Posted by: Philip Rushton | December 20, 2013

Why I Stand With Pope Francis Not Phil Robertson

I was not going to get into this recent “Duck Dynasty” controversy, because frankly I am weary of these kinds of conversations. However, as I continue to see people prompting me to “stand with Phil” on Facebook, or imply that if I am a true Christian I would sign a petition against A&E, I have felt the need to speak out.

For those who are unfamiliar with the situation, I am referencing the recent decision by the TV network A&E to suspend the show “Duck Dynasty,” because of the star Phil Robertson’s controversial comments in a GQ magazine interview. Among other things, Robertson laments the moral relativity of our culture and makes some bold statements that condemn homosexual behavior.

Many Christians are arguing that Phil is being persecuted and punished for his beliefs. One article I read suggests that Christians are being forced into, “silent compliance by our culture of tolerance.”

I have a different perspective. It seems to me that the issue with Phil Robertson’s comments has less to do with his position on homosexuality and more to do with his homophobic and racist attitude.

At one point in the interview Robertson had this to say about his experience growing up in pre-civil rights Louisiana.

“I never, with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person. Not once. . . I’m with the blacks, because we’re white trash. We’re going across the field…. They’re singing and happy. I never heard one of them, one black person, say, ‘I tell you what: These doggone white people’—not a word!… Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.”

This is just one example of why I, as a Christian, cannot stand with Phil. Just because Phil did not see racism does not mean that it did not exist. The problem with a statement like this is that it is ignorant and offensive towards all those who suffered persecution and racism in the pre-civil rights era. It is not Christ-like to trivialize the suffering of those who were oppressed or turn a blind eye to injustice.

Later, Phil gives some advice to gay men that is so crude that I do not even feel comfortable quoting it on the blog. His advice to those dealing with same-sex attraction is – “come on dudes,” a women, “has more to offer.” Does he really think that a smart one-liner is enough to change someones sexual orientation?

The irony I see in this whole controversy is that Phil Robertson is not acting very Christian-like. You can’t condemn immorality while simultaneously acting immoral. Phil sabotages his own message with his disrespectful and racist behavior. This is why Paul writes in the book of Ephesians that we need to, “speak the truth in love.” This is why Peter reminds us that when we give an answer for the hope we have in Christ we must do so with ” gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:16).

Even if we build a case that Christians are being unfairly persecuted for their beliefs, what is there to gain by adding fuel to the fire of these culture wars? I think it is time for us to realize that culture has changed dramatically in the last few decades. This new cultural moment is going to require us to represent Christ more intelligently, compassionately, and subversively. Throwing a tantrum because of our loss of cultural dominance is not going to do anything to help us regain a seat at the table. Instead we need to accept our new reality and figure out ways to regain a hearing in a very post-Christian culture.

If we are so upset that America is losing it’s Christian influence, then why do we continually endorse behavior that makes our culture not want to listen to the Christian message? If we continually build barriers between the church and the very culture we want to change, then we need to seriously rethink our strategy. Yelling louder and signing a petition in favor of a controversial TV star is going to do nothing to help us bring about transformation and redemption in our culture.

I doubt there would have been as much controversy if Phil Roberston had acted with more integrity and grace. This has certainly been the case for Pope Francis. While he has maintained conservative theological positions on most of the major social issues of our time he has not alienated our secular culture. In fact he was named “Person of the Year” by a prominent secular magazine this week. While not everyone agrees with his opinions, people respect him for his integrity and compassion. He is certainly not being “silenced by our culture of tolerance,” he’s being praised in the headlines!

I agree that the moral relativism in our culture is problematic. I recognize that biblical teaching will challenge and even offend the status quo at times. Unlike Phil, however, I believe that we need to start by earning the right to be heard. This is going to require that we build bridges rather than barriers to our skeptical secular culture. This begins by living lives of integrity. If we are looking for a model for how to engage our post-Christian culture lets look to Pope Francis not Phil Robertson!

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Responses

  1. Thanks Phil for this blog. I wasn’t aware of “stand with Phil Robertson” posts. I just assumed everyone would be offended by his comments. I too am becoming more impressed with Pope Francis. What a wonderful man. I have a nephew who has been away from the church for many years now saying “I think I might become a Catholic”. He sees grace and is drawn toward it.

