I realize I’m late to the party on this one, and maybe (hopefully?) we’re all tired of talking about Duck Dynasty by the time this gets published. Such is the natural result of publishing a blog only once a week: unless something happens over the weekend, I’ll always be behind the excitement curve. But it also gives me more time to reflect. So here is my take. I won’t pretend all of these thoughts are original. In fact, probably none of them are. But no one pays me to be original!
Freedom Of Speech?
First off, this is not a freedom of speech issue. “Freedom of Speech” is a right that guarantees we can say what we want and the government will not step in an censor us. It does not protect us from the consequences of the things we say; other people have the right to react however they will. We must face the consequences of what we say, even if we speak the truth and people punish us for it. This is something that I try to teach my four year old child: our choices have consequences. Phil is experiencing the consequence of a choice he made. As Christians, we may have ill things happen to us because of choices we make, even good choices. A Christ honoring walk isn’t only standing up for truth when there won’t be consequences, but also standing up when we might suffer for it. But as for “Freedom of Speech”, the government did not sanction or take away and of Phil’s freedoms for what he said.
From A&E’s standpoint, it is very reasonable for them to act in a way that caters to their target audience. Now, you might argue that by doing what they did they actually alienated their target audience, but that’s their call: I’ll leave running their business well up to them. When I walk into a Christian bookstore, I do not expect that company to carry pro-Muslim material. This isn’t a violation of the right of Muslim writers to speak their views, but rather the bookstore choosing to do good business for its target audience. A&E isn’t a Christian company and their goal is the bottom line. We shouldn’t expect them to do any differently.
Just Speaking His Beliefs?
I’ve heard many times that Phil is being persecuted for simply stating his beliefs. We need to be really careful with this logic. This argument makes it sound like it doesn’t matter what his beliefs are, that there should be no backlash for him simply stating them. But this simply isn’t true. If he’d said that eating babies is a tasty treat there would be backlash from ALL quarters because everyone agrees that such a thing is abhorrent. Christians have certainly united against people saying things they didn’t like in the past. It’s disingenuous to label what Phil said as simply “Stating his beliefs”. It’s more accurate to say “Stating his beliefs that many people find highly offensive”. That some of what he said was backed by scripture doesn’t make it less offensive to many people.
Yes, I believe that men having sex with men is a sin. I also understand that when I say that, I’m likely offending a lot of people. Honesty means I have to be truthful about what I believe, and integrity means that I accept some people are not going to like it and the consequences that come because of that. For what it’s worth, I think Phil and I are probably on the same page here; I suspect he accepted the cost associated with the statements he made.
Stand With Phil?
I’ve seen many people stating that they “Stand with Phil”. I think we need to be very cautious here. What does it mean to “Stand with Phil”? Does it mean that you stand by everything he said in that interview, complete with very explicit references to sexual and non-sexual private parts? Does it mean you stand by the implications he made about oppressed African Americans? Does it mean you stand by statements he’s made elsewhere, such as homosexuals are “full of murder, envy, strife, hatred. They are insolent, arrogant, God-haters. They are heartless, they are faithless, they are senseless, they are ruthless. They invent ways of doing evil.”
Because if you aren’t clear when you say you “Stand with Phil”, these are the things people are going to assume you stand for. And worse, this is what they will understand to be the primary content of Christianity. That following Christ is more about curbing homosexual activity than it is about lifting up the oppressed and sharing the light of Jesus into the darkness.
“Now wait!” you might say. “I don’t mean that I stand behind everything Phil does!” I know you don’t, but this this the problem with making a man a symbol. Human beings are complex and nuanced; symbols are not. We might intend for “Stand with Phil” to be narrowly defined to mean one specific thing, but there’s not guarantee that is what will be communicated. In fact, I guarantee that as soon as the “symbol” slips up and does something you don’t like, you still will be assumed to be supporting him.
What Are We United Around?
