Aight. If you’ve just crawled out from under a rock, you’re hearing a lot of buzz around Phil Robertson, one of the stars of A&E’s popular reality show Duck Dynasty. In an interview with Gentlemen’s Quarterly, Robertson expressed his opposition to homosexuality on the basis of scripture. A&E has since suspended his contract.
Unsurprisingly, the Christian community has taken Phil to be the patron saint of persecution—a martyr on the altar of free speech. Countless words have already been written—including this excellent piece from Jared Wilson. Why yet another article? Because while I don’t disagree with anything that’s been written so far, I believe there are several important lessons that lie beneath the surface:
- We should be saddened but not surprised. Shows like Family Guy find humor in rape jokes, while Robertson’s conservative voice is pulled from the airwaves. This reversal of values should trouble us, but it should not surprise us. Jesus said the world would get exponentially worse (Luke 17:26-31). While every effort can—nay, should—be made to improve it, the reality is that we must learn to navigate today’s upside-down culture (see below).
- Being right is not always the same as being redemptive. This was easily the most troubling thing about Robertson’s interview. When Jesus sent out His messengers, He advised them to “be wise as serpents and innocent as doves (Matthew 10:16).” I see neither wisdom nor innocence in Robertson’s discussion of the vagina and anus. And that’s ignoring his racial comments entirely. Being a self-described “redneck” does not give you the right to equate crudeness with earthy, homespun wisdom. I love what Ravi Zacharias says: “Truth that is not undergirded by love makes the truth obnoxious and the possessor of it repulsive.” Even if we agree with Robertson’s message, his presentation was downright repulsive. It’s not about being “politically correct;” it’s about being able to speak God’s truth in a winsome way. Does that mean that if Robertson had spoken more gently than he wouldn’t be in this mess? Doubtful (see the previous point). But at least he could have modeled a way to truthfully and lovingly respond to this critical issue.
- Sensitivity is not the same as compromise. This past summer I spoke on the subject of homosexuality. Borrowing (stealing) from Tim Keller, I defined the gospel as the ability to see two things: (1) man’s sinfulness and (2) God’s love. If I focus only on love, then I can easily fall into the error of relativism. I am so concerned about my appearance before others, I emphasize Christ’s love and neglect to confront sin. But if I focus on sin, then I am prone to form a position of disgust. It is true that Christians need to repent of the idol of relativism and appearance, and with boldness address the moral failings of our day. But I am deeply concerned for a Christian community that equates sensitivity with compromise. We can address sin—all sin—without labeling certain sins as disgusting or revolting.
- Christian values never saved anyone. It’s downright refreshing to see Christian values in the media, but we must remember that without the gospel Christian values have no value at all. The Christian life is not measured by performance—positively or negatively. It’s measured by Christ’s sacrifice. Therefore, the goal of Christianity is not to alter the cultural landscape via boycotts and petitions, but by seeing the culture change as the gospel takes root. Perhaps my concerns are misplaced, but I often worry that in all the social media hullaballoo we forget that it’s not the fervor of our faith that saves us, but the object of our faith. I don’t mean to slam anyone, I only express a pastor’s heart that we would be as deeply committed to Christ as we are to having the right “values.”
- Christianity never does well with celebrity. We live in an era of charismatic authority—where power is equated with popularity. So even if Robertson is merely offering his opinion, there will be those who interpret his statements as reflective of Christians everywhere.
- Faith is bigger than a “fad.” The gospel is bigger than a television show. When the fad eventually dies—as all fads do—we must have a greater anchor for our faith than Uncle Si’s beard. The church used to say lex orendi, lex credendi—“the church believes as she prays.” Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones offers a more modern paraphrase: “What you win them with, you win them to.” Let’s not tie our faith to a fad. Let’s tie our faith to Jesus.
- We’re strangers in a strange land. The reality is that we’re almost certainly not going to win the battle over same-sex marriage. I’m not suggesting that we refrain from standing up on this issue; I’m suggesting we learn to navigate a world whose values are not our own. The more I read Daniel, the more I’m convinced that this is where our world is headed. Daniel and his friends were political prisoners in Babylon. He and his companions were even given names reflecting pagan worship—surely an outrage for the Jewish mind. In his book The Next Christians, Gabe Lyons suggests that the Christians who have the greatest impact on the future of our faith are those who are “provoked, but not offended.” This was Daniel’s life, a life where he was provoked to live out his beliefs in the midst of an adulterous, idolatrous people. To be a follower of Christ, then, means that we learn to live like Daniel—and teach our children to do the same.
I fear for a Christian culture that is quick to defend Robertson’s right to free speech and slow to acknowledge the responsibility toward outsiders (Colossians 4:2-6). This Sunday, there may well be homosexuals walking through the doors of your sanctuary. Are you willing to repeat what Robertson said to their faces? Or might there be a better way of sharing the gospel?