Anyone who knows me can tell you that I’m highly unlikely to watch any reality TV show unless I have a gun pointed at my head. I try to remain as unaware as possible of this entire bizarre cultural phenomenon; ever since I accidentally saw part of the first-season finale of Survivor I’ve been trying to convince myself that if I lie low and ignore it, it will all go away.
I reluctantly became aware earlier this year that a TV “show” called Duck Dynasty existed, which appeared, from what I could gather, to be some kind of celebration/send-up of duck hunting and … I don’t know, redneck culture? My only response upon finding out this show existed was the horror of realizing it was aired on a network called A&E, which once used to stand for “Arts and Entertainment.” But then, the History Channel used to air shows about history instead of about storage lockers and aliens, so basically, I’m just glad I never got cable TV.
But then I noticed that a lot of my conservative Christian friends seemed to admire these hairy beardy guys for their unabashed faith. And then this whole thing happened, and the internet exploded. And my Facebook newsfeed was evenly divided between between my gay and gay-affirming friends who thought Robertson should be run out of town on a rail, and my conservative friends who wanted to rally around and make him the poster child for religious liberty and freedom of speech. To be fair, there was a small minority who steered the middle ground and pointed out, correctly I believe that this was not actually a case of a brave Christian’s free speech being stifled: it was a reality TV “star” acting in character — the character he’s been well-paid to promote and which America has apparently, for some reason, enjoyed watching — and other people responding, predictably, by disagreeing and disapproving.
But most people rushed immediately to the extremes, giving North America something it’s never seen before — a full-on culture war between fundamentalists and secularists in the month of December that has nothing to do with saying “Merry Christmas.”
My own life would not be in any way adversely affected if the entire cast of Duck Dynasty came out of the closet as secret gays, then doused themselves with gasoline and set fire to themselves in a fit of self-righteous self-loathing. But I still felt there was something at the core of this ridiculous teapot-tempest that I wanted to respond to.
I understand that many Christians feel that what really got Phil Robertson in trouble — moreso than his crude anatomical analysis of why he finds homosexuality incredible, moreso than his frankly disturbing comments about African-Americans or any one of a number of other narrow-minded, racist things he said in that interview — is that he quoted a Bible verse that condemns homosexual behavior. In a Western society that’s increasingly open and accepting towards LGBT people, many conservative Christians harbour a deep fear that a time will come when they’re not allowed to quote potentially controversial Bible passages in public or to say “I believe a particular behavior is sinful.”
I get where this fear comes from (although I think it’s groundless) and I am a passionate believer in freedom of thought, speech and expression. Although I, like many other Christians, view the six classic anti-gay Bible texts differently than Phil Robertson does, I absolutely defend his right to read, quote and interpret the Bible as he sees fit. That is as real and valid a right as the right of a gay person to walk down the street wrapped in a rainbow flag. It’s as real as Pamela Anderson’s right to come to Newfoundland and offer sealers money to stop the seal hunt. Freedom of thought, speech and expression means absolutely nothing if you restrict it only to people who agree with you. But also, if you think your right to free speech somehow means that other people can’t disapprove of what you say, and express that disapproval, you haven’t read the manual, or something.
So I hope that my fellow Christians will always be free to quote from the Bible and express their understanding of what it teaches — just as I hope that Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Wiccans, Buddhists, atheists and everyone else will always be free to express their beliefs. When I talk to fellow Christians about how we speak to and about LGBT people, I am talking to people who read the same Bible I do, even if we don’t always read it the same way. I understand that when you say homosexuality is a sin, you’re not necessarily speaking from a place of hatred or bigotry or ignorance. You may be speaking from a place of genuine conviction and a need to share what you believe is truth. And because you’re my people — which I guess means that even Phil Robertson is my people, kind of — I understand your need to speak your truth, and I respect your right to speak it.
I don’t even think it’s my role to try to change anyone’s understanding of Scripture, on this or any other issue. I just ask one thing — and I know Phil Robertson is not listening to me (and other people, whom he might listen to, have probably said the same thing far more clearly and succinctly). But you might be a fellow conservative Christian, maybe even a fellow Adventist, who is reading this blog, and you might hear what I have to say.
Speak the truth as you understand it, boldly and without fear. But when you speak about sin, think about who’s listening to your words.
When you say that you believe sex between two men or two women is a sin, imagine those two men or those two women in your mind’s eye, listening to you. If you’re a parent, imagine that’s your child, who’s confided in you that he’s gay. Imagine that your lesbian daughter and her partner are listening to your words. If you don’t have children, imagine it’s your kid brother or sister, or your best friend, hearing you speak. When you choose how to frame your words, what kind of language to use, speak your truth the way you’d say it to them. Use the language you’d want your beloved child, or sister, or friend, to hear.
Go a step farther. When you speak about the Bible and homosexuality, imagine that young person you love as gay or lesbian. Then imagine him or her as a teenager. Imagine a gun in his hand, pointed at his own temple, or a bottle of pills open in her palm. Say what you’d say if you wanted to talk to that young person about God, and at the same time prevent them — because you know you’d want to prevent them — from becoming one more statistic in the numbers of gay and lesbian youth who kill themselves at a higher rate than the rest of the teen and young-adult population.
You have the right to speak freely. So do I; so does your neighbour; so does the person you disagree with most violently. So does Phil Robertson.
Use that right with care. When you, as a Christian, speak about homosexuality, imagine that everything you say is being heard by a vulnerable, hurting, questioning gay or lesbian teen who has trouble believing God loves him or her.
Because believe me, they are listening.