From what the internet tells me (and I’ve heard it’s a reliable source), 1.4 million people have now liked the “Stand With Phil” Facebook page after the controversy surrounding the GQ interview with Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson in which he said the following:
”Everything is blurred on what’s right and what’s wrong, sin becomes fine. 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 tells the magazine. Paraphrasing Corinthians, he says, “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.”
By anyone’s standards, 1.4 million is a massive response. People are standing with Phil and the general attitude seems to be:
1. He has the right to free speech.
2. He’s preaching the Bible and should be allowed to do so.
3. This is yet more persecution against Christians during the (War on) Christmas season when many Jesus followers are already very prickly and defensive.
Regarding the first point, Phil has the right to free speech. But, as many commentators have pointed out, the right to free speech does not mean you are free from the consequences of what you have spoken. Words have consequences and repercussions.
Regarding the second, Phil is preaching a version of the Bible. It’s an interpretation, as all statements about the Bible are. And he absolutely, unquestionably has the right to hold and share such an interpretation … but that doesn’t make the interpretation of it correct. I have no issue with a public figure quoting from Scripture. In fact, I welcome it and wish there were more people in positions of cultural influence who engage with faith and are familiar with what the Bible says. However, I take both issue and umbrage with Phil Robertson’s words around the Bible and with the conservative Christian response that is more concerned with the rights of the Christian and less concerned with our witness to the world.
The truth is that if A&E was a Christian TV channel and I was its CEO, I would not only have suspended him, I would have been disappointed in him for his insensitive, callous and discriminatory words because I expect more from Christians with a voice in our culture.
I have several gay friends. Some of them are Christians, some aren’t and all of them have been burned by churches. It makes words like this particularly galling for me:
“It seems like, to me, a vagina—as a man—would be more desirable than a man’s anus. That’s just me. I’m just thinking: There’s more there! She’s got more to offer. I mean, come on, dudes! You know what I’m saying? But hey, sin: It’s not logical, my man. It’s just not logical.”
Robertson paints a picture of homosexuality as a perverted desire to piss God off rather than an expression of love. It’s as if, in his mind, gay men deliberately fight heterosexual attraction and suffer through an experience of the male anus in order to be offensive, crude or rebelliousness. Homosexuality is not just physical attraction, it’s an attraction to the entire person. If Robertson thinks homosexuality is driven by anal fixation rather than love and whole person attraction then he has no business leading a cultural conversation about it. And if Robertson chooses to speak about it without sensitivity or understanding then Christians have no business defending him.
Going back to his initial quote, I actually agree with his first statement. The lines have become blurred between what’s right and wrong in our world and sin has become fine. As Christians, however, we are not called to police the world who do not claim to follow Jesus and we will only be in a position to judge the world when we as individuals and communities have taken Jesus seriously about money, the ‘least of these’ and the ‘first being last’. From where I’m standing, we’re at least as guilty of blurring these lines as the world is even though we’re the ones who have arrogantly claimed to know better. We celebrate greed. We condone gluttony. We’ve turned slander, malice and gossip into an art form and, in many places, divorce is practically accepted as a right of passage. We are called to take the plank of our own eye first. This is what makes his second line so infuriating:
‘Start with homsexual behaviour and morph out from there.’
START with homosexuality? No matter what your stance on homosexuality, that is a preposterous statement. But he then goes on to describe bestiality and promiscuity as a natural next step. That is ludicrous, ignorant and offensive.
He then goes on to paraphrase 1 Corinthians and describes people who will not inherit the Kingdom of God which is true … but all of these categories can be found in the church.
Adultery? It’s rife. Especially if you apply the same interpretive principles used by Robertson about homosexuality to Jesus’ words about divorce.
Idolatry? Is that a flag I see hanging beside that cross? Idolatry is the choice to place our trust and hope in something other than God. We do it when we live out our faith vicariously through Duck Dynasty. We do it when we place our faith in political parties that promise comfort rather than the Christ who calls us to take up our cross.
Greedy? How many Christians have chosen getting money over going into ministry? How’s our tithing? How much of the money we give leaves our church and how much of it is spent on making our church and Christianity more comfortable?
Drunkards? Both publicly and privately.
Slanderers? The first time I tweeted about this, I was immediately replied to by a stranger who told me that my life will never contribute as much as Robertson has and included the hashtag #HomoNazis. I’ve been in full time ministry for nine years and I can tell you that the old adage is true:
The Christian army is the only army that shoot their own wounded … and the bullets are often hateful, judgmental words. (I also have no doubt that some of the responses to this post will prove this point.)
Swindlers? The Church doesn’t exactly have a great track record of being good stewards of people’s money and it’s sadly common to hear of churches being embroiled in financial scandals.
The more I hear Christians commentate about all this, the more I believe that some of the most relevant words of Jesus to the church today are his seven woes to the Pharisees in Matthew 23:
“The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by others … The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single convert, and when he becomes a convert, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.” (23:2-15)
Excuse my vulgarity but I can understand why the world rejects a God who is represented by Christians who believe the world is going to hell in a hand basket because of where other people stick their dicks rather than because we fail to live out the true message of Christmas:
A God who comes into the world with compassion. grace and love, lives in and among the broken and sinful, sheds his right to comfort and glory, takes on the nature of a servant and spends his life and very self on behalf of people who don’t deserve it.
Rather than follow Jesus’ example, however, it seems that we as Christians are best mobilised to action when someone takes a shot at our TV heroes or Chick-Fil-A. Our world and our God deserve better than this.