Ducking the Issue
Phil Robertson's Problem Is Ours
There is a very popular television program called Duck Dynasty that features men with long beards. I've never seen it and don't know what it's about, but it was hard to miss the news a few months ago that one of the men, a Christian named Phil Robertson, was suspended by the A&E Network, which produces the show, for what it regarded as his anti-gay remarks. As far as I can tell, what Robertson did was, during an interview, cite homosexuality as an example of sin, going on to place it in the canon of 1 Corinthians 6, which lists sins and sinners that shall not enter the kingdom of heaven: the drunkards, the covetous, the fornicators, and so forth, the homosexuals among them.
The most dismaying thing about the inevitable reaction to Robertson's remarks was not the predictable rage of the homosexualists, but of widely broadcasted Christians who said that Robertson had, in expressing his "opinion," done something not just a little stupid, but un-Christian as well. We'll take as an example the conservative pundit and very amateur theologian Bill O'Reilly, who in grave and magisterial tones used his authority as someone who has written a book about Jesus to declare that Robertson was out of line for taking it upon himself to condemn people whose hearts only God knows.
Placing to the side, for now, the problem that Robertson apparently condemned no one in particular and never claimed to know anyone's heart, what he was repeating was only a passage from Scripture that has always been regarded by the whole Church as true and authoritative, and which no one who calls himself a Christian has any right to dispute, since it was written by an apostle, that is, by someone who has been from the very beginning of church history believed to teach with the full authority of Jesus himself. In other words, people like Bill O'Reilly, who make bold to draw a line between the teachings of Jesus and his accredited representatives, are, if the traditional beliefs of Christians are true, the ones who are giving their own bad opinions and transgressing Christian boundaries—not Phil Robertson, whose delinquency was in repeating what all Christians, everywhere and at all times, have believed.
Let us be clear on this: the great offense here is not Phil Robertson; it is Christ and his Church, for whom Robertson is speaking by doing nothing more than repeating what they teach. Those who don't disagree with him but say he was speaking unadvisedly, or indiscreetly, or at the wrong time or place, thus finding cause to blame Robertson instead of Paul instead of Jesus instead of God, are deceiving themselves, for unless this and similar passages are only for those disposed to agree with them, and to be given at a time when they are calculated to be receptive, then whom are they for, and when should they be given? Are there no warnings in the Christian Scriptures for those who don't like what they, Jesus included, teach about sin, death, and hell? Are there no comforts for those who have fled the sins that would keep them out of heaven? "Such were some of you," says the apostle, "but now you are washed."
If Bill O'Reilly is right about Phil Robertson, then no Christian should speak publicly against sin, which places O'Reilly, given his religion and occupation, in a rather ironical position. And this is a kind way of putting it, for unlike Robertson, O'Reilly names names. •
S. M. Hutchens works as a reference librarian in Kenosha, Wisconsin. He holds a doctorate in theology. He is a senior editor of Touchstone.
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“Ducking the Issue” first appeared in the March/April 2014 issue of Touchstone. If you enjoyed this article, you'll find more of the same in every issue.
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