Radio show host brings unique perspective to pro-life work
As a mental health practitioner who has worked with a post-abortion healing ministry, Cullen Herout has seen the pain abortion can inflict. But in that capacity he also has seen God’s “incredible love and mercy” at work.
Colored by that experience and his Catholic faith, Herout gives listeners to his weekly “Ready to Stand” radio program a unique view of pro-life issues. He and his guests from around the country – which have included authors, pro-life leaders, medical professionals, filmmakers, scholars and advocates for children and the sick and dying – discuss a wide variety of topics. The program airs on the Spirit Catholic Radio network at 5 p.m. on Saturdays and repeats at 5:30 p.m. on Sundays. Program episodes are also available as podcasts at spiritcatholicradio.com/program/readytostand.
Herout and his wife, Jennifer, have three children: sons ages 5 and 4 and a daughter who was born last March, on St. Patrick’s Day. They are members of St. Robert Bellarmine Parish in Omaha.
The 35-year-old grew up in Omaha and graduated from Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio with a bachelor’s degree in theology and a master’s in clinical counseling. He has been working with Rachel’s Vineyard in post-abortion healing since 2011 and has written about pro-life issues for numerous publications including Crisis Magazine, The Federalist, Lifesite News, Live Action News, Catholic Stand and The Blaze.
The Catholic Voice conducted an interview with Herout via email to find out more about his pro-life efforts, how his background influences that work and how the work shapes his faith. He also has suggestions for readers to help build a culture of life.
Q: How does your background as a mental health practitioner lend itself to the pro-life media work that you do?
This is going to sound very obvious, but I think the one thing that being in the mental health field for a decade taught me is that people always have reasons for believing what they believe. This is important in a counseling relationship where the “why” behind the belief is just as important as the “what.” Without addressing why people believe what they believe, it’s very difficult to change what they believe. People are complex, their belief systems are complex, and the reasons or principles underlying their beliefs are equally complex.
As a radio host, I am always trying to remember that listeners come from a wide variety of backgrounds and espouse a wide variety of beliefs. And they have reasons for those beliefs that need to be addressed if their minds are going to change. I’m a guy who likes to deep-dive into topics, and it’s important when talking about life issues to make sure we are establishing why we believe what we do rather than just talking about what we believe. Just as in a counseling relationship, lasting change happens only when individuals understand why they should change their minds or change their behavior.
Speaking of lasting change, it’s worth noting that lasting change, whether it be in thought or behavior, typically only happens within a relationship built on trust. Whether it’s a therapist-client relationship or a host-listener relationship, trust is the factor that makes change possible. Individuals rarely change their minds or their behavior because a stranger tells them to do so. It is only through the development of trust that a person will feel comfortable enough, if you will, to step out of their comfort zone and embrace a new thought or behavior. In that vein, I’m always seeking honesty in the conversations I’m having. I want to be speaking truth at all times because, just as in a counseling relationship, trust takes a long time to build, but a very, very short time to destroy.
Q: What prompted you to start writing and hosting your own radio show on life issues?
After doing several Rachel’s Vineyard weekends and seeing the pain and woundedness inflicted on the world by abortion (as well as the incredible love and mercy of our Heavenly Father), a friend and I decided that we wanted to share our thoughts and some of what we’ve learned with the world. So when I first started out, my goal was to expose the pain caused by abortion and tell the world about how loving and merciful our Heavenly Father is and how badly he wants us to heal those who have been wounded in different ways by abortion.
Thus was born the Ready to Stand blog. In 2016, Ready to Stand became a weekly radio show and while the blog is no longer around, … the idea of standing for life and standing for truth continues to be the focal point of the show. I have grown to love radio and the opportunity it provides to engage listeners, share the truth of the Gospel, and talk about life issues in a way that embraces the dignity and sanctity of human life created in the image of God.
Q: How do you select the guests you have on your show?
Ha-ha, there is really no rhyme or reason here. My guests can come from anywhere! Typically they are authors whose columns I’ve come across, writers whose books I enjoy, technical experts in different fields, pro-life leaders, lawyers, representatives from pro-life organizations, and more generally, people whose story or testimony would be interesting for people to hear.
Q: The topics that you cover on your show appear very broad. How do you decide what you’re going to talk about?
First, I always want to make sure that everything I talk about is culturally relevant. Abortion is almost always in the news, physician-assisted suicide is a big issue, bioethical issues are coming more to the forefront. These are issues that can be addressed morally, legally or even philosophically.
Then there are topics that are relevant to the audience. Take pornography, for example. There are very few individuals and families that have not been affected by pornography either directly or indirectly. So while the topic of pornography consumption is rarely in the news (though you’re starting to see that change a little), it’s a topic that is relevant to almost everyone for a wide variety of reasons.
