philWhen 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.”

kirstenAnd 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.

15 comments
  1. I’ll try to flesh out a bit more the opposition to Phil’s comments that you seem puzzled by. There were two things he said that caused offense – the comments on homosexuality, and the comments on the condition of black people in the pre-civil rights south.

    So, first of all, his comments on homosexuality. He did not stop at expressing “Biblical truth.” I’d go as far to say that the only thing Biblical that he said was his paraphrase from I Corinthians. Yes, he said that homosexuality is a sin. Yes, that’s Biblical, well, sort of. Christians are largely in agreement that homosexual sexual behavior is sinful, but most Christians are coming to an understanding that same-sex attraction is not a voluntary matter. What Phil expressed was not a simple condemnation toward sinful behavior, he expressed disgust. He just couldn’t fathom that anyone would experience same-sex attraction at all. He said that same-sex attraction was an illogical perversion caused by sin. No empathy, no compassion. So unlike Christ, no? He was supposedly expressing Christian values, but could you in your wildest dreams imagine Christ saying something like that?

    Phil, and so many Christians like him, just do not understand what is at stake here. Phil, like it or not, has been adopted by the Christian community as a representative. I would argue that the Christian church has utterly bombed on its handling of homosexuality. There are thousands of gay adults who have suffered mortal wounds at the hand of the church. They grew up in the church, they were on fire for Christ, they reached middle school and started having same-sex attractions. They tried to pray these feelings away, but they wouldn’t go away. They asked God why he made them that way. They sat the in pews and listened with burning ears and knotted stomachs while their pastors preached fire and brimstone about them, THEM. They had to hear about how their kind was destroying America, they had to listen while people talked about how sick their inclinations were, and how they were so twisted they could only be a result of God abandoning them to their sins. Some of them cut themselves, some of them committed suicide, some of them fell into deep depression. And then their parents found out about their same-sex attractions. They were beaten, they were shunned, they were kicked out of their own homes and their parents withdrew financial support because they just “refused” to turn from their sins. Their church, their community, the people they loved and who they thought loved them, shunned them and drove them away. They felt like God himself had turned His back on them. Why would he let this happen to them? Why was he so cruel to make them this way? And then you’ve got Phil, adopted as a representative of “good Christian values” expressing disgust. It’s just salt in the wound. Christians who are sensitive to the plight of our gay brothers and sisters will necessarily be offended.

    Then you have his comments on race. While his comments may, on their face, not seem “racist”, you have to look at the implications of what he said. First, why was he providing this anecdote? He was rather obviously making a comparison between the state of black people then vs. now. Back then they were godly and happy, now they’re welfare dependent complainers. It seems rather obvious that he was giving this anecdote against the accepted narrative that the Jim Crow south was an oppressive, unjust culture. He was nearly an adult in the time of the civil rights movement. He was either terribly unobservant or grossly naive. His anecdote seemed to imply that the civil rights movement wasn’t really needed. He didn’t say that explicitly, but that was what was implied. He also made the implication that black Americans are unhappy now because they’re a bunch of entitled, welfare leeches. That is racist. You don’t have to want to lynch black people to be racist. Seeing black people as undeserving, complaining sponges is racist. And to make the matter worse, the Christian church has an extremely poor history when it comes to civil rights and race relations. The Christian church perpetuated the institution of slavery. They used the Bible to justify it. The Christian church perpetuated segregation. They said that black folks had the mark of Cain. Christians churches are still largely segregated. Most people understand that Christians aren’t largely racists today, but the Church in the south isn’t quite there. Southern Christians do, as a group, or at least in politics, show a lot of antipathy toward people of other races. They see them as “takers”, while they, the good Christian white people, are the “makers”. They want to “take America back”. They show hostility toward immigrants, which most definitely goes against Biblical principles. So here you have Phil, a representative of “good Christian values” saying something, while maybe not explicitly “racist” is at best extremely myopic and unhelpful. I hope you can see why Christians would be upset that he is representing their faith that way.

    What is most discouraging to me is that I’ve seen at least a dozen of my Christian friends “stand with Phil”. If they simply disagreed with A&E’s decision to suspend him, fine, whatever. Some people like the show Duck Dynasty. But it isn’t just that. They’re defending him for expressing his “faith”. They’re hardly even giving any caveats. They’re offended that Christians can’t publicly say offensive things without consequence. This isn’t the Christian faith. This isn’t the gospel. This isn’t speaking the truth in love. The sad thing is that most Christians are so insulated from the rest of the world that they can’t even understand why these statements would give offense. When was the last time one of them asked a gay person what their perception of the church was? (I noticed you used the term “gays”. They’re not “gays”, they’re people.) When was the last time they asked a black person how welcomed they feel in a white church? Christians have a painful lack of empathy, and that comes from cutting themselves off from the world and living in bubbles where everyone largely agrees with them. “Well, I can say something like this in my circle of friends and no one would be offended, so why would anyone get offended if I say this in a public venue. Hmm, it must be because I’m right and they’re wrong.” No, a thousand times, no.

