So let’s recap. Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty fame was quoted in a GQ interview as saying, “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.” He adds, for good measure, “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. 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.”
Not long afterward, A&E issued a statement announcing Robertson’s suspension from the show: “We are extremely disappointed to have read Phil Robertson’s comments in GQ, which are based on his own personal beliefs and are not reflected in the series Duck Dynasty. His personal views in no way reflect those of A+E Networks, who have always been strong supporters and champions of the LGBT community. The network has placed Phil under hiatus from filming indefinitely.”
The resulting firestorm is not surprising. Just like the Great Chicken War of 2012, once again representatives of two seemingly mutually exclusive worldviews have escalated the already simmering conflict using the weapon closest at hand: words. Some of the volleys by both sides are worthy of consideration. Matt Walsh’s critique of A&E [editor’s note: Walsh’s critique has been removed from his website] may turn out to be accurate in its predictions, and Robert Cargill’s allegations of hypocrisy are worthy of note, for example. While ultimately there is a lot of noise surrounding this cultural ripple – and I reluctantly add to it here – there are a few things I would recommend Christians consider. If non-Christians want to consider them too, that would be great, but my target is Christians, who by their self-identification have acknowledged they are bound by Biblical ethics.
Consider, Christians, that A&E has utilized the same right many Christians are (correctly) claiming for themselves. A&E has the right (and should) not to have someone on their network with which they fundamentally disagree. Just like wedding photographers have the right (and should) to refuse service to anyone with whom they fundamentally disagree. Just like churches have the right (and should) to decline the use of their facilities for those with whom they fundamentally disagree. The rights protected by the First Amendment are guaranteed, in that Congress is disallowed from making laws “respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Consequently, Phil Robertson absolutely has the right to convey his views and beliefs without any repercussions from government. But Phil’s freedom of speech does not guarantee freedom from consequences – and he knows that. Likewise, A&E has the right to convey their views and beliefs without any repercussions from government, though they are also not exempt from consequences of their actions (as Matt Walsh has pointed out). The problem here, from the vantage point of many Christians, is that there seems a substantial inequity between what is allowed for those holding to Christian beliefs and what is allowed for those who don’t. Clearly, hypocrisy is a factor. However, the Bible doesn’t give Christians the leeway to fight hypocrisy with hypocrisy. The solution is not to seek limits to A&E’s freedom, nor is it to rejoice over the network’s “suicide,” nor is it to respond with vigorous hatred toward A&E or anyone else with a different worldview.
Instead, perhaps Christians can understand (1) how the national consciousness has arrived at this point, (2) what are our priorities in this context, and (3) exactly what those priorities call for.
The Pew Research Center has some interesting data on changing opinions regarding homosexuality and same-sex marriage. It helps to explain recent trends, but doesn’t necessarily account for the longevity of efforts through media and entertainment, and through legislative and judicial efforts (state propositions, etc.) over the years. This is a deep-seated issue that isn’t going away anytime soon, especially in light of the privileges retained for heterosexual marriages that have been historically unavailable to same-sex couples. From a Biblical perspective, homosexuality is obviously contrary to God’s design (e.g., Rom 1, 1 Cor 6:9, 1 Tim 1:10), but for those who do not recognize the authority of the Bible, homosexuality is just another aspect of life in which people want freedom. And, in part, because Christians have dug their heels in on these issues more than on most others, homosexuality has seemingly become the primary battleground between Christianity and non-Christianity in America.
While the Biblical and non-Christian perspectives on these issues couldn’t be more opposed to one another, Christians are called nonetheless to respond without judgment to those outside the body of Christ and who are not submitted to Biblical ethical standards (1 Cor 5:9-13). These are issues God will handle Himself. In the meantime, what are our priorities as Christians? Should we be active in seeking to protect our freedoms in an increasingly restrictive age? Of course. But are we declaring war on non-Christians in order to do it? If so, that is where we must tread lightly.
The apostle Paul explained that in his ministry, he wasn’t receiving everything that he could have claimed (1 Cor 9:11-12, 15). Death was more appealing to him than to hinder the Lord’s work (9:15), and he was willing to forego his rights in order to further the gospel (9:18). He adds that he willingly makes himself a slave to all, so that he may win more to Christ (9:19). Patrick Henry’s admirable battle cry of “Give me liberty or give me death!” might be translated by Paul as, “Give me liberty…or don’t, as long as I am effective in His service!”
Christians in America have an interesting challenge. We are citizens of a country that affords us many freedoms and avenues to protect and fight for those freedoms. In fact, these things are birthrights of all Americans by virtue of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. And yet, Christians are also citizens of heaven, whose interests should be God’s interests (e.g., Col 3:1-4). Sometimes those two interests can come into conflict with one another, and when they do, we have an important choice to make. Paul’s example can be very helpful in those instances.
So, Phil Robertson, kudos to you for having the courage to say what you believe is right. A&E, kudos to you for having the courage to do what you believe is right. Sadly, there are consequences for you both, and I wish them on neither of you. But I hope Christians, in particular, take advantage of this opportunity to understand the culture we are in, to reevaluate our priorities in light of the Bible, and to recommit ourselves to keeping the main thing the main thing.