Let Freedom Ring: A Very Ducky Christmas Special

I wish these public media storms would hold off until after Christmas. It’s really messing with my Advent 4 mojo. However—the Duck Debacle has crept into my head space, and I’m pretty sure the Spirit will not be able to show up with a sermon until I’ve got this out of my system.

As you have probably heard, Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty fame said some off-putting things about LGBT folks in a magazine interview. What he said should not have surprised anyone who knows anything about the family, their faith background, and their context. What has surprised many is the fact that A&E, the network that airs the show, doesn’t want Robertson  to appear in any future episodes for awhile.

Commence frenzied ‘free speech’ and ‘freedom of religion’ run on the Building and Loan. Say—maybe this is a good Advent-y post after all!

In my reluctant surfing of public media this morning, I see two main questions/concerns to be addressed here: 1) What is—and is not—meant by free speech; and 2) The extent to which a person’s religious beliefs can justify worldviews that are damaging to large groups of people.

To the first: freedom of speech means that you can criticize the government without fear of imprisonment, deportation, or execution. It means that I can go stand on a street corner and preach the gospel of Jesus, and not be hauled away for questioning if my local officials happen to be Muslims; it means you can run for office if you don’t like how things are going; you can vote, you can call a lawyer to represent you if you feel you’re being persecuted; and you can write a really, really lame romance novel and publish it yourself.

It does NOT mean: that anybody has to convert to my religion; that anyone has to vote for you; or that anyone has to read your crummy book.

Freedoms extend both ways; and the public at large has a right to not listen to what you have to say. The public has a right to not eat at Chic-fil-A, if they think the CEO is giving money to questionable organizations. (FWIW, I am once again a customer of the Christian chicken. I wrote posts about that too.) The public has a right to counter the unjust hiring or compensation policies of public places of business. And, thanks to the constitution, a public media outlet, like A&E, has the right to choose what it does—and does not—air to its audience. No injustice has been done here. Now, if the Duck Daddy went to jail, or was physically harmed in some way, then freedom would be threatened. But as it stands, he is still ‘free’ to say whatever he wants. Plenty of people are still listening. In fact, I’d venture to say that folks who, yesterday, would have said “the Duck what now?” are queuing up as we speak to defend this man. If anything, his public forum has expanded.

As for the question of ‘when quoting scripture counts as hate speech,’ we don’t have such clear legal, constitutional parameters. But here is a simple measuring stick: when scripture is used to keep individuals or large demographics of society “in their place,” then it is being abused, and yes, could be considered hateful. Historically, scripture has been used to restrict the rights of troublesome people: it has been invoked to keep people in slavery; to keep women from voting and holding property; to bully battered women into ‘bearing their cross’ and staying with an abuser. In these and in many other cases, ‘just quoting scripture’ is, in fact, an act of violence.

That said—do I think that everyone with more conservative views of homosexuality is ‘hateful,’ unfaithful, and ignorant?  No. And I think it’s important for me to say that out loud about my to-the-right brothers and sisters. They have a right to be where they are. They have a right to their own convictions, their own interpretation of scripture, and their own understanding of what it means to follow Jesus.  Heck, they even have a right to say these things out loud.

But what they maybe shouldn’t do…is be so surprised when people don’t want to hear it anymore.

What’s really at issue here is the shifting place of Christianity in our culture at large.  Historically speaking, the Christian faith has held a certain place of majority/authority in the public life of America. That is becoming—let’s just say, less true—and it’s scary to people. That’s why there’s a massive freak-out every time a public figure states a conservative point of view and gets publicly criticized for it. It isn’t just about a perceived threat to one person’s ‘freedom;’ but the larger truth it reflects about a whole well-ordered world view that is falling by the wayside. The Christian message is no longer sanctified in the public square. But—do we really need it to be? If we name and examine this fear for what it really is—a loss of power—then maybe we can function and move on in healthier ways.

The truth is, there is no longer A Christian message, because even amongst believers, our values are shifting. But wouldn’t it be amazing—miraculous even—if, in this season of anticipating God’s saving work of love, we all went about participating in that work together? What if, instead of advocating for our own dearly-held opinions, we went about advocating for the child enslaved in the sex trade? the sweatshop laborer who made our new sweater or electronic device in sub-human living conditions? the veterans who served our country and are now sleeping on our streets?

