vischer: My grandparents were friends with A. W. Tozer and Billy Graham. My mom remembers, at eight years old, sitting on the couch in her grandpa's house... on the couch in- between Bob Jones Jr and Bob Jones Sr sitting on either side of her when she was eight.
Patrick Miller: Really? That had to be was scary and scarring. Was it?
Phil Vischer: For an eight year old, well, it was probably weird. But, she didn't really know what she was sitting next to. That's my family heritage. I kind of grew up thinking," Well, what am I going to do? What's my big thing going to be for God?" That's kind of how you got praise in our family was you did something big for God. I didn't want to go to Irian Jaya. I was a shy kid. I liked playing with Super 8 millimeter cameras and puppets in the basement. I didn't really see how that translated well into jungle ministry. When MTV turned on, I was a sophomore in high school and I remember watching all these experimental really fun music videos that people were starting to make using this new art form. Then also, noticing the value messages in the videos and thinking," This is fantastic artistically and creatively. I love what these filmmakers are doing, in terms of what the value is being communicated to young Americans are. I'm very concerned about this. I wonder if maybe that's my big thing, if that's what I'm supposed to do is use technology to promote Sunday school messages instead of the world's messages."
Patrick Miller: How many Christian ministries are inspired by MTV? Probably not many.
Phil Vischer: At least a couple. I'm going to assume... I don't know.
Patrick Miller: But yours was, at least in part, or you got a vision for how you could use that technology to share a different message. Of course, that took off and you saw a lot of success. I think a lot of families like mine out there really benefited from those stories. It all kind of fell apart. If you want to know more about the story, you can read the book where you're super transparent. It's called," Me, Myself and Bob." It's worth a read, that's for sure.
Phil Vischer: It's funny, too. It's not just," Oh no, look what happened to his ministry. That's too bad."
Patrick Miller: It's a great read. I really liked it. But in that book, you speculate that God gives people dreams and then takes them away to see if they really wanted God or if they just wanted what God would give them. When your dream got taken away, you say you asked this question, what kind of God would stand back and watch a dream, a good dream for ministry and impact, fall apart? How do you answer your own question?
Phil Vischer: I answer it by looking back at my life and recognizing how miserable I had become chasing that dream. I was convinced that I was going to be the Christian Walt Disney, that was my dream. I'm going to be the Christian Walt Disney, I'm going to build theme parks and hotels. I'm going to save the world's children from the evils of Hollywood, it is my destiny. When it actually starts working, well, this is clearly God working so I need to not mess this up, I need to work even harder. I need to work harder and I need to worry a lot that I'm going to mess this up.
Patrick Miller: That always helps.
Phil Vischer: Yes, that always helps. God has given me this amazing vehicle and I'm in the driver's seat for whatever the reason. The worst thing I could possibly do is drive it off the road into a ditch, and how disappointed my grandparents would be, how disappointed God would be, everyone would be worse off if I messed this up. I put myself under so much stress that I ended up in the hospital with pericarditis, a viral infection in the lining of your heart. I got shingles at the age 30 from stress. After it fell apart, I looked back and realized that God let it die not because he didn't love me, but because he loved me so much and wanted to save me from myself. He never called me to be Walt Disney, he called me to be Phil, to be a child of God. But, I was too impatient. We're often too impatient to figure out who God made us to be so we picked someone else and say," I'm going to be the next fill in the blank." My wife wanted to be the next Sandi Patty. I wanted to be the next Walt Disney or you want to be the next Rick Warren or you want to be the next Bill Hybels or you want to be the next... no. Who does God want me to be? God wants me to be Phil and I have to shut up, slow down, and sit still long enough for him to show me who that is.
Patrick Miller: Well, it's interesting because I think my kids learned from Veggie Tales that you're special, God made you special.
Phil Vischer: Yes, so hurry up and be someone else.
Patrick Miller: Maybe you needed to listen to the end of Veggie Tales because it had an awesome ending.
Phil Vischer: But, I was so special because I'd been picked by God to be the next Walt Disney. I think that's probably what I would've said at the time. That's really special to be the next Walt Disney.
Patrick Miller: That's fair. One last thing about that time of your life is that you say that there was a woman who would anonymously send you letters. They were very complimentary letters, but she would always include in them a warning about your pride. I couldn't tell if she saw your pride or if she was just warning you like that was on the horizon, anybody would fall into the temptation of pride. Did you ever figure out who that was?
Phil Vischer: No.
Patrick Miller: You still don't know?
Phil Vischer: No.
Patrick Miller: Does she still send you letters?
Phil Vischer: No. It was for about probably a two year period.
Patrick Miller: I think it was your wife.