  2. Thank you Phil for this. I personally hadn’t heard what was all going on and this summed up quite a bit and now I have a better understanding. I have seen these posts on Facebook and was wondering about them but never looked into them, I’m glad I took the time to your your post.

  3. Great comments Pastor Phil. You said it well!

  4. You stand with a Pope that said this “If a person is gay and seeks the Lord and has good will, well who am I to judge them?”

    And this “We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods … The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently … We have to find a new balance …”

    Pope Francis is one of the most liberal Pope’s in probably centuries. Phil Robertson was trying to make a point, and you missed it. Rather than giving brother Phil the benefit of the doubt, you pile on. Congratulations.

    • Thanks for your comments. A couple words in reply.

      Let’s put your opposition to these statements by the pope to the test.

      1. If a person is gay and seeks the Lord and has good will should we judge them then? Notice the pope makes no comment here on homosexual practice – he is simply acknowledging that some people deal with same sex attraction. Are these people cut off from pursuing Christian discipleship?
      2. Should we insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods? Are we to avoid balancing our conversation with other important issues?

      I see nothing inherently “liberal” with these two quotes. I gladly stand with a Christian leader who makes this kind of point.

      The reason I missed Phil Robertson’s point is that it was lost in the midst of homophobia and racism. I will not give him the benefit of the doubt when his words do so much damage to the mission of the church in a post-Christian age.

  5. So you honestly think that the Pope’s quote on homosexuality is regarding only the attraction, not the action? Okay, you give the Pope the benefit of the doubt but not Phil Robertson. Issues of abortion and gay marriage in our rapidly anti-Christian societies are worthy of being at the forefront of discussion as those issues have been foisted heavily to the forefront by those espousing the voracity and legitimacy of these so-called life choices.

    To call the Pope a Christian leader exposes your lack of understanding of the reformation and what it was all about. These issues from 500 years ago have not been resolved, and are just as serious today as they were then. The Pope is not a Christian, he is a Roman Catholic. RC’s should be a part of our mission field, not our ‘brothers’.

    Phil Robertson, at no point, showed any kind of ‘homophobia’ that you speak of, unless you think that pronouncing homosexual activities as sinful equal to that of homophobia. It is not. Phil Robertson has said nothing that should lead anyone to the title of homophobic, unless you follow the illogical rhetoric of the politically correct. His comments, again, taken in context, were not racist. Poorly worded? Sure. Racist? Absolutely not. I would suggest you give a little Christian grace and benefit of the doubt that you seem keen to give to the Pope to a fellow brother in Christ.

  6. Thanks for your push back on this issue Chris – hopefully it will be helpful to dialogue as we seek to get a better understanding of the situation.

    First – I give the pope the benefit of the doubt, as you say, because following his comments the vatican indicated that this did not mean he changed the churches stance on homosexual marriage and practice – so there is precedent for my assumption there.

    Second, I believe we can agree with people on some points and disagree on others – it does not have to be an all or nothing thing. There are aspects of Catholic theology that I disagree with but that does not mean that I have to disagree with everything the Pope says or does. We can learn from those we have differences from.

    If you read my article closely I actually respond to Phil Robertson in a similar way. I share his concern with the moral relativism of our culture. I even mention at the end of the article that I think scriptural teaching will confront and even offend our secular culture. My concern is that we need to engage our culture in a way that actually allows the gospel to get a hearing.

    Third, homophobia may or may not have been the right word to describe Phil – I’ll think that through a bit more. The comment that really threw me off was when he said – ““It seems like, to me, a vagina—as a man—would be more desirable than a man’s anus. That’s just me. I’m just thinking: There’s more there! She’s got more to offer. I mean, come on, dudes! You know what I’m saying? But hey, sin: It’s not logical, my man. It’s just not logical.” This seems to really trivialize and discredit the honest reality of same sex attraction that many people have. It sounds like he is mocking gay people here.

    If you want to get your message across to a very skeptical culture, saying these kinds of things seems very counterproductive.

    Lastly, I recognize that homosexuality and abortion are important issues to discuss. Would you not agree, though, that these are not the only things we should address as Christians?

  7. Thanks for the response.

    1. Maybe you could enlighten me (seriously) on the RC changing of long-held standards. Can the Pope unilaterally change the entire RC stance on homosexuality? Same-sex marriage? Contraception? I would think not, but maybe he can. I look at his stance as a first strike or red flag for upcoming change, but I could be wrong.

