The online controversy surrounding Phil Robertson’s suspension from Duck Dynasty highlights the deep divisions that exist in our country regarding Christianity and sexuality. For the most part, I’ve seen two responses on social media: those who wholeheartedly support Robertson and his statements, and those who vehemently repudiate them. Depending on which side of the cultural divide you are on, Robertson looks either like a hero or a hateful bigot.
My first reaction to the controversy was probably similar to many of my readers: anger and dismay at the way “big media” treats traditional Christian viewpoints. How dare A&E go after this man for his stance on sexual morality?
Like many issues, though, with a few hours of thought and consideration I’m seeing things a bit differently. I don’t think we evangelicals should be so ready to jump on the “torch A&E to the ground” bandwagon, or that we should be so eager to line up behind Robertson and his statements.
Now, I absolutely agree with Robertson that homosexual behavior is sinful. It’s a view that Christians have held and affirmed for a long time. And it certainly troubles me that expressing that view in the public square is now completely taboo. No matter how carefully it’s qualified or explained, believing that homosexual behavior is wrong is considered the unforgivable sin of public discourse. It has become impossible to even discuss the issue without being shouted down or completely silenced. I understand all of that, and as a Christian it makes me sad.
However, I think it’s a mistake to hitch our wagons to Phil Robertson as the spokesman for evangelical Christianity. And without intending to do so, that’s what many Christians have done in the past 24 hours or so. There are a few critical facts that we’re failing to take into account:
First, A&E is a business, and they made a business decision. They calculated — correctly or not — that the fallout from sticking with Robertson would exceed the fallout from firing him. Blogger Matt Walsh has argued that A&E has just committed suicide, that everybody will flee from their network and they’ll go down in flames. I think he’s wrong in this case. Walsh lacks the perspective of history here. If you’ve followed the culture wars for long, you’ve seen this story before. The attention span of those who are furious will fade in a few weeks. A&E will likely cancel the show, the Robertsons might find another network (perhaps a Christian one?), but people will move on. Sticking with the Robertsons was a riskier decision for a secular business like A&E. If they hadn’t pulled Phil off of the show, the advertisers would have fled in droves, not just from that one show, but from the entire network. A few thousand Christian viewers migrating to different shows pales in comparison.
A&E isn’t in the business of preaching biblical Christianity. They’re in the business of making money through entertainment (after all, the network is called “Arts and Entertainment”). It’s certainly within our rights to stop watching their shows, and perhaps we should. But it’s also within their rights to decide who gets on their network and who doesn’t. It’s a hard reality, but it’s the reality of the entertainment business, and it shouldn’t surprise any of us. It also shouldn’t surprise us that our Christian views are minority views. Although those of us in the South are often surrounded with people who share our views, the national picture looks quite a bit different. Frankly, there are more people who disagree with traditional Christian sexuality than who agree with it. So again, A&E made a very deliberate and careful business calculation here, and I don’t think it will hurt them in the long run.
Second, Phil Robertson’s comments do not exemplify how Christians ought to approach the discussion of biblical sexuality. I’m not sure that those who are lining up behind Robertson have carefully read the words he actually said. He was deliberately crude, and he seemed to be trying to poke a stick in the eyes of those who disagree with him. If Robertson had made those same remarks in front of my church’s college group, I would have told him he could never talk to them again. The problem with allowing an entertainment figure to be our spokesman is that his job is to provoke, to draw laughs, and to entertain. Even if he does it crudely and offensively. The Robertson family are skilled entertainers. But they’re paid a lot of money to be silly and shocking. I think Christians need to engage in thoughtful discussions about biblical sexuality. But not in discussions laced with the kind of talk that permeates junior high locker rooms. I do realize that Robertson would have been attacked even if his comments had been measured and careful. That being said, I can’t endorse him as my spokesman, because of the way he said what he did.
Third, if we make Duck Dynasty our rallying point, we might communicate that we care more about popularity than about the gospel. When I stand before Jesus Christ, I am confident He won’t ask me if I went to bat to keep Duck Dynasty on the air. It’s a television show. Our identity does not rest in whether or not Christians remain popular on television. When I read the New Testament I see stories of Christians experiencing real persecution for their faith: loss of property, loss of life, imprisonment. What does it say about us that we go ballistic over the shaming of an entertainment figure? Especially one who will continue to make millions of dollars through books, speaking engagements, and probably a whole new cottage industry based on his Christian beliefs?
What’s interesting to me is that there are some key theological issues in which the Robertsons probably disagree with the evangelicals who watch the show. For example, they attend a church that believes in baptismal regeneration, the belief that baptism is essential to receive eternal life. Yet I’ve heard very few Christians discuss that issue, which is directly related to the gospel. On the other hand, we are very concerned about the issue of homosexuality, an important issue that is more about morality than about eternal life. My point is this: I think we are often more concerned with winning a cultural battle and looking good than we are about sharing the gospel in a winsome and accurate way.
Because I know I’ll receive some pushback on this post, I feel the need to clarify again: I agree with Robertson that biblical sexuality is important. I agree that the Bible clearly teaches homosexual behavior is sinful. I’m troubled and saddened that we can’t have a reasonable discussion about the issue.
I’m more concerned, though, that we take care to faithfully and winsomely preach Jesus Christ before we inundate our culture with messages about sexuality.
Enter your email address to subscribe, or like the Facebook page on the sidebar.