Phil Vischer: It might have been my wife, or my mother. It was probably my mother. Every month, every other month... I'm glad things are going so well for you, but be careful of your pride. I just thought," Well, this is kind of rude. This is very presumptuous because obviously I don't have a pride issue. I don't think I'm doing a good job. I think I'm going to mess this all up. I'm worried all the time." No, but my pride issue was making my work all about me and my self identity. I was more focused on my work than I was on my savior. Even if your work is for your savior, if you're more focused on the work than your relationship with God, you're headed for trouble. You're going to hurt yourself and you're going to hurt the people that are following you.
Patrick Miller: It's hard to hear that even people involved in Christian ministry doing good things for God can let those ministries become idols in their life. It's hard to understand how that could possibly happen, but as a pastor, I completely get how it can happen. It's probably happening in my life more than I would care to admit. Veggie Tales comes to a close, you open a new chapter in your life with the Holy Post. It's a podcast, but it's more than a podcast, it's a ministry I think is fair to call it. You do that with Skye Jethani and then, either Christian or Kaitlyn are on. I can never figure out, how do you decide who's on, Christian or Kaitlyn?
Phil Vischer: We're alternating right now. We started out... it was just Skye and I. It started out because I thought," Maybe I should be Steven Colbert and do a little talk show. Would that be hard to do, a TV talk show? My friend Christian who's a producer said," Let's do a pilot." She put together... we figured out how to do a pilot. It was a nightmare. We wanted a live studio audience. It was like," That's a nightmare. Where do you get one of those?" We did a pilot and it didn't really go anywhere. But we thought," Well, we've pulled all this together. Why don't we do a podcast because that's way easier?"
Patrick Miller: Way easier.
Phil Vischer: The TV talk show lasted one episode, the podcast is on 477 as of this week. My friend Skye, who at that time was the editor of Leadership journal at Christianity Today and also went to church with me... really bright guy and has a seminary degree so he can keep me from being heretical. He came in to be the co- host. Then, Christian sat in just as the producer to be a third voice. Then, we bumped into Kaitlyn Schiess who's a young author. She just graduated from seminary and already has her first book published on politics and theology.
Patrick Miller: I read it. It's a great book.
Phil Vischer: Great book." The Liturgy of Politics" is Kaitlyn's book. We said,"Let's..." We want younger people too because Christian and I are both the same age, we're getting old. Skye's a little younger, he's like 10 years younger, but he's still getting old. We need fresh blood so now we're rotating Kaitlyn into it. It's a lot of fun.
Patrick Miller: Then, there's Jason I think, is that his name? He's the producer.
Phil Vischer: Jason edits.
Patrick Miller: The only thing I know about him is that he likes cinnamon rolls, or something about Jason and cinnamon rolls.
Phil Vischer: Yes. Jason is an advocate for cinnamon roll consumption. He edits the show, so he just sits in. He also makes a good laugh track because he's easy to amuse and we like that.
Patrick Miller: In this podcast, if you haven't listened to it you should, you guys talk about a lot of fun things. It's funny, it's light, but then you kind of turn towards serious issues in the course of it. When you turn to serious issues, of the ones that I've listened to, I would say that you are doing commentary on cultural and political issues, especially as they relate to the evangelical church. Does that seem fair? Is that a good description?
Phil Vischer: We are trying to help Christians live Christianly in an increasingly post- Christian culture and in an evangelical church that is very often co- opted by culture, whether it's politics, race, all these issues where they seep into the church and you don't even notice. Here's what motivates us, There are a million kids, some of them were raised on Veggie Tales and they're now 20, 24, 25, young adults. They're standing at the back of their church, they're standing at the back door with one foot in and one foot out just saying, "Give me one good reason not to leave, just give me one good reason not to leave." That's who we want to have the conversation with to say, "Wait, before you go, just give us... let's talk about this. What's frustrating you? What do you see in the church that you find hypocritical? What do you see in the culture that you find more like Jesus than what you see in the church? Let's bring those things out in the open and talk about them so at the very least, you know you're not the only one having this issue." There is a community of people at the back door of the church saying, "Just tell me why not to leave." When we can find community among those people, you find a reason to stay and work to make it better, and that's really what it's all about.
Patrick Miller: When I listen to you, I get the impression that you are trying to create a safe space to critique the church, to look at the church and say," The church has made some mistakes. Sometimes they're small, sometimes they've been really big. Sometimes they've hurt a lot of people and done a lot of damage and hurt the reputation of Christ." I get the impression that you're a bit uncomfortable with your fellow Christians, with your fellow evangelicals. If that's fair, and I'm pretty sure it is but you can push back if you want, but the question I really want to ask you is how does the creator of the most iconic Christian family entertainment become the guy who is uncomfortable being a part of the evangelical church? How does that happen?
