We tried very hard to avoid writing this blog since it appears everyone in print, radio, TV, Facebook, Twitter, blogosphere (are there more?) has offered an opinion on Phil Robertson, the Duck Dynasty patriarch, and his statements on sin and apparent hate for gays. In fact there is so much out on the Internet on this incident that there is no need for any links from this blog to direct you to some of the material. If you are really interested in the details of the story, simply Google any combination of Phil Robertson, Duck Dynasty and gays. There will be more than enough material for you to digest (if it doesn’t make you sick first). There is definitely some serious duck disagreement on this topic.
After reading through a significant chunk of views on this incident, it is clear that there is much more under the surface than the actual words spoken or the reaction by Mr. Robertson’s employers (A&E). The depth of emotion involved from all sides is an indicator that something very deep has been touched. Extreme views such as the predictable “Phil hates gays, Christians hate gays and so does God” to it’s opposite twin “the free speech of Christians is being silenced” seem to dominate the minds of those who’s idea of a complex thought is a tweet or Facebook status update. Others have taken more nuanced positions stating that A&E has the right to determine what product it wants to broadcast and viewers also can make choices about what they watch. As a footnote, it is interesting that as of this writing, A&E has re-instated Mr. Robertson to Duck Dynasty after a short “suspension”. This likely says more about the reality of the business priorities of A&E rather than any kind of moral statement since Duck Dynasty is the #1 program on A&E and has a huge viewership.
After reading multiple versions of these types of commentary, it is important to address a root issue that we believe has been missed. This is possibly why such extreme emotion is being expressed by so many. It is time to speak out. However, a few observations first:
1. In our post-modern society, if a mainstream magazine/publication asks you to define “sin”, yellow or red lights should be immediately going off in your mind.
While this may seem obvious now, it may not be in the moment. We addressed this issue at some length in a previous blog “Avoiding a Trap” but in short, this type of question may be best responded to with another question. This is the Hebraic method often used by Jesus when people with questionable motives asked him similar questions (e.g. “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”). Mr. Robertson might have responded, “How would you define sin?” for example. However, his reputation as a straight shooter, quick to speak, etc. likely made him an easy target. Foot, meet mouth.
2. Being criticized, verbally attacked or insulted for something you said is not the denial of free speech.
Interestingly, this is true of all sides of this debate. Christians who speak what they believe to be truth should expect to be persecuted. This goes with the territory and Jesus himself clearly spelled this out (John 15:20). Conversely, this also applies to other religions, atheists, every sexual orientation and race. While the criticism and verbal abuse may be inappropriate, hateful or downright evil it is the reality of dealing with all types of people. These words say more about the state of the person who utters them than their intended target. It’s time to drop the ridiculous “free speech” and “hate speech” mantra. When your government fines, arrests or imprisons you for something you said, your free speech is being undermined. Until then, toughen up and grow a pair (as a wise person once said).
To be fair, there has been some recent commentary from all sides of this issue stating a similar position. This is an encouraging trend.
3. Everyone who says they speak for God may not be.
For those of us familiar with the back and forth, sometimes healthy, sometimes not dialogue about what God may or may not be saying this is not a new thing. We all see through a glass darkly and are continually growing in our understanding of the character, attributes and thoughts of God. Of course, there are some absolutes that are clear and non-negotiable. The challenge is discerning what is clear and non-negotiable and what is not and more importantly making public statements about a thing being settled in one of those categories. Understanding this issue is important to avoid the error of attributing idiotic comments to God just because someone claims divine inspiration.
With these issues clarified, it is time to move to what we believe is a core issue lurking under the surface of this controversy, the misconception that disagreement is hate. These two concepts do not even belong in the same sentence. No more than agreement and love. Disagreement/agreement and hate/love belong together as pairings of opposites. Significant error and possible harm comes when one intermixes concepts from either pair. Calling someone who disagrees with you a “hater” or their words “hate speech” is just a tactic to avoid meaningful discussion of the issue being raised. It is so much easier to simply label someone rather than engaging in the ideas he or she is raising (regardless of how ridiculous or offensive you think they may be).
At this point we will unashamedly invoke the example of Jesus of Nazareth, the resurrected one (just to be sure there is no confusion of who we are talking about). Whether you are a follower of Jesus, believe he is “God with skin on” or simply a pillar of morality in all of human history, most people would agree that he was either sinless, morally perfect or very close to it. This example to all humanity had no issue being considered a friend of prostitutes, drunkards, tax collectors (despised Jewish traitors to the occupying Romans) and all manner of “sinners”. Furthermore, it is obvious to any who read the gospel accounts of Jesus life (and other non-Biblical sources) that these very same people universally returned his affection enthusiastically. After all, this was one of the regular criticisms made of him by his opponents. How else could that be the case unless there was observable relationship and affection between Jesus and the sinful crowd? Without a doubt, he really was a friend to these people. Loving, caring, defending, protecting, sacrificing – yes all the things a true friend does.
Having hopefully established this concept without any doubt, now consider this –
There is not one record of Jesus ever agreeing/condoning/endorsing the behaviour of these people.
To the woman caught in adultery (after he defended her from her accusers) – “Go and sin no more.”
After befriending the Samaritan woman at the well (in broad daylight which was a serious no-no for a Jewish man) – “What you say is right. You have had five husbands.”
To the tax collector Zaccheus (after he repented and promised to repay all he had stolen seven times) – “Today, salvation has come to this house.”
To the rich man who desired eternal life (who had been religious but had not yet discovered it) – “Sell all you have and give to the poor and follow me.”
In the hearing of the Roman soldiers (while they pounded nails into his hands and feet) – “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do.”
To family members who tried to direct him away from his calling (who were interrupting his activities) – “Who are my mother, sister and brother? Those that hear the word of God and do it.”
To his closest friends, his disciples (who struggled with understanding his calling) – “How long shall I put up with you?”
The greatest lover of men and women in human history frequently disagreed with those he loved. These friends never considered this hate. Why is this so difficult for us to grasp in the 21st century? While many of his friends may have hid in fear during his trial and crucifixion, they were not directly responsible for it. The religious hierarchy was (the Romans were just the murder weapon of choice). They were never his friends and were the ones full of hate. Religious minds of all kinds (god worshipers, man worshipers, body worshipers, sex worshipers) are the source of hate.
At Back to Eden Group, we are not afraid of and will never duck disagreement with others. Especially those we love. Calling us haters will only strengthen our resolve. That is the response of someone with nothing of substance to offer to another or to society as a whole.
Phil Robertson has a right to call homosexuality sin. Homosexuals have a right to call him a hater or bigot. However, true friends and people lovers when they disagree will find a way to work through it. There is a better way.