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December 20, 2013

What Duck Dynasty can Learn from Pope Francis

It was sort of inevitable really. Any successful Christian who happens to gain the public’s fancy will eventually face the question. For political candidates it’s a given. For business owners like those of Chik-fil-A and Hobby-Lobby it seems less relevant, but the media eventually finds a way to exploit it as though it were a hidden weakness. For celebrities, it can often be the death of careers. Which is why I am honestly surprised it took so long for the Robertsons of Duck Dynasty to be faced with the inevitable question of their stance on homosexuality. Their faith has been a large part of their public persona from the very beginning. They close each episode with family gathered in prayer, they successfully and famously battled their network over including their faith so prominently in the show, and contributed touching personal testimonies to the I Am Second video campaign. Unlike most reality TV, the Robertsons seem real and raw. You sense they are hiding nothing and are genuine down to earth people Their television show doesn’t seem designed for the purpose of furthering their own money or fame as they already have more than they can use. They truly seem to be a family that is just working and enjoying life together.

It is due to this sincerity that they have captured the hearts of so many. Their television show has become one of the highest rated on TV, and because of them, millions of people have seen a family bound together by work and faith living their lives out as a shining example and witness. Just by living they presented a simple and wonderful example of the power of the gospel. I must confess I despise most reality TV and see it as nothing more than a competition between epicureans vying for their spot in our new aristocracy, but I love Duck Dynasty and the Robertsons. They remind my much of my own distant family, most of whom are from the mountains of North Carolina. I’m one generation removed from having a beard and making moonshine in my own backyard. I probably would be there now if my grandfather hadn’t had a conversion story similar to that of Phil Robertsons’.

All of which is why when I first read Phil’s interview in GQ I was angry, but not for the same reasons as most of my conservative colleagues. I was angry at Phil. Here is a Christian who is loved by the nation, has a platform to speak to 14 million people every week, has fostered a genuinely positive image of Christianity, and he had to compare a vagina to an anus to make his point about homosexuality? Really Phil?

And of course, most of the Robertsons defenders are just as nonsensical. There has been the obligatory offer from Glen Beck to join him at the isle of misfits, and the usual cries for respecting freedom of speech. The conservative right that has been the adamant defenders of large corporations now seems appalled to discover that large powerful corporations are not bound to respect freedom of speech. The first amendment only restricts the actions of the government and you may as well appeal to the Code of Hammurabi before you cite your rights to A&E. The fact that Phil Robertson was fired in the name of toleration is amusing, but at least A&E recognized they are caught in a clash of cosmological orders that demands you choose a side.

Many have rhetorically asked what A&E expected from rural Southern Christians who they made famous for being rural Southern Christians, and I suppose, I shouldn’t be surprised either. Nevertheless, after reading the interview and the inevitable backlash, I couldn’t help but think of the “affirm and avoid” approach to orthodox teaching on homosexuality taken by such prominent Evangelicals like Tim Keller, and the “gracious to a fault” approach taken by Pope Francis, both of which I’ve been skeptical of, but wonder now if perhaps those approaches have some merit after all.

Most of the concerns involving the recent remarks of Pope Francis don’t arise because his statements were doctrinally incorrect. In fact, he has said nothing out of line with the teaching of the Church. The bulk of the concern from conservative Catholics and others is the worry that such remarks from a figure as authoritative as the Pope will undermine the Church’s stance on traditional teachings. The Robertsons, who have no such authority, should have made Pope Francis their model for discussing the issue. It wouldn’t be a compromise of their beliefs or their raw genuine nature to avoid using the words anus and vagina when discussing the most controversial issue of our time. (There are also serious questions about the theological correctness of Phil’s statements.)

The simple fact is that all of this could have been avoided. Both Pope Francis and the Robertsons have been lauded for their ability to stand in the public eye and remain absolutely genuine and raw. For the authoritative leader of the Church this may not always be an asset, as the church needs both its saints and its soldiers. But the Robertsons could have done so much for the Kingdom of God just by living out their witness. All the world needed to see from them was their prayers, their testimony, their love of God and each other, and they could have made all the difference. Later in the interview Phil said that he  “never, ever judge someone on who’s going to heaven, hell. That’s the Almighty’s job. We just love ’em, give ’em the good news about Jesus—whether they’re homosexuals, drunks, terrorists. We let God sort ’em out later, you see what I’m saying?”

Those remarks sound an awful lot like Pope Francis’ famous “who am I to judge?”, and if that had been the end of it, the story would have passed by with barely a whimper. The Robertsons would still be loved, and the truth would still have been heard.

