I have a confession to make. I’ve never viewed A&E’s immensely popular Duck Dynasty show, and I generally can’t stand so-called “reality TV.” Watching publicity-seekers pretend to live their lives seems like a colossal waste of time at best, a disturbing example of infantile voyeurism at worst.
Still, I can’t help but admit to being an admirer of the Robertson clan, who pray together at the end of every episode, and of their plain-spoken patriarch, Phil. The current controversy is nothing new for the bearded, Bible-believing, camo-wearing agent provocateur.
Last summer, speaking about abortion, Phil caused a stir by bluntly questioning “some woman’s right to tear you out of [the womb] a piece at a time! C’mon! You have a God-given right to live. And of all places, inside your mother. … what in the world happened to us?”
It wasn’t exactly a nuanced critique—crude but effective is more like it. Well, now Phil has really gone and done it, touching the third rail of America’s culture wars in an interview in GQ magazine. Responding to a question about his definition of sin, Phil started out with homosexuality:
"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…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."
Besides his rough paraphrase from 1 Corinthians 6, Phil also described in coarse, earthy terms the superiority of a basic heterosexual sex act over a basic homosexual sex act (which I will not repeat here), saying the latter is neither desirable nor “logical.” Again, the head of Duck Dynasty was not hired for his nuance. And the firestorm from the Left was predictable.
The homosexual rights group known as GLAAD called his remarks “vile.” CNN personality Piers Morgan said that the First Amendment “shouldn’t protect vile bigots” like Phil Robertson. Responding to the outrage, A&E Networks, which surely knew his views when they hired him, suspended Phil from Duck Dynasty filming “indefinitely,” saying “[we] have always been strong supporters and champions of the LGBT community.”
(One wonders if they felt the same way about “journalist” Martin Bashir’s despicable comments about Sarah Palin or Miley Cyrus’s lascivious “twerking.” Somehow, I suspect this is another case of very selective outrage.)
The response from certain Christian leaders, unfortunately, was also predictable. Typical is author and pastor Jared Wilson on his blog for The Gospel Coalition. Wilson downplayed whether Robertson’s suspension constituted religious oppression, saying, “We ought to remember that the first amendment [sic] does not guarantee anyone’s right to have a show on cable television.” Wilson insinuated that Robertson might be a racist and that, whatever happens to him, it pales in comparison with the persecution endured by believers in other parts of the world.
Wilson then told those of us concerned over Robinson’s punishment to “get real,” adding, “This doesn’t mean we should bury our heads in the sand about genuine free speech and free exercise violations in our theoretically free nation; it just means we ought to be more circumspect than reactionary, more wise than whiny, more joyful than outraged.”
At the risk of sounding whiny, let me be frank: I’m getting a bit tired of well-meaning Christians who always seem to be advising the rest of us not to offend anyone, to stand back and say nothing when we see our rights as citizens under assault. Why is it that many of us are so quick to criticize Robertson, but so slow to stand up to the steady attacks against our religious liberty and freedom of speech? Have we lost our nerve?
I agree with Wilson that we shouldn’t lose our heads over this incident, that Robertson is an imperfect messenger of the gospel, that this is not strictly a First Amendment issue, that we evangelicals have sometimes been poor witnesses for Christ in the public square, that no one is guaranteed a job on A&E, and that Christians elsewhere suffer much more for their faith than we do.
But this is still a religious liberty issue—a disturbing attempt to punish someone because he had the temerity to state his Christian beliefs ... and it requires a forthright response from Christians in a country supposedly devoted to free speech and religious freedom. Would that more of us would follow Robertson’s bold example! Out of a legitimate desire not to offend people needlessly, sadly, we seem to be afraid to open our mouths at all.
Wasn’t it the Apostle Paul who staunchly defended his rights as a Roman citizen in order to continue preaching the gospel? We need to do the same, whether the Christian under cultural assault is Phil Robertson or someone more polished. If we don’t stand up now, we shouldn’t be surprised when the same thing happens to us later.
Yes, of course, human sexuality is a sensitive issue in our culture (as it is in every culture), the gospel is about much more than sex (though it certainly is not about less), and we don’t want to be known as sexual prudes. But surely the gospel has something to say about sexuality and marriage—that these are God’s good gifts, that when used properly they express something vital about the nature of being human, and that they mirror something of God’s love for his people.
When it comes to homosexuality, are we Christians still willing to say what Phil Robertson said—albeit in a more sensitive way—or have we given up? As he reminds us, those who cling to ungodly sexual practices—of all kinds—risk the eternal wrath of God. It is not loving to say otherwise—or to remain silent. Those who are willing to warn people of the dangers of homosexuality seem an endangered species in our society. Who will speak the truth to this generation? Must we leave it to those who appear to be ZZ Top groupies
Noting the undeniable complexity of our sexuality, some Christians counsel that we focus on other issues related to the kingdom, such as the gospel, or feeding and clothing the poor. It is probably true that we ought not to start a conversation with an unsaved neighbor by talking about sex. It is surely wise to build a durable relationship first, something that Phil could not and did not do in his GQ interview.
However, we need to remember that our sexuality matters to God, who created us, and that sometimes being faithful to him requires that we say uncomfortable things about people’s sexual choices. Remember that John the Baptist was imprisoned (and eventually martyred), not for counseling people to share with the poor, but for criticizing the sex life of Herod.
In our desperate, sex-crazed culture, sometimes we must do the same.
Stan Guthrie is author of the new book, A Concise Guide to Bible Prophecy: 60 Predictions Everyone Should Know. Stan blogs at stanguthrie.com.
Publication date: December 23, 2014