Phil Vischer: I don't know that I would describe myself as being uncomfortable being part of the evangelical church because I feel comfortable critiquing my own tribe. When you don't feel that it's okay to critique your own tribe, then you get really uncomfortable and you get uncomfortable with people who do think it's okay to critique your own tribe. We have people saying," Well, why aren't you criticizing the Catholic church? Why aren't you criticizing the Greek Orthodox church?" It's like,"Well, that's not my church." I know my own community. I love my own community. I want to improve my own community. I feel very comfortable saying, "Let's look at our own dirty laundry. Let's look at the skeletons in our own closet around issues like race, politics, and culture. Then, let's help our own community have those hard conversations so we can improve our own community." I'm very comfortable doing that.
Patrick Miller: That's fair. I completely think it's legitimate to critique our own tribe, and that's one of the problems we have in our broader culture is that people don't want to say difficult things. It's not heroic, it's not brave to say things that your tribe applauds but hurts other people. It's heroic and brave to say things that are hard to people you like and are your friends and are on your team, whether it's a theological team or a cultural team or a political team. That's really what bravery is. You and I are roughly the same age. We both grew up in the Midwest, you in Iowa, me in Missouri. One big thing that's a difference between us is I didn't grow up in a Christian home and didn't become a Christian until a little bit later in college. You grew up, as you already told us, in a very devout home. I think that has shaped your thoughts about evangelicalism and your own tribe. Do you see that the way that you were raised has made a difference in your views today?
Phil Vischer: Undoubtedly. It's where I start from, so my starting place is knee- deep in evangelical tradition.
Patrick Miller: But a certain kind, right? I mean a fundamentalist kind.
Phil Vischer: Upper Midwestern. I moved to the Wheaton area when I was still in middle school. From middle school on, there was more fundamentalism in my great grandparents and grandparents. My great grandparents were right around the time of the fundamentalist modernist controversy, so the split in Christianity in North America. They fell squarely on the fundamentalist side because either that or you were giving up on the deity of Christ and all sorts of things, and you certainly didn't want to do that. But then by the time of my grandparents, this also included you don't see movies, you don't play cards, you don't swim on Sundays, so we were really stacking up the rules to show that we were different. The Israelites had all of their rules to show how they were set apart from the rest of the nations, and fundamentalists had their rules to show... don't drink, don't smoke, don't chew, don't go with girls that do. That's my upbringing. But because we moved to Wheaton, and Wheaton is the center of Neo- evangelicalism, which was the Billy Graham, Harold Ockenga, Carl Henry movement that was partly a reaction to Southern fundamentalism. I have a very interesting split where I really grew up intellectually in Northern Neo- evangelicalism, even though some of my heritage traces closer to Southern fundamentalism, although we were never southerners, which helps because you didn't have quite the racism issues in Northern fundamentalism.
Patrick Miller: I think it makes a difference that you grew up in a devout home, but a certain kind of devout home with lots of rules. No alcohol, no movies, no television.
Phil Vischer: But, those weren't my rules. Those were my grandparents rules and great grandparents rules, and they didn't raise me. My dad walked out when I was nine, my mom became a single parent. We were living for a couple years below the poverty line in Iowa before moving to Illinois, and she eventually remarried. A lot of that tradition just kind of got blown up by the chaos of my eight to 10 year old years where our family just fell apart. When it came back together, it came back together as a new family kind of in the context of more free thinking Northern evangelicalism because we live a stones throw from Wheaton College and there were Wheaton College professors in my church and leading my youth group. The really tight rigidity of fundamentalism started falling away in mid childhood.
Patrick Miller: That makes sense. I appreciate the explanation there.
Phil Vischer: It's a nuance.
Patrick Miller: No, it is. But, it's an important nuance because I think that the fact that I didn't become a Christian until I was later in life as a college student, I didn't have that baggage. Now, I probably had a different set of baggage that I had to carry around, unpack, and sort through. I get it. We all do. But, your particular form of baggage of your mom sitting between Bob Jones and Bob Jones Jr. I mean that kind of upbringing, whether it's directly or not told to you," You can't do this or that," it shapes the culture that you grow up in. I think it probably shapes your view of fundamentalism and a certain kind of evangelicalism that you don't like because you're pushing back against that fundamentalist side of your upbringing.
Phil Vischer: But, what makes me probably a little bit different and maybe a little bit unexpected to be in this role is that my personality type is I like to follow of the rules. I am not a rebel. I hated getting in trouble as a kid. I didn't want to get in trouble at church. I didn't want to get in trouble at school. I never got in trouble at high school.
Patrick Miller: What changed? You're in trouble now all the time.