Or as my friend Dawn (one of the best preachers I know) said this morning: “My… a child dies every 5 seconds from hunger but Christians are outraged over a cable TV company’s decision to fire a wealthy man? Come quickly, Jesus, we need you!”

Believers on both sides of this thing—or rather, ALL sides, as we know this is not such a binary world—what if, in the spirit of God’s love made flesh among us, we all used our freedom as Americans, and our freedom in Christ, to make the world more just for everyone? What if, instead of “standing” with an entertainer (because reality tv or not, that’s what he is) who no longer gets to be on tv, we stand with the least of these, and await the one who will bring new life and hope to us all?

*Responses may vary. I do not speak on behalf of Patheos, Saint Andrew Christian Church, the Disciples of Christ, my mama, your grandaddy, the boss of Chic-fil-A (where I now spend my money again), or Wal-Mart (where I do not).  One ill-timed blog post later, I am still one voice, one person, one set of convictions in the wide sea of this beautifully diverse world. Everybody relax and breathe a little. Then go on and love your neighbor and watch whatever the heck you want on tv. Or don’t.


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  • Bob Fugate

    Great Erin I love all of your post, you are the Berrys Girl, Hope things are going great for you.
    I just feel that folks want something to be combative about. We all have the right to express our beliefs, and yes if a company or organization disagrees with your concepts they have the right to not express those beliefs. The whole argument about who is right or wrong is of no importance in the long run to anyone except those directly effected. That folks want to take sides seems a waste of time to me, and maybe I am wasting my time in responding to this, but in defense I just wanted to say hi to my dear friend Erin.

    • Erin Smallwood Wathen

      well said, Bob. Good to hear from you, and Merry Christmas.

  • nathanjhill

    Beautiful thoughts – calling us back to center in what Jesus valued and what God values. Thank you!

  • Great points. Thank you for posting 🙂

  • Allie

    Thank you for saying what I tried to but was unable to.

  • kcbrewster

    eloquent Pastor. I am tempted to use the
    quote you cited: “… a child dies every 5 seconds from hunger but
    Christians are outraged over a cable TV company’s decision to fire a wealthy
    man? Come quickly, Jesus, we need you!”
    I’ll attribute it to my Preacher’s favorite preacher.

  • Angela Williams

    I was so blessed to read this article. I admit, that I too have fallen into this controversy all over social media this week. Reading this really hit home for me! It brought the whole scandal back into perspective. We should spend our time investing in the real needs of humanity, not getting so worked up into an issue like this. I agree that spreading the love of Jesus is number one, and I would hope that that is Phil Robertson’s goal too. Also, after I finished reading this I got to the bottom to find out that Pastor Erin is the pastor of a church in Olathe, Ks of all places. Where I lived until I was 7! I’m now states away in sunny Florida! I have a lot of family up there too. The craziest thing was thAt I just randomly came across this.. God is just too cool 🙂

  • NRS1957

    How elegant of an article. Nice try though. What this article tries to do is shift the focus of what is important. What is important is the fact that Phil was punished for something he said “free speech”. And, he was “canned” for it. What is the difference between Corporate persecution and Government persecution? The effect is the same.

    • melissia

      Ah, so therefor, the corporation must condone everything that every one of its members says, no matter how stupid, ignorant, bigoted, hateful, spiteful, idiotic, or otherwise assholeish it is?

      • NRS1957

        No, the Corporation does not have to agree with all members. But, It should respect other’s opinions even if the corporation disagrees with those opinions. This should apply to all groups..

        • melissia

          So when an employee goes around repeatedly acting like they speak for the corporation, being an asshole and damaging its public relations efforts, it has no recourse against them?

          • NRS1957

            Your trying to revise the facts melissia. Phil Robertson did not say he spoke for A&E. His comments, which were made in an interview not connected to A&E, were his own.

