When I first saw the news about the suspension of Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson by the A&E network over his remarks about gays, I knew it would be a pretty controversial thing. As usual, however, I didn’t anticipate some of the twists and turns that the debate would take, even among those in the evangelical community.
Let’s start with Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, who wrote a blog post largely sympathetic to Phil Robertson. Mohler laments the fact that Robertson would consent to an interview with GQ in the first place. “Entertainment and marketing machines run on publicity, and the Robertsons have used that publicity to offer winsome witness to their Christian faith,” Mohler wrote. “But GQ magazine? Seriously?”
Then there’s Christian author Carl Medearis, who, after suggesting that Robertson’s remarks on race were far more offensive than what he had said about homosexuality, was surprisingly blunt: “It’s the homosexual act that God is against (in both the old and new Testaments). There are only about 6 verses total that say this. Not very many. But there are no verses that support a homosexual lifestyle. There is no example in nature that supports it. It’s not natural. It’s sin.”
And then there’s the new darling of evangelicalism, columnist Kirsten Powers, who was obviously deeply offended by Robertson’s remarks, and stated flatly on Fox News that “the point here is that he’s (Robertson) a bigot.” She went on to say that Robertson has said some “very bigoted, hateful, things…in no way supported by being a Christian, or are found anywhere in the Bible.”
There was a lot of chatter on Facebook about all this, of course. In more than one post, I saw that comparisons were being made between the Robertson clan (or those who defend them) and the kookburgers from Westboro Baptist Church. I also saw the charge of racism made more than once. And I read one blogger who suggested that the Robertsons now “confess…that he expressed those thoughts coarsely —- unfiltered,” and went on to point out the necessity of choosing words carefully and speaking with love and compassion.
I also read folks that were annoyed that anyone would suggest that there might be constitutional implications to the flap, and I read one Facebook friend’s post that Robertson’s remarks had nothing to do with his faith. “Faith in what?”, this person asked. “That homosexuality leads to bestiality?”
All of these points of view were interesting to me, to say the least. I even found myself in substantial agreement with a number of the points that were made even by those that I thought were missing the larger picture. And now, having the advantage of a few days passing since Robertson’s remarks were made public, and just about everyone having already weighed in on the matter, I can offer a thought or two on both Robertson’s remarks and the subsequent reaction to them.
First, let’s consider the matter of racism relative to Robertson’s remarks. At the outset, I want to say that I don’t know Phil Robertson, and I have watched very little of his show on A&E (I don’t have cable TV). I can’t speak to whatever else Robertson may have said on the show or elsewhere that would indicate racism on his part. My comments will be specific to what was quoted in the GQ article. That article is, after all, what caused all the fuss in the first place. Here’s what was said:
“I never, with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person. Not once. Where we lived was all farmers. The blacks worked for the farmers. I hoed cotton with them. I’m with the blacks, because we’re white trash. We’re going across the field…. They’re singing and happy. I never heard one of them, one black person, say, ‘I tell you what: These doggone white people’—not a word!… Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.”
If you want to suggest that Phil Robertson has his rose-colored glasses on as he recalls his Louisiana childhood, feel free. Perhaps you’d go so far as to think this is a bald-faced lie on his part. Either way, I think it’s a travesty that the above remarks are alleged to be racist in character. If there’s one thing I would have hoped we had learned over the last five years, it’s how easy it is play the race card and what a hurtful calumny it can be. You don’t need any real evidence that someone is a racist; you just need to make the accusation. You instantly have the accused back on their heals. Game over. It’s a cheap play, certainly effective, but the lowest of low blows.
And what of Kirsten Power’s indignant observations? It’s possible, of course, that she is commenting on statements that Robertson has made outside of the GQ interview, and so, again, I can’t speak to those if that’s the case. But if she is responding to Robertson’s remarks in GQ, is it really true that they are “in no way supported by being a Christian, or are found anywhere in the Bible”? The answer is a resounding no. She’s completely wrong. Again, here’s what Robertson actually said:
“Everything is blurred on what’s right and what’s wrong,” he says. “Sin becomes fine.”
When asked “What, in your mind, is sinful?”, he says this:
“Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men,” he says. Then he paraphrases Corinthians: “Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers—they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right.”
I am of a mind to cut Powers some slack here, as I would any young Christian, especially one whose entire life experience was within the bubble of liberalism and skepticism, and one whose understanding of Christianity is largely limited to the Tim Keller brand of evangelicalism. It’s one that works hard to be intellectual, non-confrontational, and generally non-offensive to the liberal culture all around them. But she’s still wrong. As Al Mohler observed, “Christians will recognize that Robertson was offering a rather accurate paraphrase (emphasis mine) of 1 Corinthians 6:9-10″.
If your concern is the reference to bestiality, it’s true that you have to go to the Old Testament to find this sin referenced, but it is there clearly enough (Exodus 22:19, Leviticus 18:23, Leviticus 20:15-16). If you think that Robertson was suggesting that homosexuality leads to bestiality and you dispute that, go ahead and make your case. But I don’t think that’s what he was saying. I’m more inclined to think he was summarizing the many sins that fall under the 7th commandment.
If you are irritated by the Robertson clan’s statement that Phil was “expressing his faith”, I would make two observations: First, “faith” is a word that can be used to denote a body of doctrine. A good example of that is Jude verse 3. Secondly, I don’t think that the gospel of redemption by faith in Christ can be adequately communicated without mention of the law and sin.
In short, I think this whole business was a very big deal, and I am bewildered, saddened really, that some in the evangelical community don’t see it. Worse, they have in some instances chosen to attack or discredit Phil Robertson as opposed to supporting the truth that he expressed, however crassly. I remain convinced that A&E took the action they did simply because of the biblical condemnation of homosexuality that Robertson conveyed in the GQ piece. Robertson could have read Romans 1 and I Cor. 6 word for word, said nothing more, and gotten the same reaction.
Maybe you don’t have much use for Robertson. Maybe you think he’s kind of like the town drunk, and you’d just as soon ignore him. But if he comes along and tells us our house is on fire, perhaps you shouldn’t throw him under the bus. Maybe you should help him carry some water.