Phil Vischer: I'm in trouble now all the time. What changed is these aren't rules. I enjoy learning things. I enjoy filling in holes. I'm a head type, I'm intellectually wired. I feel closest to God when I'm learning. I enjoy trying to figure out how did the church get to where it is right now in this moment in history, what happened? Then, when I learn that and I learned something new, it's like," I want to tell everybody about this. I want to share this with everybody." I started doing that, and we've gotten into trouble in lots of issues. But, when you realize that some people have their position and their position is a deep source of emotional security that I've figured this out and I'm on the right side of this issue. It could be women in ministry. It could be how old is the earth and does Genesis- 1 tell us how old the earth is? Or it could be, has the White conservative church in America been a force against racism or a force for racism? A lot of people have so much emotionally invested in what they believed to be true while they were growing up that to say," Hey, new information that we might need to rethink. We weren't as great on the race question as you might have thought."
Patrick Miller: Everybody wants to appeal to Wilberforce and while that's true, he did do a lot, there's a few years in- between that they tend to skip over.
Phil Vischer: But, being a Northern evangelical, I would cling to Billy Graham and say," Billy Graham made them take down the ropes that segregated his crusade. He was on the right side of history." But then, you have to dive into it and realize he also told Martin Luther king Jr. to put on the brakes when he started marching, it's like," Oh no. Oh, rats." It's good to know. I guess that's probably my motto in life, it is good to know.
Patrick Miller: If you're like me and you leave each episode with a lot to think about and wishing you could go just a little bit deeper, you should subscribe to the Truth over Tribe newsletter. Not only do we explore the topic further, but we also interact with people who disagree with us and tell you about upcoming episodes. Just go to choosetruthovertribe. com and sign up for the newsletter there. You are obviously a smart guy. You like to learn, you're witty, you're fun, you're super talented.
Phil Vischer: Why, thank you.
Patrick Miller: Little man crush, but really I don't. But, it seems like you use those talents. One way you enjoy employing them is to needle conservatives or to lampoon sacred cows of the Christian right. I don't mean Bible believing, Jesus loving evangelicals, I mean Christians who have blended their politics and their faith together. You enjoy popping those balloons.
Phil Vischer: Enjoy might be a strong word. Skye enjoys it.
Patrick Miller: Skye enjoys it, but you're just dragged along? I don't know.
Phil Vischer: No, Skye enjoys it. I think it's important that we point out things like not every biblical belief is encapsulated by the Republican party platform and not every satanic position is encapsulated by the democratic party platform. You can find biblical positions in both platforms. Boy, that's hard for some people to hear because of the way we've been talking for the last 40 years in the conservative church in America. Now, I am just old enough to remember that the year of the evangelical, according to Newsweek Magazine, was the year where we all voted a Democrat into the White House, Jimmy Carter. I'm just barely old enough to remember that it's changed.
Patrick Miller: Like I said, I'm roughly the same age you are. In 1976, the year of the evangelical, Jimmy Carter gets 49% of the evangelical vote and that's the last time we have anything near those numbers. Starting with Reagan forward, the percentages of evangelicals that voted Republican were 75% and north of that, which brings us to our former president, President Trump.
Phil Vischer: Not familiar with him.
Patrick Miller: I pick out that you're pretty disappointed with the evangelical church for churning out in so much support of president Trump. Now, I've said this before on our podcast and told lots of people that I did not vote for him in the first election, nor in the second. I voted for Kanye in 2020. I'm not a Trump defender, but I am curious what you think evangelical should have done, given the choice between Trump and Clinton and Trump and Biden. Do you think they should have voted for Biden? How should they have handled it? What's your specific critique about those who voted for the president?
Phil Vischer: I don't know if I have a single specific critique because honestly many of my family members voted for Trump in both elections, many of my extended family members.
Patrick Miller: Did they do that holding their nose or did they do that enthusiastically?
Phil Vischer: It started out during the primary as some nose holding and became enthusiastic. It primarily became enthusiastic as the conservative media kind of painted a distorted picture of what was happening, what he was doing, what his policies were, so that I could sit down with someone and say," Yes, but aren't you concerned about his policies on refugees?" and find out that they've never heard of his policies on refugees because the right wing media wasn't telling that story. Anything that was clearly un- biblical that he was doing, in terms of policy, was simply being ignored by right wing media. If you were in a left wing media silo, you never heard anything positive ever that he did or that any of his policies did. If you were in a right wing media silo, you never heard anything negative in any of his policies. I stopped watching cable news probably halfway through the Trump administration because it was just impossible to just get the facts.
Patrick Miller: That made your life better right there, stopping that.
Phil Vischer: What I do instead is I scan headlines from a couple different news feed apps and scan a couple 100 headlines a day just to get a feel for what's happening and how are different news outlets spinning it? I want to know what people are saying about the news from different views because then you can find the truth in the middle. I wrote a piece on my blog that I later took down because it just proved to be too inflammatory, right after.