          • melissia

            “Phil Robertson did not say he spoke for A&E”

            He was a figurehead for their TV show, therefor that’s exactly what he was doing when he had that interview regarding their TV show.

          • NRS1957

            melissia, when you are on “your personal time”, does everything you say represent your employers view? At what point does your opinion, on anything, represent your personal opinion and not your employers?

          • Guest

            As an actor or actress, just like a CEO or president, of a corporation or president of a country – the media has deemed that you no longer have personal time. At times the judicial branch has deemed that there are certain people that are no longer private citizens. Each of these people are to live with the reality that the media or news reporters will tape, take pictures, or follow – you, your spouse or your children at any moment of any day. Thus, each has to speak carefully, act with care, and dress with care any time they step out there door. So what have we done to these people, made them idols, or little gods. Did they ask for this when they began with a desire to entertain or serve the people. I wonder? Yet each of us who have responded to this article (even me), are choosing to write in a public forum were are words are no longer private – they are public. We have missed the point of Erin’s article, we have moved the focus. Instead of words, we might use our hands and feet to get up and out in the world to bring food or warm clothing to those in need who live on the streets in our community.

          • Guest


          • NRS1957

            “the media has deemed that you no longer have personal time. ”

            Who gave media the right to make this decision? Is what the mass media represents today what we expect from them? Media use to give unbiased reports of happenings and events. But not any more. Media has taken it on itself to change fundamental beliefs of a Nation.

    • Guest

      wrong – the world move the focus to correct thinking, not compassion and kindness to motivate change in a person’s inner view of the world. Hating someone does not bring change, it is love and example

      • NRS1957

        To disagree with someone’s lifestyle does not equal hate. Hater and racist seems to be the only response some people have in response to disagreement.

        • Guest

          I think that disagreement is fine, but when you start to label people that is a form of dismissing them. Some do it out of hate or to cast them in the light of an enemy. Thus, the person is no longer in my group, and I do not have to deal with them. Instead, governments, corporations, and other forms of power need to remember that they would not be were they are if not for people. What happen to service? Yet, once again you choose to move the focus from what is really important. You do not get the point of the article. It is compassionate caring for those in need. It is important to remember that Christ did not come for any government or corporation; but for the lost, the least, and the lowly who need food, shelter, and warmth. If we are not about help our sisters and brothers around the world who are part of humanity then we have forgotten compassion, kindness, and love which leads to peace and grace for all of us in this world. I wish you peace this season, and hope that you will think of those without any monetary means of surviving in this power driven world.

          • NRS1957


          • Guest

            so you do not understand – peace

          • NRS1957

            I understand peace. What you must understand, the legitimization of an act that is considered an abomination will not create peace. An act that is against the laws of Nature and God will never be condoned by the majority.

            Everyone has the Right to do whatever they want in the privacy of their home. But they do not have the Right to force others, by legitimization of the lifestyle, to accept the lifestyle as “normal” for the society at large.

  • Leo Sharpe

    Thanks just what I was feeling

  • Guest

    Wow, exactly. Amen, could not have said it any better. Thank you my fellow DOC colleague. Write on for all our minds and souls need to rethink our reactions to media-cause driven crisis of society’s political rightness, and remember the reason of being a follow of Christ, or who ever. To make the world around us a better, compassionate, kinder, and supportive place for friend, family or the stranger who seeks help. thanks for this reflection. Peace and blessings to you and your kin.

  • David B. Craig

    And Why could we not do both! Stand by those who are in need as well as those who are being persecuted for their beliefs! it does not have to be either or!

  • Eve Fisher

    Great article; it’s amazing, that at Christmas of all times, the media is focused on Duck Dynasty. Personally, I was far more disgusted by his statements about working with blacks in the Jim Crow South and how he never heard any of them complain about how they were treated. Well, d’oh. In Jim Crow South, only idiot blacks complained to white guys. And, last I heard, free speech is guaranteed by our government, not by corporations. You can be fired for just about anything; at least this guy doesn’t have to worry about his unemployment running out on Saturday…

    Say hi to Dawn for me, she sounds AWESOME.

  • missholly46

    The whole thing smacks of a publicity stunt to me. And, obviously, it has worked brilliantly.