    2. Can we learn from those we differ from? Absolutely. But this is vastly different from calling the Pope a Christian leader. He’s not. Do I like the fact that the Roman Catholics have held with more strength on issues like abortion and same sex marriage than the Protestant side? Yes. But as R.C. Sproul has stated, “I would stand side by side with a devoted worshipper of Satan to fight abortion.” Just because the RC’s adhere to much of the morality of Christian orthodoxy doesn’t make them Christian.

    You stated “I think scriptural teaching will confront and even offend our secular culture. My concern is that we need to engage our culture in a way that actually allows the gospel to get a hearing.” I agree 100%. However, I believe that is precisely what Phil Robertson did. He had a candid interview with GQ magazine (not a Christian magazine by ANY standard), and was asked a question about a controversial issue. He quoted the bible in his answer. Did he state it as well as he could have or should have? That is open to interpretation and opinion, but he did precisely what all Christians should be doing. Why are we surprised by the backlash? I’m certainly not, and anyone who understands the scriptures shouldn’t be either. I highly doubt Phil Robertson is surprised. It is the gospel message and the Holy Spirit that saves despite our poor attempts and ill-advised words. Phil Robertson is trying to use every avenue he can to share the good news of the gospel, and that’s what he did. I certainly won’t jump on the bandwagon to hammer him over his apparent poor delivery. He did wonderful in my mind. The fact our anti-Christian society fired him and have called him all kinds of names only reinforces the fact that the message hit home. Homosexuality is a sin.

    As far as his deliver goes, you see it as mocking gays. I see it as one man reaching out to other men in the only way he knows how, with a little humour. Was this wise? Maybe not, but I’m willing to cut him some slack.

    Are they the only issues we as Christians should be discussing? No, absolutely not. But when they are the ‘hot-button’ topic of the day, it is incumbent upon the body of Christ to rally around the truth. Let’s give some grace to those that may not have the sophistication to tell the truth in a way that won’t insult someone. Chances are, that’s an impossibility anyways.

    • Thanks Chris,

      Glad we can agree on some things!

      A couple more thoughts:

      1. I don’t think the Pope’s comment warrants a red flag about a policy change. He has publicly said that the issue of women ordination is a “closed subject.” If there isn’t any movement on that issue I find it highly unlikely that the vatican will be taking up gay marriage any time soon. Anything would be speculation at this point I suppose.

      2. Soren Kirkegaard’s thoughts might be helpful here when he says, “once you label me you negate me.” I’m not prepared to completely negate an entire denomination or papacy with a quick “Roman Catholic” label. I consider the pope a Christian leader. A lot has changed in catholicism since vatican 2. You might also find it interesting to read the joint statement on justification put forward by the Lutheran and Catholic Church by the WCC – shows a lot of movement by the Catholic Church on the issue that essentially brought about the reformation.

      3. When I talk about allowing the gospel to “gain a hearing” in our culture, I think it involves more then just quoting scripture. We need to have some cultural intelligence as well. Paul models this for us in scripture – when he talks with Jews he emphasizes certain aspects of theology that he does not emphasize with gentiles – when he engages the Greek philosophers on Mars Hill he learns to speak their language and understands the kinds of questions they are asking. The medium, I believe, is equally as important as the message.

      I am reading Timothy Keller’s book “Center Church” right now and he is great on this point. He speaks, for example, about how he addresses the problem of sin from the standpoint of idolatry rather then from the standpoint of God’s judgment, because it gets a better hearing from his skeptical New York City audience. He is not abandoning biblical truth; rather, he is learning how to get the message past the barriers of a skeptical culture.

      I think there is also a difference between how we speak about truth inside and outside the church. While we are called to “defend orthodoxy” in our Christian communities, for example, we need to recognize that outside the church there is no common consensus on orthodoxy. Part of the conversation, then, requires us to show why what we believe is relevant and meaningful to those outside the church. We can’t assume that everyone is on the same page.