None of this is to say we shouldn’t lament living in a culture where a Christian may be fired for holding to the teaching of his faith. Nor am I suggesting that the Robertsons should tone down their faith or views on relevant issues. If Phil’s testimony in I Am Second didn’t bring tears to your eyes I don’t know what will. I still pray they are allowed to continue being such a powerful witness in a country that needs desperately needs an example of the Christian life. However, all I suggest is that if you find yourself with a strong personal witness and are able to relate and converse with people, consider the example of Pope Francis. He may be on to something after all.

And for the love of all that is good and holy, please recognize that crassness has no place in our public discourse.


  • Donnie

    I still love the Robertsons and I’m thankful for Phil’s comments. This article? Not so much.

  • cleareyedtruthmeister

    Brian, you make some excellent points here. It is interesting that the Pope has garnered the support of some liberals despite his underlying stand for historic church doctrines, including traditional marriage…yes, it’s not always what you say but how you say it. Regardless, the Pope could lose the fickle support of liberals quite easily if he says the “wrong” thing.

    Phil shows that conservatives tend to be more transparent, and perhaps less able to disguise their unseemly qualities than liberals. To many, of course, that is an attraction.

    But traditionalists must be cognizant of how they will be perceived, particularly when they must rely on a hostile media. Accordingly, it must be acknowledged that there were better ways for Phil to make his point, despite the possibility that it was a set-up by GC from the get-go.

  • agthorn

    You wisely state: “Many have rhetorically asked what A&E expected from rural Southern Christians who they made famous for being rural Southern Christians, and I suppose, I shouldn’t be surprised either.”

    Then you go on and chastise Phil for comparing vagina and anus …

    Kind of arguing with yourself! ;-)

  • castaway5555

    A good and thoughtful article, but I’m reminded of something I heard from a media specialist at the University of Leyden in the early 80s – “Fundamentalism was a phenomenon waiting for television.” It’s simplistic, aggressive, abusive, outrageous and cocksure of itself – just right for TV.

    The kind of Christian Life that I live is pretty humdrum by comparison – I would make poor TV. I think much of Christianity is lived out like this – millions of good deeds and kindly words, faithfulness in worship and giving, steadiness and care.

    Not the stuff of TV, but reality, real reality.

    BTW, I live in LA and know lots of folks in the industry – Ducky signed a stringent contract, and like all “reality” TV, this stuff is carefully scripted and guided, with plenty of out-takes and editing. There is nothing real about it! That’s the great irony of “reality” TV.

    Again, my thanks for a very thoughtful note … appreciate your commentary on Francis.

  • Kay Glines

    Brian, I tend to side a little more with Phil than with you on this, but perhaps it’s more a matter of demeanor than doctrine. Phil is not IRD and IRD is not Phil, but I think we all serve the same Master. I agree about Phil’s references to body parts, but I think they shocked the secular world less than they shocked Christians. Phil was expressing, in street language, the deep truth of Genesis, “male and female created He them,” echoed by Jesus. The body parts are “a set,” as God intended, but the male and female natures, not just the body parts, are also a “set.” Male or female by itself is incomplete, the two together are the true image of God. I think Phil understands that in his gut, and a Christian’s gut is more reliable than all the verbal gymnastics of PC college professors.

  • Exgayisokay

    Your Ignorance is amazing, yet refreshing to see from someone who not yet experienced discrimination and hatred from homofascism. No matter what you say or how you say it, unless you personally endorse permanent homosexual behavior, you will be bullied and censored until you apologize and submit to retraining. You can ask the exgay community about this if you don’t believe it. Test case — mention your support for former homosexuals, and see what the reaction of the gay lobby is to you. Just try it. Thank you for an insightful essay.

  • Bishop Andrew Gerales Gentry

    An open Letter to the Corporate Board of Cracker Barrel:

    Dear Sir and or Madam,

    I was not certain as how to begin the salutation since you have decided to support the hurtful and bigoted language of a bizarre person who appears on a cable television show called “Duck Dynasty”. Since this individual apparently believes that women should be “barefoot and pregnant” and submissive to men claiming as he does a Biblical “justification” for such stupidity and sexism, I feared that you had removed any women from leadership roles in your corporation because of your customer base support of this man.

    In so much as this same customer base according to your recent statement was outraged that he would not be allowed to continue his hate speech, and for these misinformed and very intellectually as well as Biblically challenged folkes, such hate speech is allowed under the “freedom of speech” clause of the Constitution, a document few if any have ever read let alone understood, you made the decision that in order to serve the bottom line you would return this person’s trinkets to your shelves.

