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.