  8. I don’t have a tonne of time or respect for Soren Kierkegaard as a theologian. Philosopher? Sure. Theologian? Not so much. To be labelled is simply to have a general understanding of who we are. Christian and Christianity are labels that have meaning. How soon until Mormons will be considered just another “Christian” sect? There are major distinctives at play, and we must be true to those differences. Roman Catholics have some major differences of definition and opinion that haven’t changed at all since the council of Trent. R.C. Sproul has written a wonderful book looking at the Evangelicals and Roman Catholics together movement and has analysed whether or not your assertion is true that major steps have been taken. R.C. Sproul would emphatically state “No!” You can find his work here (http://www.amazon.com/Together-Protestant-Analyzes-Roman-Catholicism/dp/1567692826)

    The problem with the joint statement is that they are not using the same definitions of the terms being used. Even those that signed the agreement (or whatever it is you want to call it) have admitted as much. Nothing has changed.

    With regards to our cultural sensitivities, I agree. But what do you do with a GQ magazine that crosses many cultures, and one that doesn’t understand the nuances of basic Christianity? Phil answered a direct question with a direct answer, and he did so using scripture. It’s scripture that changes the heart, not the methods of evangelism used. I would disagree fundamentally with your assertion that the means are as important as the message. Nothing is more important than the message.

    I respect Tim Keller, and using one of the ten commandments as a means of leading people to the gospel is wonderful.

    I’m not entirely sure what your point is in your final paragraph. Orthodoxy outside the church? That’s easy, relativism. We need to combat all forms of attack against our Lord, whether they are inside or outside the faith. I’m not sure where you’re from, but here in Canada, our churches are largely apostate and biblical ignorance is at an all-time high. My major concern in my ministry is to save people from “church.”

  9. You say, “I would disagree fundamentally with your assertion that the means are as important as the message.” Whether you like it or not the message is always communicated through a certain “means.” A person that aggressively shouts scripture on a street corner is using a particular “method” of communicating. So is a person who does more ‘relational’ evangelism. I feel like the church is often working with an outdated “means” when we engage our culture – and it is a means that does not account for the changes in our culture.

    Contextualizing the message to a particular culture has always been important, right from the birth of the church. I would assume that you do a lot of contextualizing of your message when you prepare sermons – it is important to understand your people when you speak. Its the same with our culture. The problem is when the “means” compromises the message. I suspect that is probably what you are concerned about and I agree. The message of scripture is the most important thing – but to say that we should ignore the importance of contextualization is unhelpful.

    Looks like we’ll have to agree to disagree on a lot of things. I appreciate your time engaging with the post. All the best!

  10. You must be Catholic your bashing a Christian. Phil was just talking about his black friends that he hung with his opinion at that time frame because he didn’t see what someone else sees is not a sin, and yeah Homosexual acts are sinful but doesn’t mean Phil hated them I don’t hate them .You will find sin everywhere you go in this small planet. He who is without sin ccast the first stone! PS he is not racist! Google his name thx for letting voice my opinion.

    • Thanks for voicing your perspective.

      I agree that Phil was voicing his experience with black people during the pre-civil rights situation in Lousiana. However, it would seem to me that our perspective on what it was like during that time should included more then just our immediate experience. While he didn’t see lynchings or extreme oppression of black people, there was plenty of evidence during the time that that was going on. I also have to wonder what the purpose of such a statement is. His statement seems to be implying that racism was not an issue. The danger of a comment like this is that it seems to set a precedent for believing that civil rights advocates were overreacting, or that the problem of racism in America is overblown. In an indirect way this is not helpful to the black community.

      I do, however, appreciate your push back on my article. Perhaps the problem with Phil’s statement isn’t as much racism or homophobia as it is insensitivity and ignorance. Either way, the central point of my article is that this type of attitude does not help Christians gain a hearing in our secular culture. If anything, these types of comments create unnecessary barriers between us and the culture. My motive is similar to yours, in that I want Christians to be able to have a voice in our culture and make an impact in our culture – how we go about doing this, however, requires us to act with integrity so that we do not cut off the conversation before it even begins.

  11. Wow, I’ll even say it backwords, Excellent thinking and well reasoned writting’ Yes, Pope Francis is a wonderful Christian leader and Time magazine honors him respectfully while some other publication makes fun of comments made by a………..,ah ,who is this Phil Robertson guy, I seem to be missing something. Keep on keepin Bro

  12. Thanks for your thoughts Gil. Appreciate your engagement with the blog.
    Yes, television is an influential place. Phil Robertson has gained quite a following through his program on A&E.


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