So, Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty fame apparently couldn’t stop talking about how sinful being gay is while giving a reporter from GQ a tour of his home. His subsequent suspension from appearances on A&E created a dual dust-up: Gay people that are offended that yet another high-profile Christian has made them into a whipping boy, and Christians who scream “free speech” in response to his censure at the hands of the production company.
I had a handful of kneejerk responses to seeing the news. The first was that I checked on all of my gay friends on Facebook, because if any of them had posted an angry, sad, or bitter retort I wanted to express my condolences for any pain they felt. The second was to check on all my Christian friends, just in case I felt the need to offer some perspective. The third was to hunt down the original article in question and read it carefully. After that, I had to do some thinking.
My feelings on this issue are complex, as my feelings inevitably seem to be.
First, I am tired to my very bones of Christians feeling the need to pick at the sins of society as a whole. We can’t ever fully understand God or his motivations, but we can look to the Bible and see what examples he gives us. In the old Testament we see God ordering one of his prophets to marry a prostitute, as this is a metaphor for his love for his people. The metaphor? The man loves his wife but she leaves him to pursue her own interests time and time again, only coming back when she is beaten and bruised. Hm. Another example I find illuminating is, of course, Christ. He did talk about sin, but he lived a life that was not focused on it. His life was focused on compassion. Then there are the letters of the apostles which of course are filled with admonitions- but they were talking to fellow Christians, and we really honestly cannot use their language as a model for how to speak with unbelievers, so what are we left with?
Looking back at the story of Hosea and the prostitute Gomer, I am continuously struck by the fact that while her sin and abandonment of her vows was an issue, the greater focus was on God’s love for his people and how Hosea’s love of her was a reflection of that.
The story of salvation may involve sin by necessity, but it isn’t the story of sin.
Focusing on sin misses the mark, and that’s where I think that Phil Robertson’s portrayal of Christianity falls short. You can say that his remarks about how guys ought to dig vaginas were a defense of Christian beliefs, but is that what Christianity boils down to? Not liking anus?
Given a platform to discuss anything, or to defend the faith, what exactly needs defending? The right to consider homosexuality a sin, or the right to demonstrate God’s love?
For me, at least, the choice is clear.
Then, when it comes to considering whether or not A&Es censure of Robertson is a condemnation of faith or simply an investment-saving move, I think the truth is equally as clear. Robertson was given the time with the GQ reporter to further A&Es brand, which is bound up in the Robertson family’s persona. While that persona involves their Christianity-inspired down-south values, consideration has to be given to the audience at hand. GQs audience probably isn’t reading a spread on Duck Dynasty to hear about how being gay is bad. It’s simply bad PR, and from A&Es point of view Robertson’s job was as a brand ambassador, not an ambassador for Christ.
He’s being censured for not doing his job.
This is the problem with mixing God and money. If you choose God, you aren’t choosing money, and if you choose money you may have to turn on your morals. If Robertson’s ultimate goal was furthering his version of the gospel, in the end losing his screen time should be a price he is happy to pay for having done that. If his ultimate goal was money, well, he had the choice to keep his mouth shut.
(Although, honestly, there is a fair argument to be made that furthering God doesn’t necessitate gay-bashing.)
Now, for the issue of free speech:
If Robertson was an atheist and had said that Christianity had no place in American politics and that politicians should be censured if they admit to their personal ethics being influenced by the Bible, would the Christian community be saying his right to free speech is sacrosanct?
Food for thought.
Picture from Jamesjustin