    Does this mean that you intend to have Little Black Sambo dolls, Minstrel paintings, nude pin ups, paintings of sleepy Mexican peons, Indian head dresses and KKK memorabilia? After all many individuals like this perverted religious zealot have in the name of religious freedom of speech endorsed slavery, genocide, child labor and the belief in a Flat Earth not to mention a whole host of racially/ethnic bigotry disguised as “christian” beliefs!

    Your decision is based solely on profit which is the religion of your corporation and sadly of this nation. It is not Christianity or anything even remotely resembling it that rules the bellies and hearts of a class of people who prefer hate and exclusion. If such a class is your bread and butter and apparently it is then may God have mercy on you.

    Sincerely,

    Rev Andrew R Gentry

    • Jonathan Kuperberg

      Andrew,

      I am a PROUD hardcore far-right zealot Christian (that is CHRISTIAN, as opposed to “christian”.) Those who bemoan “zealots” should remember Jesus’ words in Revelation about spewing the lukewarm right out of His mouth.

      Sodomite sympathizers like you do NOT get to “Not-a-true-Christianize” me; end of story. Read Matthew 7 and obey it. I advise hypocrites like you to prayerfully consider whether you are truly in the Faith before making judgments you have no right to make.

      Your “flat-earther”, “klan” and “westboro” smears are of the Devil, just like all other lies. To correct another of your evil false dogmas, God is NOT “inclusive” in the modern sense of the word; He eternally excludes all those who reject Him and His Son according to His Holy Word, the Bible. To preach Truth in LOVE to sinners is not “hate” no matter what the politically correct think.

      It is a disgrace to my distant relatives who perished in the Holocaust to compare opposition to sexual sin to genocide. Though I oppose slavery, I would rather fully endorse it than approve the wickedness of any sex outside a covenantal marriage between a man and a woman. “Sides of history” matter not as this view is on the right side of Eternity.

  • Bishop Andrew Gerales Gentry

    There is an old Yiddish proverb that says if you argue with a fool and a stranger passes by the stranger wont be able to see who is the fool. So forget Fox and Palin and all the other quacks of duck fame(with apologies to ducks!) forget about the counterfeit Christianity of the American evangelicals, and forget about all the over fed and under read inbred Republican rednecks who serve the Koch brothers and the Tea Party, nothing that Jesus said or did not say will ever change them. From Westboro to the duck ponds of Louisiana and all in between Jesus has been absent and unwelcome for a very long time!
    22 Dec 2:47 PM

    • John S

      Ahh, such christian love and compassion demonstrated here. Of course, it is only for those who agree with you.

      There are none so intolerant as the tolerant.

  • Mark Grizzard

    Bishop? Reverend? Of what? Probably an online purchased title, maybe? Your self given titles are not impressive, and your name calling is very pathetic. “Inbred Republican Rednecks” and “Quacks of duck fame”. Quit the name calling and write something meaningful.

    • John S

      Google is our Friend:

      Bishop Andrew Gerales Gentry

      I am a Christian Democratic Socialist, a Progressive Traditionalist theologically, and a senior citizen who is hoping to re-locate to the Outer Banks with my very best friend John for work and ultimately full retirement. I understand Rutherford County N C English, Appalachian English, prefer Tidewater, Outer Banks, Yorkshire and Irish English. I wish I could speak Spanish which was the language of my paternal great grandmother. I have a new motto “Jesus esta siempre con nosotros”

      AND

      http://readersupportednews.org/component/comprofiler/userprofile/BishopAndrew
      About Me:
      I am the servant bishop of a very small and perhaps first Congregational Catholic Church which meets at a local coffee shop in downtown Asheville. We are a welcoming and inclusive community of faith. We use a table liturgy that is very celtic in flavor and inclusive. We see ourselves as a little leaven in the loaf of downtown, and a place where everyone is welcome.

  • Buddy

    ask a redneck a question, expect an honest redneck answer… the question is not why a&e fired phil for saying something; the question is why a&e fired phil for saying something to gq?

    miley cyrus can “make love” onstage offending everybody but the dirtiest minds among us and is great; phil says something to another media outlet offending only the intolerant minds among us unrelated to a&e and is fired.

    that’s what intolerance and extreme bias looks like!