Lastly, I always enjoy doing human-interest stories. It’s always an honor and a privilege to have a guest come on the show and talk about themselves, where they come from, what they’ve been through, why they believe what they believe. I had a show recently with a Catholic convert, and we talked about his hesitancy to embrace the church’s teaching on contraception. He spoke about his process of opening up to the will of God in his marriage, and how his marriage subsequently improved from that point forward. My hope is always that these types of interviews are relatable, and that perhaps there is a listener in their car somewhere saying, “Oh yeah, I feel that way too.” The goal is to build that connection between guest and listener, and once that happens, the Holy Spirit can work!
Q: What are the most interesting or surprising things you’ve learned from your guests recently?
A few weeks ago I spoke with Katy Faust, the founder and director of Them Before Us. She spoke of a phenomenon called genealogical bewilderment. It’s a phenomenon sometimes experienced by individuals without access to their biological parents or family. This loss of genealogical identity can be a source of confusion, frustration, and in some cases, existential crisis. I found this fascinating because while the secular world tries to tell us that biological mothers and fathers are not necessary, the experiences of the children without their biological mothers and fathers tell a very different story.
Another trend that has come up recently is the push, where it is legal, to conjoin euthanasia with organ harvesting. To date, the medical community has operated under the so-called “dead donor rule,” which prohibits death via organ harvesting. That is to say, the organ donor must be already deceased before the harvesting of organs. But there is a movement to do away with the dead donor rule and allow the conjoining of euthanasia and organ harvesting. This is a very dangerous step not only because it further coerces people into choosing euthanasia and erodes trust in the medical establishment, but also because it implies to a patient, “Your life has no value, but by choosing death you may bring some value to the world.” This sort of mindset is the antithesis of what it means to embrace a culture of life.
Q: What do you see as the most pressing life issues today?
I think this conversation always has to start with abortion. Abortion is the most direct attack on innocent, defenseless human life that the world has ever seen. Until abortion is both illegal and unthinkable, it will continue to be the most pressing life issue we face.
In addition, the cultural conversation around physician-assisted suicide is reaching a fever pitch with more and more Americans supporting the practice and more and more states racing to legalize it. Stories like that of Brittany Maynard a few years ago and other similar stories are designed to tug at the heartstrings of compassionate people. While those who are suffering certainly need and deserve compassion, we would also do well to remember that legalizing the practice of physician-assisted suicide has far more sinister implications and consequences than advocates often are willing to admit.
Another issue that has and will continue to gain even more interest is the area of assisted reproductive technologies. With the exponential growth in scientific capabilities, the ways and manner in which the beginning of human life can be manipulated continue to multiply.
As we Catholics enter the public conversation surrounding assisted reproductive technologies, we must be armed with a good understanding of Christian anthropology as well as a good understanding of God’s plan for human sexuality. At the heart of assisted reproductive technologies are couples who are struggling to conceive and bear children. As we offer compassion to those couples who are struggling with infertility, we must also be convicted that just as human beings are not products to be disposed of through abortion, they are also not commodities to be manipulated, created or purchased through artificial means.
Q: What are some ways our readers can help contribute to building a culture of life?
Socially, this always starts with how you treat your neighbor, your family, those who disagree with you. A culture of life is one in which every human being is treated with the dignity and respect that comes with being made in the image and likeness of God. This has very real implications for how we conduct ourselves with those around us every day. Do we treat everyone as a beloved child of God? Do we talk about them as such? Are we providing for the needs of our neighbors? Do we take every opportunity to recognize the dignity in those individuals who might otherwise be marginalized or ignored? These are all ways that we can build a culture of life right in our neighborhood.
On a strictly practical level, there are all kinds of ways to contribute to a culture of life. Two important ones: Pregnancy resource centers are almost always looking for donations. These are centers that are on the front lines caring for women who are facing unintended pregnancies.
In addition, we have a pair of abortion clinics here within our archdiocesan borders that almost always have prayer warriors out front praying on abortion days. In a very real way, people praying and offering encouragement on the sidewalks outside abortion facilities stand between life and death for many unborn children. Former abortion clinic workers report a no-show rate of almost 75% when there are people peacefully praying out front. So in terms of a concrete way to save lives, praying on the sidewalk outside of an abortion facility is a great way.
Q: How has your pro-life media work impacted your own spiritual journey?
The fight against the culture of death is a spiritual battle just as much as it is a legal battle or a cultural battle. So those who wish to enter the fight to build a culture of life need to be right spiritually if they want to be effective in that fight. It is through this work that I’ve developed a deeper understanding of the importance of prayer, especially the rosary, and the sacraments. Staying spiritually healthy is the best way to enter the fight for a culture of life, and I’ve come to a far deeper appreciation of the sacraments and a far deeper understanding of how desperately I need the graces they offer.