In the recent controversy related to Phil Robertson, of Duck Dynasty, there were two major learning opportunities (one for each of the opposing sides on this issue) that seemed to be completely overlooked. I know, considering the Second-Coming-level of attention this was given, it’s hard to believe that even the slightest detail could have been missed. However, particularly with the reactions I got to my stated position on the matter, I did see a couple of openings for teachable moments that I thought, if utilized, could result in a very meaningful silver lining coming out of this brouhaha. So, now that A&E has reversed their original decision, before the dust completely settles, I want to explore these learning opportunities, in hopes of capturing the gain they may hold.
LESSONS FOR ROBERTSON’S OPPONENTS
One of the first related discussions I heard was among the panel members on Megyn Kelly’s Fox News program, the Kelly file. Their focus was on the comments made by Phil Robertson, in the GQ article entitled “What the Duck?” The apparent anti-Robertson participant was Bernard Whitman, who described himself as a double minority, “… gay and Jewish.” Hate was the word he used to sum up his views on Robertson’s comments related to homosexuality in the article. He, also, said that the behavior exhibited by Robertson in the article was not Christian. Neither of Whitman’s stated positions rang true with me. I had read the GQ article word for word and I couldn’t see how anyone could come away from reading it with a sense of hatred on Robertson’s part unless they went into their reading looking for something to interpret as offensive. And, I think my take on this is soundly supported by the fact that the article’s Writer, Drew Magary, doesn’t give even the slightest hint that there was hatefulness in Robertson’s words and behavior, though Magary wasn’t in complete agreement with Robertson’s views. Furthermore, though I suspect Whitman may only be Jewish ethnically, even if he is a devout practitioner of the Jewish faith, I don’t see him as having authority to define what is Christian behavior and what isn’t.
A key reason for my holding off until now to offer my observations on this controversy was that, if I did have anything worthwhile to say on the matter, it was more likely to get lost in the topic’s overwhelmingly expansive coverage. Likewise, I chose to hold off on even taking a stance on the matter and when I did, it was only a simple statement made on my Facebook page. I said, “We all have our flaws but I’d stand by Phil and the things he stands up for long after I say goodbye to A&E, the home of Rodeo Girls.” Considering Bernard Whitman’s stated positions, I fully expected to be attacked by those who share his views. Although that didn’t happen, I did have a couple of Liberal friends challenge my position, questioning if I’d read the full GQ article and if I was in agreement with everything Phil Robertson had said in it. I responded to my friends by telling them I thought their questions were loaded, that discussions like this between friends belong offline and that if they had opposing positions to mine, they should state those on their respective Facebook pages. However, I do think providing a generic response to my friends’ questions here can offer some enlightenment.
I’m not a longtime, avid Duck Dynasty fan. We’ve only started to watch reruns in the past couple of months. In doing that, though I understand the Phil Robertson I see on TV isn’t the real-life Phil Robertson, I’ve become well enough acquainted with him to believe I’d like him in real-life and that we would see many things the same way. That’s not much different from my perspective on the friends I mentioned. I haven’t seen every episode of their lives, they may be different at home than they are where I’ve been with them but I know them well enough to have chosen them as my friends and with that, I accept that “We all have our flaws but I’d stand by (them)”, although I don’t agree with many of their stated positions. Furthermore, I didn’t say that I agreed with everything Phil Robertson had to say in “What the Duck?” I only said that “I‘d stand by Phil and the things he stands up for long after I say goodbye to A&E, the home of Rodeo Girls.” And, yes, as stated earlier, I did read the GQ article word for word.