  • Gil Caldwell

    The article by Brian Miller and the lifting of the suspension of Phil Robertson by A & E gives me the opportunity to quote some words of John Lomperis that I believe can now be considered more seriously by all of us regardless of where we land on the conservative-liberal continuum. John Lomperis wrote in response to my reply about Robertson’s failure to publicly acknowledge the slavery and racial discrimination history of blacks, these words; “…any informed Christian
    should find any sort of suggestion that African Americans generally thought life was fine and dandy in the Jim Crow south (is) to be morally offensive”.

    The distinction between the words of Robertson and Pope Francis is this, Pope Francis in his words and tones acknowledges the history and reality that some persons because of who they are, they and those like them, have known/know bias and bigotry. The publicized words of Robertson re; the blacks he has observed and known, give no indication that he acknowledges the reality of the “Jim Crow
    south” (John Lomperis).

    I do not want to “wear out my welcome” as a replier on this site, but as we enter 2014, I share these thoughts. Mark 5 24 ff is my text:
    “If as you are at the altar and remember that a sister or brother has something against you (our you against them), leave your gift at the altar and go and be reconciled…” (paraphrase)
    I assume it is John Lomperis who “moderates” these replies. “John forgive me for taking so much space as one who is not yet a fan of IRD.
    But, who feels that it is essential for people of faith, unlike people of politics, to be in dialogue with each other, particularly in these polarized times.” My Dreams (patterned after Martin Luther King’s “Dream”) for 2014:

    1. That conservatives and liberals and all those in between, regardless of our opinions on the issues that divide us, will acknowledge that blindness to the “morally offensive” actions of bias and bigotry, past and present, contradicts and minimizes the Biblical Faith that guides us.

    2. That those of us who are United Methodists will discover ways to create a “new” United Methodist Church as Nelson Mandela and F.W.
    de Klerk created a “new” South Africa. I know some of our UM Mandela’s, John would you identify some UM de Klerk’s? (sp?)

    3. I believe that the issue that creates the most serious avoidance of Biblical faith and Social Justice in these moments, by both conservative and liberal Christians, is in the realm of economics and the poverty, income and educational inequality, that results from the
    dominant economic practices of these times. The Bible “says” much about greed, and greed has no race, gender, sexual orientation, religious, regional, political or national boundaries.

    The United Methodist Church ought not be the Democratic or Republican Party at prayer. Nor, should it be the Church that is hand in glove with Capitalism or Marxism. An often neglected memory of Martin Luther King is his mounting of the “Poor People’s Campaign”. Some have suggested that it was those who feared his
    challenging the economic inequalities of our nation and world who were not bothered by his death.

    My “dream” for 2014 John Lomperis, is that we who are people of faith will come out of our Biblical interpretation, theological, Christological, political & other “silos” to confront together the economic greed of which all of us are guilty. If we do not do this together, and instead glory in our flaws rather than our faith, we demean the One who in “Love came down at Christmas”

    (Full disclosure: I at the age of 80 am drawn to this site, because of the font size of the print. My glaucoma and cataracts in both eyes, makes the print of Juicy Ecumenism easy to read, even as some of the content of both articles and replies, creates a “hole in my soul”.
    (smile)…I am serious about the meaning of Matthew 5:23. I, as a black southerner whose UM ministry has been in the northeast and west, have had to acknowledge and live with the fact that many of my white colleagues, regardless of where they were born or lived,
    had/have a kind of blackphobia (a bit like homophobia) that they are unaware of or are unable to acknowledge. I have sought in my
    ministry in predominantly black and white UM
    Churches to engage in intentional efforts at reconciliation; often failing because of my own ineptness and/or that of others….As I “live until I die” (Elizabeth Kubler-Ross/Hospice), I want to in some small way “build some bridges” without compromising my views about racial justice or justice for same gender loving persons. Is there room for any of this within the
    Juicy Ecumenism family?)

  • Bee

    I came across this blog quite by chance and personally speaking am slightly bemused at how many times I have heard Phil Robertson being denounced across the whole media for using so-called coarse but correct use of the English language in naming body parts that heterosexual and homosexuals use during intercourse. In a world where anything goes and daily we are exposed to constant sexual filth, this is so hypocritical. I believe the language he used fully exposed an uncomfortable truth for some. The truth is still the truth whichever way you call it, and Christians must speak out for the truth of biblical teaching.

  • Karl Kroger

    Thank you for your words of grace and decency. As a leader, it would be irresponsible of me to allow an individual in my church to speak in the manner that Phil did. And that has nothing to do with liberal vs conservative theology.

    Additionally, you’re spot on, that Pope Francis has done a wonderful job of demonstrating his faith. There’s a reason non-Christians are increasingly drawn to the Pope, and the God he loves and serves.