Suddenly, like the recent blow up over Chick-Fil-A, Christians are galvanized into action. And once again it is over the issue of homosexuality. It is not over the cross or the love of Christ. It’s not even around providing for widows and orphans (the purest form of religion, according to James). No, it is over the issue of the sexual activities of people who, for the most part, do not even claim to follow our beliefs or moral code.
The world is convinced that evangelicals are bound together by hatred; hatred of homosexuals. Jesus said “they will know you by your love for one another”, so how is it that we are known for hatred instead? Sure, it’s easy to blame people on “the outside” and claim it’s their corrupt values that cause them to misunderstand, but from the inside, it seems their conclusions are not unreasonable. When we blow up Facebook to stand by a man with crude language that most of our churches would not allow in our pulpits, it becomes clear that his stance on homosexuality overrides any other concerns we might have. That sends a strong message. If he had not condemned homosexuality, how many Christians would have been comfortable with the words he used to describe private parts and the comparisons he made of their relative merits when engaging in sexual activity?
I Stand With Christ
In the end, I do not stand with Phil (though I don’t stand against him). I may agree with some of what he said, but I also disagree with some of the ways he said it. I think he could have handled it better, but whose to say I’d have done any better in his shoes? I’m not judging him- none of us are perfect, and he seems to know it. Good for him. And if what he reaps from this is the hatred of the world, I think he knew that was coming and accepted it. Sometimes we have to make the hard choices to stand by what we believe.
But as for me, I stand with Christ and scripture. I believe that same-gender sex is a sin because I think that any consistent reading of scripture leads to that conclusion. Could I be wrong? I could, but I don’t think it’s likely. I’ve read the pro-homosexual arguments and I know there are people who stand by that reading of scripture, but I personally don’t see it. All I can say is what my own conclusions are. I know that all men will fail and fall short of truth, Phil and myself included. I’m not tying myself to any man but Christ, because only Christ is without blemish, perfect and sinless.
Phil is a rich man. He can take care of himself. Most of us have no real knowledge of the man and what his true faith is like. He made a choice and he can live with it. Let’s pray for him, but I think we should not turn him into the icon of Christianity. That spot is reserved for Jesus, always and forever.
Dealing With The Fear
I think there is a real fear that drives a lot of the passion on this topic. Those who believe that homosexuality is a sin are fearful of what we see coming: our freedom to worship following our own religious beliefs will be threatened if things continue on their current trajectory. I know that the homosexual community scoffs at this, saying that no one’s freedom has been taken away by gay marriage, but it isn’t true. That couple who lost their cake making business because they refused to participate in a gay wedding tells us there will be a time that we will have to choose between government sanctions and observing our faith. I agree that no business should be able to deny serving someone on the basis of being homosexual; Christianity doesn’t say we should. But for many Christians, participating in a wedding is a different story: it’s a religious ceremony with deep significance. When I attend a wedding, I take it seriously what my participation in it means. I may well choose not to attend if I believe it is violating my faith values. According to the US Constitution, this is my right, but that right is threatened by recent events.
So yes, we see this threat looming over us and so we react with outrage. We cry loudly and make waves when we feel an injustice has occurred. That is our right by law, but I don’t know that it is the Christian way. What have we to fear? That the world will turn against us? The world already IS against us. Should we instead welcome the coming trials so that our faith may be approved and God’s work perfected in us? I think James says “yes”:
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4, ESV)
We need not fear the coming storm or fight our battles with strength. There may well come a day when truly our religious freedoms will be taken away, but I don’t think we need to go toward that day kicking and screaming. We can forge ahead with confidence, come what may, for God will work it all for our good.
In the meantime, my wish is that we would not allow the fight over same-sex marriage to become the focal point of Christianity. It isn’t the focal point of scripture, and I think we have important things to say that are obscured by the battle we do on this issue. Yes, we need to stand for what we believe, but we also need to make sure we keep our message in proportion to the significance the scripture gives it, and the scripture makes clear that the nature of any individual sin pales in comparison to the import of the Gospel.