Patrick Miller: See what I'm saying? You like to break the rules, you like controversy.
Phil Vischer: No.
Patrick Miller: You're telling me you don't enjoy it, but Skye does, come on, man.
Phil Vischer: I don't. But I just said, we just went from the first African American president in our history to the first president in recent memory who received a full throated endorsement of the KKK. As evangelical Christians, I think we owe an explanation to our non- White Christian brothers and sisters, what we just did.
Patrick Miller: That's powerful. I don't disagree. Remember, I didn't vote for him, but I didn't vote for either candidate. Well, Kanye. I still want to know what you think...
Phil Vischer: About what we should have done?
Patrick Miller: People should have done because I have Christian friends who love Jesus and some of them voted for Hillary, some of them abstained, some of them voted for Trump. Probably the majority of my friends voted for Trump, mostly I think with their nose held, some maybe enthusiastically. But I think they would look at you and go,"But I had these choices, what did you want me to do? I voted for him and now you beat me up."
Phil Vischer: You had more than two choices.
Patrick Miller: You would say, "Vote for a third party candidate."
Phil Vischer: Yes. Some people say that's throwing your vote away. I'm with David French who's on our show quite often, a really good conservative thinker, a lifelong Republican, and also a Never- Trumper. He said, "If a significant number of people are rejecting both major party candidates, the parties will get the message. Eventually, they'll realize, maybe we need to put forth candidates that aren't detestable to so many people." You don't have to vote for one of the major party candidates. David French's metric was he debated.
Patrick Miller: Eric Metaxas.
Phil Vischer: Fascinating debate, the David French, Eric Metaxas debate at John Brown University on whether or not a Christian should support Donald Trump. His point was the number one thing is character, the number two thing is policy. If there isn't a candidate that meets your number one of character, don't vote for any of the candidates and just complain, just say," This is stupid that we're not even putting up a candidate that has the basic fundamental character necessary." Whether you decide that Joe Biden has character or whatever... I think he has just enough character, now let's go to the policies. Do you find the policies acceptable? If the answer there is no, don't vote. Don't vote for either one of those, vote for a third party, write in your dog, protest," This is dumb." Make noise about it.
Patrick Miller: I completely agree. I love David French, I completely agree. That's the position that I took. I think somebody's got to earn my vote, I don't have to vote for the two yahoos you put in front of me.
Phil Vischer: Make them earn your vote. But, because we fell into this partisan mindset that if the candidate from my party doesn't win, the country is going to be destroyed.
Patrick Miller: Fear is easy to sell.
Phil Vischer: Yes, that basically means you have to vote for anyone that your party... this is on either side, whether you're a Democrat or Republican or Green party or whatever. If you are that enslaved to this notion that the other side wants to ruin America and only your side loves or cares about your country, you have no choice. You literally have no choice, but you're also believing a lie because the difference is over policy, they're not over intention. One side is not evil and the other side is not good, they're both evil and good.
Patrick Miller: I think in some sense that's the definition of tribalism, that you don't vote for something, you vote against someone. I don't pick my tribe based on beliefs, I pick my beliefs based on the tribe. First, I pick my tribe, then I pick my reasons for voting for this or that candidate.
Phil Vischer: Well, the number of Bible believing, Jesus loving Christians that want fewer immigrants led into America. What does the Bible say about immigrants? What's our attitude supposed to be toward immigrants? Well, you build a wall and you keep them out. Conservative White evangelicals in 1996 were the religious group in America most committed to the idea that character counts in leadership. In 2016, they became the least concerned group in America about character in leadership. Literally when asked," How important is this?" They went from,"This is the most important, and we think it's more important than any other group" to," This is not important at all, and we think it's less important than any other religious group in America." That's how much tribalism and partisanship has compromised how we read the Bible and apply it to our daily lives.
Patrick Miller: Well, I'm old enough to remember Bill Clinton's problems in the White House, whether it was James Dobson or Jerry Falwell, so many people said that character mattered, that it didn't matter what his policies were.
Phil Vischer: He has bespoiled and besmirched that high office and must be removed.
Patrick Miller: Of course, he had. I sure don't want to say that he hadn't, he, of course, had.
Phil Vischer: Yes, I was there.
Patrick Miller: You were there, in the White House?
Phil Vischer: I was... well, off to the side. I was in the yard, they wouldn't let me in.