    “It is not bigotry to be certain we are right; but it is bigotry to be unable to imagine how we might possibly have gone wrong.” – G. K. Chesterton

    1. First if you adopt the premiss that homosexuality in not a voluntary action or lifestyle you can convince yourself of anything. Most Christians are NOT believing or accepting this lie!

      1. If you wish to not accept things as that are, that is your choice. Most of us like to live in the real world. You are a prime example of why I stopped going to church.

        It really isn’t about religion. It’s about your personal bigotry. Otherwise, if you truly followed the Bible unconditionally, you and others like you would make Al Quedo look like boy scouts.

      2. Bruce, that’s nonsense. Your last paragraph is a calumny followed by another calumny built on a theologically absurd assertion.

      3. Jesus directly said in Matthew 5:17-20 that he was not there to change any laws. There are over six hundred laws in the Bible, many of which call out for a penalty of death.

        Most Christians have no problem breaking the Sabbath (which is Saturdays). It is one of the Ten Commandments, punishable by death.

      4. 1. When Rome adopted Christianity, they actually merged it with other popular religions of the time. The man-god Mithra was born of a virgin on December 25th, performed miracles, had a halo, was dead three days, and was resurrected. Rome’s holy day was Sunday because of Apollo, the Roman Sun God. It was man who chose to ignore the Sabbath. It was man who chose to make Sunday the holy day for Christians.

        2. Ref: 1Corinth,

        It can be argued that Paul used the words “malakoi” and “arsenokotai” which translates to an older male having sex with the “soft one”, or boy, which is pedophilia.

        Ref: Romans

        http://www.huffingtonpost.com/joel-l-watts/bible-homosexuality_b_3612634.html

        Whether you agree or not, it shows there are more than one interpretation.

        3. How many different types of Christianity are out there? How many versions of the Bible exist? It comes down to interpretation of writings that were copied from other copies or translated from other languages. There are no originals. We are finding gospels today such as the Gospel of Mary, the Gospel of Thomas, and the Gospel of Judas that didn’t make the Bible because a small group of men decided they didn’t belong because these writings by people who knew Jesus did not fit their agenda. Add to this that words change meaning over time.

        Given all these unknowns, by what authority are you (or anyone) right and all those others wrong?

      5. 1. See Acts 20:7, I Cor 16: 1-2. These are scripture passages commonly cited to demonstrate the transition to Sunday that took place during the Apostolic Age.

        2. Is that supposed to be significant?

        3. You’ve changed the subject here, but I’ll answer: (a) These are not unknowns. (b) By the authority of the infallible Word of God.

        I can’t convince you of any of this. Nor is it my job to try. This is a blog for Evangelicals, and this post was directed specifically at them. I’m sure you’ll find thousands of people to agree with all your assertions elsewhere on the web.

        To take you back where you started, you made the false accusation that “It really isn’t about religion. It’s about your personal bigotry masqueraded as religion. Otherwise, if you truly followed the Bible unconditionally, you and others like you would make Al Quedo look like boy scouts.” This is simply an offensive falsehood that I felt I needed to respond to. Had you not said that, I would not have commented at all.

      6. “First if you adopt the premiss that homosexuality in not a voluntary action or lifestyle you can convince yourself of anything. Most Christians are NOT believing or accepting this lie!”
        I responded initially because I found this comment very offensive. The rest of this was in response to what you wrote. You may disagree but I stand behind it. I may be wrong, but you may also be wrong. These discussions have been going on for centuries. I didn’t call anyone a liar, which is what tony4516 did.
        Sort of makes Anon’s point to begin with. Many Evangelicals believe they can make any comment they want and too bad if anyone is offended but no one dare make a comment they disagree with unless you want to be accused of attacking Christianity.

      7. Well, one thing I want to be sure to say is that I don’t wish to cause needless offense. If what I believe is offensive to someone, that’s one thing. It’s quite another if I behave badly. I don’t want to do that and I trust I haven’t here.

      8. I believe people should stand up for what they believe in. I just think that if a person makes a statement in a public forum, he should be willing to back up his claims or at least acknowledge others may not agree with him. For someone like Anon to make what appears to be an honest and sincere statement, only to be called full of crap and a liar by tony4516 who then does nothing to back it up is in my opinion arrogant and even hateful.

  2. Homosexuality has been found in almost every species of animal, so by definition it is natural since it occurs in nature. Homosexuality in animals was cited in the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Lawrence v. Texas which struck down the sodomy laws of 14 states.

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