Thursday, January 2, 2014
Calling All Duck Dynasty Duckers
Where'd they go?
It's a case of the disappearing evangelicals.
Back a couple of weeks ago, when Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson came under scathing condemnation for his vulgar portrayal of homosexuality - and, to a lesser degree, his flippant portrayal of Jim Crow Louisiana - evangelicals were coming out of the woodwork and falling all over themselves, defending the ornery reality television star in the court of public opinion.
And, as happens in the money-fueled world of our entertainment industry, Duck Dynasty's producers at A+E soon backtracked from their half-hearted attempts at censuring Robertson, and suddenly, all seemed well in the evangelical firmament.
Then, almost a week later, a grainy video from 2009 showed up on the Internet with Robertson advising a young man to marry girls as young as 15 and 16, so he doesn't end up getting stuck with a 20-year-old money-sucking hag. And while liberal websites like Huffington Post and CNN have been clucking over this further proof that Robertson is more of an embarrassment than an ambassador for evangelicals, the same Christian websites that were leading the charge in support of Duck Dynasty have fallen strangely silent.
They've ducked away from Duck Dynasty.
Check any of the major Christian websites - World, Christianity Today, Christian Post, Challies, Gospel Coalition - and you won't find any mention of the latest Robertson flap. Nada. Apparently, if selective reporting is bad enough for the mainstream media, it's also good enough for religious media. Is that because most evangelicals agree with Robertson, and that 16 is a good marrying age for Godly teenaged girls? Or is that because Robertson really is too loose of a cannon; the redneck cousin we mostly hope will simply go back home to the swamps of Louisiana and be his oddly entertaining self?
Quack, quack, indeed.
To its credit, politically conservative Fox News did run the story on their website, but their reporter points out that Robertson provides similar "advice" in his autobiography as a joke, perhaps in the hopes that doing so makes it less sexist - and Neanderthalish - than it sounds, even to the most conservative of present-day Fundamentalists.
Meanwhile, the silence from evangelicals who only days earlier were singing Duck Dynasty's praises is deafening in the wake of this new video. World and Gospel Coalition have left now-dated editorials defending Robertson on their most-read lists, indicating the possibility that many of their readers aren't even aware of this latest controversy. Or, maybe to them, it's not a controversy. Maybe it's just "Phil being Phil," as some have already rationalized his previous remarks. It's the liberal media out to lynch a fine, upstanding, yet mildly quirky Christian millionaire. Ignore it, and it will go away; in respect to both the liberal media, and Phil's more outlandish quotes.
Maybe, too, it's just Phil taking Biblical factoids of historically provincial lifestyles and quoting them out of context? After all, theologians suspect that Mary, the mother of Christ, was probably 16 when she gave birth to our Savior, since such ages were customary for betrothal, marriage, and the beginning of the childbirth years back in Biblical times. Even today, some cultures around the world - notably, remote tribes in places like Afghanistan - perpetuate such practices, to the horror of liberal and conservative Westerners alike. Some of it has to do with life expectancy, since less sophisticated people groups tend to live much shorter lives than people in "advanced" societies. The younger the age at which people marry and start procreating, the sooner they can marry off their own progeny to keep lifecycles going.
Still, just because something may have been a common practice in Biblical times doesn't necessarily make it appropriate for us today. In the Old Testament, for example, some very Godly men participated in polygamy, but that was a custom God tolerated more than He endorsed. Plus, just because something we say may corroborate a truth in the Bible, merely putting voice to it doesn't indicate our redeemed status before our Heavenly Father, does it? After all, Satan knows more about God and theology than any of us, no matter our seminary pedigree. They used to live together in Heaven, remember? And yet he's our enemy. He can quote scripture while parading around like a roaring lion, and he will devour those gullible enough to equate knowledge with sanctification.
When Robertson was asked by the GQ reporter for his definition of sin, Robertson's most complete, correct, and irrefutable answer would have been something along the lines of "sin is anything that does not honor God." He could have given some examples, such as homosexuality, yes, but also vulgar speech, and arrogance. Unfortunately, he settled on regaling the reporter with vaguely pornographic descriptions of the most provocative thing he could think of for society. Technically, he may not have been wrong, but was he right? He had the right to phrase his answer the way he wanted to, but was he honoring God by doing so?
It's been interesting to read the responses of African-American evangelicals to Robertson's claims that the black folk with whom he worked on the farms in 1960's Louisiana seemed to be content and righteous. On the one hand, again, Robertson is entitled to his opinion, but how well does it speak for his wisdom, and his love for blacks when, knowing now what he ostensibly knows about the Jim Crow "separate but equal" culture of the South during that time, he refuses to acknowledge that whatever he observed then likely was neither widely applicable to the broader spectrum of white/black relationships, or particularly helpful to race relations today?
Fortunately, it seems that a lot of black evangelicals are giving Robertson a pass on his comments, but is that because they genuinely believe he's a lover of all people, as he later defended himself? Or is it because black evangelicals have grown to not expect much from us white evangelicals anymore anyway?
Now, with Robertson's awkward - if not downright demeaning - depiction of marriageable young ladies in this archival video, accompanied by appreciative guffawing from males in his audience - men who were attending some sort of Christian hunters meeting in Georgia - spectators to our evangelical industrial complex are left with yet another offensive and inaccurate portrayal of how they think we're supposed to follow and imitate Jesus Christ. Maybe many of us in this evangelical industrial complex don't really care about how we're perceived by "outsiders," but isn't that, in and of itself, rather problematic?
The world is supposed to identify us Christians by our love for one another and the people around us. As much as possible, we're to live peaceably with our neighbors. We're not to let unwholesome talk escape from our mouths, or anything else that does not build up Christ's body of believers. Ironically, people like me get blamed for stirring dissension and malcontentedness by questioning discrepancies in the public lives of professing Christians like Robertson. But doesn't such misappropriated blame actually add insult to injury? Isn't that a flagrant misuse of "thou shalt not judge," which actually abuses the discernment disciples of Christ are commanded to pursue?
And if there's more at stake in our evangelical industrial complex by defending people like Roberson than standing up for clearer truth and more authentic Christlikeness, then what does that say about Robertson's defenders, as opposed to those of us who can't square his testimony with what we read in the Bible?
It's been said that Robertson is just a good old boy from the bayous of Louisiana who was plucked from obscurity and is simply trying to "keep it real" despite the television cameras and his sudden fame. And to a certain extent, that would be all well and good, if "keeping it real" involved accuracy, and even accountability.
But does God call us to defend celebrities, or His Gospel?
Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage, with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. - 2 Timothy 4:2-3
None of us can duck behind stuff that makes us happy, happy, happy and expect God to just walk on by. And all of us need to make sure we're not flying into a trap while being wooed by an artificial duck call.