Patrick Miller: He needed to go because of character, character matters. Then, all of a sudden, character doesn't matter. I think what it shows is that what people really wanted, at least that group... I'm not saying all evangelicals, I'm just saying that group of court evangelicals, they wanted power and that's what was important to them more than character. I want to go back to this issue of whether you're comfortable being an evangelical and calling yourself that because I get the impression that you are embarrassed of your fellow evangelicals. I understand, I am too. I look around and I see a lot of stuff that goes on, whether it is power trips, the rise and fall of Mars Hill or whether it is sexual immorality in pastor's offices or whether it is selling out to have a seat at the table on political issues. I was embarrassed by the number of Christian signs and themes that were present at the riot on January 6th. There's a lot. But then, I step back and I go," Hang on, should I be embarrassed because all those same sins are true in my heart. I haven't done those things and they haven't done my things, but do I get the right to be embarrassed?" I don't know. Are you embarrassed of your fellow evangelicals? How do you think about this?
Phil Vischer: No, I don't think I've ever said that. I see people do things that are embarrassing that you should be embarrassed to have done.
Patrick Miller: They should be embarrassed for themselves.
Phil Vischer: They should be embarrassed to have done that. I think if I say," I'm embarrassed", I'm probably over- identifying with them. If I'm embarrassed by the guy who had the Jesus 2020 sign while storming the capital, I'm not embarrassed by that guy because he's crazy and he's not me.
Patrick Miller: But, he's an evangelical and so are you, but you're able to keep some distance.
Phil Vischer: Yes, because N. T. Wright is also an evangelical, Dallas Willard was an evangelical, John Stott is an evangelical, Carl Henry is an evangelical, Beth Moore is an evangelical, and Russell Moore is an evangelical, and David French is an evangelical.
Patrick Miller: It's a big tribe.
Phil Vischer: Show me a ridiculous evangelical and I'll show you a commendable evangelical, which tells me that we're all mixed up people and there's good and bad in all of us. I mean, Cornel West was talking about how the left needs Jesus, we just covered it on the podcast, and people saying," But, how can you hang out with some of these crazies or some of these gangsters?" He says," There's hoodlum in me. There's gangster in me."
Patrick Miller: I like that answer.
Phil Vischer: Yes, that is in me. I cannot say," I cannot befriend that person. I cannot associate with that person because there's a foolishness or sinfulness in their life because that's me, too." We're all there.
Patrick Miller: Well, I completely agree. That means that I should be able to be around and befriend the" sinners", but also the sinners that are evangelicals. I can't be self righteous to the self righteous or a Pharisees to the Pharisees. I need to be able to live with all people, knowing that I need as much grace, if not more than they do.
Phil Vischer: Right. But, you also need to be willing to call out the sin in your own house and not just point to the sin across the street.
Patrick Miller: You mentioned Eric Metaxas. He was an author, he had a book on Wilberforce, he had a book on Dietrich Bonhoeffer and was kind of an up and coming evangelical, someone that people respected. I learned later on after I'd read some of his books that he was also part of Big Idea Productions, which made Veggie Tales at least for a year or so. I don't know the whole story there. But then, he left and went way down the Trump train, he went full on, full out, not just an apologist for a certain set of political principles, but an apologist for Donald Trump and making excuses for him. He was there at the Jericho March in November 2020.
Phil Vischer: He was the MC of the Jericho March.
Patrick Miller: You and he had some... a Twitter argument from what I can piece together. He ends up blocking you on Twitter, it might be other social media as well, were you ever friends with him? You obviously took different paths. Were you ever friends?
Phil Vischer: We never worked side by side because he lived in New York and we gave him a one year contract to do some writing for Veggie Tales. He worked from New York the whole time, never crosstalk.
Patrick Miller: He was a voice on one of them, right?
Phil Vischer: He was the narrator for Esther and he wrote one other segment that we used.
Patrick Miller: You were never close?
Phil Vischer: We would hang out if we bumped into each other at a conference, and that probably happened three times in 20 years.
Patrick Miller: Have you lost relationships and friendships, if not with him because you were never tight with him, with other people that were important to you because of your outspokenness?
Phil Vischer: There are people that don't really want to talk to me anymore because they've decided I'm not on their team.
Patrick Miller: These are people in your church or people...?
Phil Vischer: No, not so much in my church, but just people that I know loosely, somebody who've even been guests on the show years ago, but we probably wouldn't have them back now and they probably wouldn't want to come back. Then, I've been unfriended by distant relatives on Facebook because they said rude things about George Floyd or something. I just said," I don't think that's, number one, accurate, number two kind." Some people don't like to be pushed back against, even from someone that they have formally been close to. We take our politics very seriously in America, very seriously, and we confuse them with our religious worldview, and boy it's a mess.
Patrick Miller: Some people say that politics has become the new religion, both for people inside and outside the church. You talked earlier about how... these are my words, not yours, but maybe you got a little too impressed with yourself back in the big idea days. That you were really essential, you were really important, you were going to do all these cool things, wasn't God lucky to have you on his team? You're kind of still a big deal. I'm wondering, what did you learn from Veggie Tales that you've been able to incorporate in your life now as the leader of this ministry? It goes by Holy Post, but you're still a big deal so how are you preventing that from happening again?