Although, up to now, I’ve only addressed the controversy that arose out of Phil Robertson’s comments in the GQ article related to homosexuality, I don’t want to gloss over the fact that he got flak over some race-related observations. In both cases, I’ll paraphrase what I said earlier, I don’t see how anyone could come away from reading the article with a sense of hatred on Robertson’s part unless they went into their reading looking for something to interpret as offensive. In my view, Robertson’s comments related to homosexuality weren’t really meant to specifically address homosexuality. I think Robertson was just lamenting the continuing erosion of our American culture’s moral fabric and I’m in agreement with that lamentation. In fact, that is pretty much the heart of Here I Raise My Ebenezer, as detailed on its About page. And, I saw Robertson’s race-related observations as just that – i.e. His recollection of how things were for African-Americans when he was growing up in the Mid-South in the middle of the Twentieth Century. Frankly, it didn’t sound much different from what I recall from growing up in the Midwest during the same time. I suspect that, like me, Phil Robertson looks back and wishes he had been able to change the things our African-American contemporaries had to endure but it doesn’t mean that we should revise our memories of what we witnessed then.
So, with all this said, what is the lesson that I see for those who oppose the views Phil Robertson expressed in the GQ article? It is, when you hear a message you don’t agree with, state your disagreement with the message but stop attacking the messenger. When you do, that, in fact, is hatred. Like it or not, I think the related takeaway here was embedded in Phil Robertson’s initial response to this controversy arising, when he said, “I would never treat anyone with disrespect just because they are different from me. We are all created by the Almighty and like Him, I love all of humanity. We would all be better off if we loved God and loved each other.”
LESSONS FOR ROBERTSON’S SUPPORTERS
I see intentionality as the key issue here. As I said, I believe that, with his comments related to homosexuality, Phil Robertson’s intention was just to lament the continuing erosion of our American culture’s moral fabric. Likewise, I believe he only intended his race-related comments as an observation of how he remembered things being for his African-American contemporaries when he was growing up. In other words, I believe any hurt resulting from Robertson’s comments was unintentional. However, that doesn’t make it right and as Christians, I believe we must stop accepting this in our conduct. “Hate the sin and love the sinner” can be an appropriate attitude for a Christian to take. However, in practice, there is often an unspoken extension to that cliché that says something like “but, if it hurts the sinner’s feelings, that’s too bad.” We might as well say, “Hate the sin and though it’s OK to rub his nose in it, love the sinner.” The Lord’s commandment to us is, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” – Matthew 22:39. It seems obvious to me that letting the chips fall where they may (not being intentional) doesn’t fit in with this.
I believe the key to a better way for Christians to deal with sin they see in others is found in the following Scripture:
“And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” Matthew 7:3-5
Not long ago, I heard a Bible study focusing on this, taught by Pastor Dave Rolph, of Calvary Chapel Pacific Hills. Of course, the specks and planks mentioned by Jesus are metaphors for sin. Appropriately, the common teaching on this is for us to first recognize and deal with the sin in our own lives before we concern ourselves with the sin in the lives of others. However, Pastor Dave’s teaching added a significant dimension to that by pointing out the following:
When we have a speck in our eye, as a result of its irritation, we’re aware of its presence. However, since the eye is so sensitive, we’re not likely to seek help in removing the speck from the first person who comes along who notices the speck. But, if someone comes along who loves us, it is likely that we will develop enough trust in them that, at some point, we may say, “You know, I think I have something in my eye. Would you help me to get it out?”
So, if this is a better way for Christians to deal with sin they see in others, as I suggest, what does that look like in practice? Using Phil Robertson’s response to Drew Magary’s question, “What, in your mind, is sinful?”, as an example, I think a more loving response, that still makes Robertson’s point, would have been something like, “Sin is a willful offense against God. I believe any sexual relationship outside the marriage of a man and a woman is sinful. And, I believe this should still be foundational to American culture’s moral fabric. But, during my lifetime, I’ve seen a huge decline in American culture’s moral fabric and that seems to just be accelerating in what I think is the wrong direction. Everything has been blurred on what’s right and what’s wrong, Sin has become fine. But, don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right.” If we can follow an example like this, it seems to me that we will actually be hating the sin and without rubbing his nose in it, loving the sinner so that, if he wants help in dealing with it at some point, he may turn to us.