My heart yearns to increase balance, unity, and understanding within the body of Christ, so I’ve been less interested in the Phil Robertson / GQ ‘controversy’ itself and more interested in the reactions of people to the controversy. I’ve been reading the various posts and opinions that have been pouring through my social media feeds, and I think I’ve finally boiled my response down to three questions.
1. Why do we care more about Phil Robertson’s persecution than the shootings and bombings of Christians in Africa and Asia?
As Matthew Paul Turner says in a post that I mostly agree with, “Did you know that 500 people were killed in Sudan yesterday? Did you voice your grievance about that? Because that’s actually important. Whether or not Phil ever appears on Duck Dynasty is completely meaningless in comparison.”
Radical Muslims are repeatedly murdering Christian pastors in Kenya, bombing churches in Pakistan, and more. If America was the only country in the world, it might make sense for Phil’s (now temporary) suspension to be the big news of the day. But when Christians in other nations are being killed for their beliefs, focusing on ducks above all else seems both quaint and insulting to our brothers and sisters around the world.
Now to be honest, I can think of a few reasons for caring about the duck deal. I don’t want to fall prey to the fallacy that you can never discuss something because there’s something else more important to discuss; besides, here I am talking about it and I haven’t exactly been blogging about persecuted Christians, either. I understand that people are naturally more interested in things closer to home – things that have become part of the cultural conversation of the day.
I also understand that many Christians genuinely feel there is a level of unfairness here. Some said it’s about ‘free speech’ and others said it’s not because he had the freedom to speak everything he wanted but he still had to deal with the consequences of A&E’s freedom to continue working with him. But that’s all semantics; what many Christians feel is unfair is that Phil was punished for speaking his mind about homosexuality, while it seems like other public figures can roast Christianity, or that Miley Cyrus can express her brand of offensive sexuality, without any consequences at all.
I think that’s a legitimate thing to discuss; I guess I’m just struggling to decide how important that apparent unfairness is compared to other, bigger things going on in the world. (Could we maybe ever talk about whether our country’s foreign policy is helping or hindering the recruitments of the Islamists that are killing our brethren?) And while I have plenty to say about the inherent contradictions in the acceptable messages of pop culture, I’m not necessarily convinced that Phil’s comments are a good example of that.
Which brings us to question two.
2. Why didn’t the pope’s condemnation of homosexuality generate the same outrage as Phil Robertson’s?
The week this all went down, I heard Hank Hanegraaff and one of his author-guest-friends on Bott radio bemoaning that “we’ve lost the culture war” and it’s now hate speech to quote the Bible and sure we need to respond with gentleness but no matter how nicely we say things there will always be people that just don’t like it when we speak the truth.
In my opinion, that’s more than a little melodramatic, and it seems like more of that quaint and insulting notion of not only we-are-the-only-country-in-the-world but also we-are-the-only-victims-in-this-country. We’ve lost the culture war? Have you seen the media fawning over the new “Man of the Year” Pope Francis? Did you know the pope has made similar condemnations of homosexuality? Some do – he “previously called gay marriage the work of the devil” – but they draw the wrong conclusion – “Judging by Thursday’s precedent, A&E would fire the pope.”
Maybe instead of asking why activists aren’t mad at the pope too, we should be asking why the pope’s statements haven’t generated the same level of outrage. Is it possible there was something different about his delivery? Or does the pope just get a pass because he said some liberal-sounding things about the poor that got them on his good side. Maybe – but keep in mind that the media and elites and activists (or whoever) haven’t exactly been biased in favor of the Catholic church in recent years. Let’s not be too hasty to jump to the conservative-victim mentality here.
It’s true that no matter how lovingly and accurately Christians defend the Bible, some will consider it ‘intolerant’. But it also seems to be true that no matter how unlovingly Christians express themselves, many other Christians will assume they’re being persecuted and leap to their immediate defense. Everyone seems to have their own opinion about whether the controversial part of the interview was the Bible quoting or the anatomical descriptions or the dismissal of a lifestyle as illogical or the comparison to bestiality – or all of it – but I didn’t exactly get the impression that Phil personally knows very many gay people.
It’s one thing to just be politically incorrect, but it’s another to be insensitive to the fact that lots of gays have been severely hurt by the church’s years of unloving condemnations. And while I certainly don’t think Phil intended to be hurtful (another factor making Christians upset about the response), I’m not sure his comments did much to counter the ironic legacy of Christians with incomplete impressions of gay people saying things in such a way that gives gay people incomplete impressions of Christianity.
If we really want to reach the gay community, we need to think about these things. I think it’s possible to properly ‘judge’ something as ‘sin’ while recognizing the history of improper judgments that influence how our words will be heard. Otherwise we risk such insensitivity that even if we slap ‘but it’s just our job to love them’ on the end we are surprised when people don’t pay as much attention to that part.
Now we could spend hours debating the merits or drawbacks of each of Phil’s lines. I’m wary of criticizing others, especially a Christian under the pressure of the spotlight. Maybe it’s unreasonable to say Phil’s comments weren’t loving/sensitive enough. Maybe it’s unreasonable to expect Christians in the public eye to be more sensitive about these things. Maybe it’s unreasonable to expect that even if he had the outcome would have been any different. But… maybe it’s not.
There’s a time and place for speaking your mind and not caring what people think. But there’s also a time and place for paying attention to what people think to see if your approach needs some tweaking.
Which brings us to question three.
3. Why do we care more about condemning homosexuality than condemning adultery?
Phil’s comments about homosexuality (and the reaction to the reaction to them) are the latest example of a well-established trend. Yes, I know he mentioned other sexual sins, but I think it’s fair to say the topic constituted the bulk of his remarks, and, unless the interview was unfavorably edited, he even brought it up himself. None other than Ted Haggard had some interesting things to say about this apparent focus:
I believe Robertson does not want to encourage hate, but because of our history, the LGBT community does not hear him as loving…
This last summer, the Colorado legislature removed the law that made it illegal to commit adultery. There was no outcry…
I think that because most of us are heterosexuals, we don’t insist on laws that punish us for our immorality. Yet, the evidence suggests that we do want to add legal burdens on those who are not like us…
Could it be that we Christians, raised in modern multi-cultural churches with wholesome families surrounding us, have no idea how people who have suffered hear us when we speak?
You may disagree with Ted’s prognosis. You may even disagree that evangelical conservatives are overly focused on homosexuality. But at the very least it certainly appears that way to many non-Christians. (Where were the protests and picket signs and culture-war-is-over moaning in Colorado this summer?)
I could come up with lots of theological and political and cultural reasons for the differences in that particular case, but the point is that both Phil’s comments and the Colorado law are two small incidents out of a great many examples of why many non-Christians think Christians are really angry about homosexuals and don’t really care as much about a whole bunch of other stuff. And I think it’s worth thinking about why that is the case, and whether or not that has anything to do with how brightly our light is shining or how well we’re reflecting Jesus in the world.
This is not really about Phil; it’s about all of us, and how we are going to respond to the next incident. Does it make sense to get more excited about calling A&E than writing letters to imprisoned Iranians? Are we too quick to see ourselves as victims? Do we have our own inconsistent planks and do they handicap our authority to complain about the media’s inconsistencies?
These are the kinds of questions I have that make it hard for me to get worked up about this whole thing. I hope I’ve been clear without being too critical; if you feel I’m missing something important, I’d love to hear it. But if these are some things you haven’t thought about hardly at all, I just want to encourage you to maybe think about them a little bit. Thanks for reading.