Phil Vischer: It's very tongue- in- cheek, I just don't take myself very seriously at all. That's why it's called Holy Post because it's a ridiculous name, the father, son, and the Holy Post. That's why I do, every third episode or so I do a segment called News of the Butt and it started out with... I just found a funny story about turtles. You know when turtles hibernate, they actually absorb oxygen through their butts? I didn't know that. I love learning new things. Wow. I just told that story on the podcast one day and just randomly ended it by saying," This has been the news of the butt." Then, people were like," Here's more butt news." They send me butt news like different stories about new developments in toilet technology or whatever. When you do that, it's very hard to take yourself seriously as a serious Christian leader. I'm not trying to be a serious Christian leader. I like Stephen Colbert, I like John Oliver, I like those guys that they have something to say. Stephen Colbert has things to say, but he doesn't take himself seriously while he's saying him.
Patrick Miller: I think he was much funnier in Comedy Central than he is now. I think he has been overtaken by politics like everything else, I'd like to laugh more and hear his political opinions less.
Phil Vischer: Well, I think the Trump years were brutal on everyone who does commentary.
Patrick Miller: They broke comedians, I think, the Trump years.
Phil Vischer: They did.
Patrick Miller: They're not funny anymore.
Phil Vischer: First of all, it made you so angry. They would read the news and they'd be so angry, but also so many of the things that were coming out of the White House were so ridiculous that you couldn't even make a joke about them that would be more ridiculous. It became almost impossible to do the nightly talk shows and do commentary on the President or the White House without either just bursting into tears or... it kind of twisted people to try to figure out how to respond, especially people that were already coming from a liberal point of view.
Patrick Miller: Your co- host on the podcast, Skye Jethani, he talks about the evangelical industrial complex. I've never really heard him define that, but I think he's taking that from the military industrial complex of Eisenhower, of course, Eisenhower is this D- Day General. His warning before he left off is it carried a lot of weight. Is Holy Post part of the evangelical industrial complex? What is it that you or... I know it's Skye, but I think you guys are on the same page. What is it you guys are warning us about? What do we need to be alert to?
Phil Vischer: Well, it's the same thing if you're listening to the Rise and Fall of Mars Hill, that podcast. It's the same thing they're talking about is that we have a culture around Christian publishing, Christian conferences, Christian media that elevates celebrity. This happened in Christian publishing probably 15 years ago where the major Christian publishers just got rid of half of their authors, just in like one fell swoop. We want to put more focus on fewer authors, so we really only want branded authors. We want authors that everybody knows already, which is why today it's easier for a blogging mom who has a huge following to get a Christian publishing deal than for a thoughtful Bible scholar to get a Christian publishing deal because the blogging mom has a million followers.
Patrick Miller: She has a platform.
Phil Vischer: Yes, has a platform. You don't get to be a Catholic priest unless you go through the system to be a Catholic priest because there's the top- down hierarchy, approval, command, and control. Evangelicalism is the Wild West. Evangelicalism is a strip mall in the suburbs where anything that pulls in a crowd can fill the parking lot. Anyone can put up a stand, put up a flag and say," Hey, I'm a Christian personality." If you say things that attract enough attention, you will then get platform. You'll get invited to speak at conferences, you'll get a book deal, you'll get Christian radio exposure. The only thing that drives most of that is will it sell? That's what Skye's talking about with the evangelical industrial complex is that we're more concerned about sustaining... it's like the defense industry. What Eisenhower was concerned about is we're going to end up fighting wars just to justify sustaining these businesses. These businesses are going to be the tales that wag the dogs in our foreign policy strategy. In the case of the evangelical industrial complex, it's the publishers and the conferences. It's the apparatus that we've built that is the tail that's wagging the dog of whose voices get platformed as godly leaders, and it's not always the right people.
Patrick Miller: Seems like one of the hard things for evangelicalism is that there really aren't any boundaries. Like you said, it's the strip mall, it's the Wild West. Anybody can pull in, anybody can call themselves an evangelical.
Phil Vischer: Anybody can call themselves a Baptist. You can't even have anyone tell you you're not a Baptist. I'm starting a Baptist church. What do you believe? I don't know, it doesn't matter, we're a Baptist.
Patrick Miller: I saw Ryan Burge, the sociologist at Eastern Illinois said that right now 27% of people claiming to be evangelicals don't go to church. Anybody can call themselves whatever they want and there's no boundaries. What happens is that whoever's selling, whoever's making money, that's what gets promoted. It seems like even in the rise and fall of Mars Hill, like you mentioned, as much as anything to me, it's a warning to people like you and me, just ordinary evangelicals," Hey, be careful who you go after." There's nobody to kick anybody out of evangelicalism because there's nobody to accept you into it so you can't get kicked out then.
