If you’re reading this, then there is no need for me to tell you what happened with Phil Robertson’s comments to GQ. I think it was GQ. I don’t even care enough to go back and double check that fact, honestly. But I did read a number of his comments, and they were so profoundly outrageous that I frankly don’t want to read them again. And his comments (and the crapstorm that has followed in their wake) are indicative of the state of so much shenaniganery in so much of everything that I can’t even bring myself to think about it for long enough to produce a coherently structured argument out of fear that my brain will literally explode. So I’m just going to ramble.
First, I want to make one thing clear: I do not think Phil Robertson’s comments were malevolent, or that they were necessarily racist or homophobic. They are simply ignorant. They are almost too ignorant to even process. And that is exactly the problem.
What, exactly, did Christians expect when we glorified and sanctified a reality TV show about backwoods duck hunters who stumbled upon a wonderfully devised duck call and made a family fortune? Did we expect them to express the Christian faith with the precision of people who have been theologically or ministerially trained? Did we think that they were the face of a new generation of Christians that would shape the world? Let me again be perfectly clear: there is absolutely nothing wrong with being “backwoods”. This isn’t a shot at rednecks or uneducated people or people from the deep south in general. If that is the life that you desire to live, there is nothing ungodly or unholy or anything negative about it. But when evangelical Christians collectively sanctified a 70 year old duck hunter from the deep south because of his emphasis on “family values”, what on earth made us expect anything else? Robertson is an old school man who is set in his ways (just like our generation will be in 40 or 50 years). He sees the world in a certain way that doesn’t take into account the complexities of race, religion, and gender in the twenty-first century. There’s nothing wrong with being 70 years old. There’s nothing wrong with being a duck hunter. There’s nothing wrong with being from the deep south (or wherever Duck Dynasty is from).
There’s something wrong with the way American Christians cling to, idolize, and sanctify anyone in the entertainment world who identifies as a Christian. We’re so desperate to be perceived as “cool” or “relevant” or whatever other words Mardel puts on t-shirts these days that we are willing to unblinkingly promote, support, and take life advice from anybody who is famous and calls themselves Christian. The Duck Dynasty guys are not theologians. Tim Tebow is not a preacher. Kirk Cameron is not pastor. Fame does not bring with it special abilities to articulate the finer points of the Christian faith, nor does it make one an authority on biblical teaching. But it’s like we’re willing to give papal authority to anybody who makes a weekly television appearance, and then we are surprised when they say something that doesn’t make sense, or something that sounds ignorant, or something that actually is ignorant. These people are not in vocational ministry. They have not studied Scripture in an academic setting. They are Christians who have worldly vocations, just like 95% of Christians in the world. And there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s exactly what God intends. But you don’t go to your butcher when you have a question about church history, and you don’t ask your accountant about the finer points of Trinitarian theology. Neither should we look to duck hunters, football players, actors or musicians to be ministers or preachers or teachers. We set ourselves up to be a mockery when we do this. It’s like a church hiring me as their accountant and then being surprised when the whole staff goes to jail for fraud–I can barely count, and that’s not what God has called me to do.
Also, let’s drop the nonsense about this being persecution. The Robertson family is extravagantly wealthy and extravagantly famous. One character from their “reality TV” show is suspended by the very not-Christian network with whom they signed a contract because he said things to a very not-Christian magazine that are a public relations nightmare. Why on earth is that surprising? And how on earth is it persecution? He is not being persecuted for declaring the lordship of Jesus Christ; he is catching flack from the media for making ill-advised and embarrassingly worded comments.
And more importantly, why are we defending his comments? He said some of the most ignorant things that I’ve read in a long time. Do we really want to defend a man who said: “Come on, guys. Vaginas are attractive.” (Disclaimer: that’s not a word-for-word quote. Or maybe it is. Like I said, I don’t even want to give this a second look.) Do we really want to support comments that come off as absolutely hateful to the world? (Disclaimer: I don’t think they actually were hateful, just ignorant. See introduction.) Regardless of whether or not you agree with his views on race, religion, and gender, do we really want to use the divisive and controversial comments of a 70 year old reality TV star as a jumping off point for sharing the gospel? Do we want to die on the hill of the right to free speech and religious liberty and blah blah blah instead of engaging the world with the love of Christ?
If so, we have no reason to be surprised when the world perceives and portrays us as hateful, small minded, or ignorant. And if we are going to defend Phil Robertson’s comments as accurate reflections of what and how we think, maybe we need to examine ourselves and see if we deserve those labels.