Why I’d Rather Not Stand with Phil Robertson

So apparently the patriarch of the popular, backwoods, old-fashioned Christian family on the reality TV show “Duck Dynasty” believes that gay sex is sinful. Who knew?

In other news, nobody wonders why everybody is surprised.

Before I give a few thoughts of my own, I’m going to list a round-up of various responses to this news. (An * indicates a must-read post, particularly for straight, evangelical Christians.) But before I do that, I want to say up front that I don’t at all desire to cast doubts on the authenticity of Phil’s faith. I truly respect and am personally challenged by the zealous manner in which he lives it out, and could no doubt learn many valuable lessons about godly living from him. As a public figure who represents that faith before a wide audience, however, I believe we are all obligated to evaluate our own responses in ways that honor God and advance the gospel.

  1. Christianity Today has a thorough breakdown of the chain of events as they ensued.
  2. Several neo-Reformed Christian leaders have acknowledged that Phil’s use of explicit language in the GQ interview was “rather crude” (Albert Mohler), or “unhelpfully graphic” (Denny Burk). It would be interesting in this regard to compare this criticism of Phil’s crude comments with the apparent lack of criticism from the neo-reformed community at large of Thabiti Anyabwile’s even cruder comments in his “The Importance of Your Gag Reflex” post, although that might be asking too much.
  3. Jonathan Merritt points out that the real controversy is not Robertson’s views on homosexuality, but on his comments about the experience of black people in the South during the Jim Crow era.
  4. Although Russell Moore and others are predictably raising the issue of freedom of speech, some conservative Christians are cautioning against this rush to judgment.
  5. As always, the crew over at Spiritual Friendship have a number of thoughtful responses to the controversy. Wes Hill* points out the generally unhelpful nature of Phil’s comments: “he implies that if gay men could only open their eyes, it would dawn on them how myopic they’ve been.” As Julie Rodgers* reflects first-hand, “it’s hard to figure out if we’re an “us” or a “them” when we’re both gay and Christian.” Ron Belgau* points out the we are talking about actual people, not mere body parts, and suggests that “Robertson’s words reduce Christian teaching about marriage to desire for vaginas.”
  6. Preston Sprinkle* attacks head-on the rather crude myth that Phil’s comments seemed to express, namely that being gay can be boiled down to homosexual lust. Read the whole thing, please.
  7. Brent Bailey* provides three very, VERY helpful pieces of advice about how to engage controversies like this one in ways that communicate respect and honor.

I don’t really have much else to say that will substantially add to the conversation, other than a few random observations.

  1. A few of the more conservative Christian commenters have tried to make the point that Phil’s actual beliefs about sexuality are the fundamental cause of the cultural outcry, and not the crude manner in which he stated them. This seems to be both simplistic and inaccurate on the one hand, and a copout on the other. I don’t deny that many people are offended by the actual content of Phil’s beliefs; GLAAD, for example labeled Phil’s beliefs as “far outside of the mainstream understanding of LGBT people,” and said that they “fly in the face of what true Christians believe.” These are statements that refer to the actual content of Phil’s statements. But surely we must remember that our messages are shaped by the medium through which they are communicated. GLAAD also said that Phil’s comments were “some of the vilest and most extreme statements uttered against LGBT people in a mainstream publication” and were “littered with outdated stereotypes and blatant misinformation.” Is this assessment really that far off the mark? Again, I’m not questioning the truth of the propositional content of Phil’s comments; I believe there is a place for natural law arguments against homosexual practice. But the crude and, dare I say, uninformed manner in which Phil couched his comments surely detracts from the overall capacity of the statements themselves to reflect a godly and winsome witness.
  2. On that note, let me just say that regurgitating statements about conservative Christian sexual morality before a hostile audience is not the same thing as bearing a godly and faithful witness to the gospel of Christ.
  3. Honestly, it bothers me that the rush to “stand with Phil” seems to demonstrate a reflexively unreflective willingness to make his statements representative of a biblical, compassionate account of traditional sexual morality. As a Church, we desperately need to be informed citizens of the Kingdom when it comes to issues related to homosexuality and the LGBT community. It truly grieves me that the LGBT community feels personally attacked not only by the content of our beliefs, but by the crass, unfeeling, and even mocking manner in which some brands of conservative Christianity tend to express them. Eternal souls lie in the balance, and we should not behave as though biblical morality will somehow be compromised if we tone down our rhetoric and begin to assume a more humble, compassionate posture towards those impacted by issues we do not fully comprehend.
  4. This will not be the last time a Christian public figure will cause controversy by voicing private beliefs about sexual morality. The next time it happens, please, PLEASE reflect thoughtfully about how your reaction will represent the faith once for all delivered to the saints.
  5. So, I’d rather not stand with Phil at this time. Although I truly respect and am challenged by Phil’s zealous faith, I sense a deeper obligation to my own conviction to call a spade a spade and stand where Christ stood, with the marginalized and outcasts. And I think Phil would agree.
Nate (7 Posts)

Nate is a New Testament PhD student at Southern Seminary in Louisville, KY. He is also the executive director of Aligned Grace Resources, a Christian organization he founded with his father to help churches have informed, compassionate, and gospel-centered conversations about gender.

11 Responses to “Why I’d Rather Not Stand with Phil Robertson”
  1. jackbrannen December 21, 2013
    • Nate December 21, 2013
  2. Luke Vasicek December 21, 2013
    • Nate December 21, 2013
      • jackbrannen December 21, 2013
  3. Mike Beckner December 21, 2013
  4. John December 21, 2013
    • jackbrannen December 21, 2013
  5. Robert Ewoldt (@BobEwoldt) December 21, 2013
  6. Steve December 21, 2013
    • Nate December 21, 2013

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