Phil Vischer: It is a mass movement. It's largely a populist movement, which I think is why it can live so comfortably with Trumpism, also a populist movement. Populism, like we're the people, we should pick what's right, we the people should be in charge of everything. There's truth in that, but there's also the notion of gatekeepers, this argument over masks and vaccines, where you have... we built this system where we actually have... there's a National Institute of Health, then someone runs that, under that is the Head of Immunology. They're making recommendations for how we, as a nation, can survive a pandemic. Everyone down at the bottom is saying," We don't have to listen to you. You said, you're the boss." Or, listen to the guy on Facebook who's smearing horse paste on his nose, either way. We do that in Christianity as well, it's like we're buying horse paste because the guy on YouTube was funny.
Patrick Miller: Well, I think you're right in the sense that evangelicalism is a populous movement. I think that our elites have lost credibility. Some of that is the populism that you describe, but some of it is because they have governed in an unserious way. They have politicized themselves, they have...
Phil Vischer: In the government, yes. In evangelicalism, there isn't really governance.
Patrick Miller: Yes, you're right. I'm talking about when you mentioned the National Institute of Health and all of that. They've lost credibility. I wish that we had elites. I'm pro elite if you're educated, you're informed, you're hardworking, and you have this sincere...
Phil Vischer: Everyone's pro elite when they have cancer, everyone is pro elite. It's like, who's the best doctor? I'm going to look at the US News World Report, who's the best cancer hospital in the world that has the best, most experts, the most elite doctors? That's where I'm going because I have cancer. When we don't have cancer, we hate elites.
Patrick Miller: I don't mind elites as long as they are working for the best interest of the country. But when they start putting themselves in their political position and their political tribe above what's best for the country, I think they get what they deserve, which is a loss of credibility. But, it hurts all of us, we all suffer for it. Hey Phil, I appreciate the time that you've given us today. Where can people find you, the holypost. com or...?
Phil Vischer: Yes, you can go to holypost. com. You can follow me on Twitter. I'm on Twitter and Facebook, although Facebook is... I don't know about Facebook, but I'm still there because it's the good way to get videos out to try to teach people the right things in the midst of all the videos teaching people nonsense. Follow me on Twitter or go to holypost.com, just look up the Holy Post on iTunes or wherever you find podcasts.
Patrick Miller: I will say this, your videos that you do are really good. I found them on your website. I'd rather avoid Facebook, but they're challenging. I don't always find myself agreeing with everything. I go," Well, what about this? What about that?" But, they're very well done. They're interesting, and you for sure will learn something. Go to the website, if for nothing else, then to see that.
Phil Vischer: If you agree with everything I say, one of us is unnecessary.
Patrick Miller: Thank you for that. Phil, would you pray for us as we close? Would you pray for the health, the unity, the spiritual wellbeing of the American church?
Phil Vischer: Lord Jesus, thank you for the opportunity we have to speak publicly to share our faith, to share our perspective, to try to sharpen one another like iron sharpens iron. Thank you for podcasting, which has been a wonderful medium for so many new voices to get out. But, guide us as we work through these divisive times, Lord, help us. Even when we think we're trying to do the right thing, Lord, help us not to add to the divisiveness. Let us speak the truth in love, in good natured- ness, let us take you seriously and take ourselves very un- seriously. Let us resist the world's demands that we line up in tribes, that we name teams, that we wear team colors, and most of all, let us resist the urge to demonize those that we consider the other. Lord, you died for the other, you came for the other, we should live for the other. That, ultimately is your witness through us to the world. Help us to be your hands and feet in a divided world and bring reconciliation through you. In Jesus name, Amen.
Patrick Miller: Amen. Thanks for listening. If you found this podcast helpful, make sure to subscribe and leave a review.
Keith Simon: Make sure it's at least five stars.
Patrick Miller: Stop. No, just be honest. Reviews help other people find us.
Keith Simon: Okay. At the very least, you can share today's episode, maybe put it on your social, your favorite text chain.
Patrick Miller: If you didn't like this episode, awesome. Tell us why you disagree on Twitter @ truthovertribe underscore. We might even share your thoughts in an upcoming newsletter.
In this episode of Truth Over Tribe, Keith talks with Phil Vischer, creator of Veggie Tales. Phil is now one of the hosts of Holy Post, a podcast about politics and culture relating to the Christian Church. He challenges Christians to give their loyalty to Jesus, not politicians.
Today, these two discuss Phil's motivation behind the creation of Veggie Tales and they also dive into Phil's views today on Christianity and politics. Phil shares how growing up with a high-functioning Christian ministry family has shaped his current beliefs. They also cover evangelicalism and what it was like to be an evangelical in the Trump era. Tune in now!