That oh-so-predictable CNN article on ducks and doctrine

That oh-so-predictable CNN article on ducks and doctrine December 21, 2013

So color me confused.

At the moment, CNN is hailing this article — “Does Phil Robertson get the Bible wrong?” — as the “best, fairest, article on Christians and homosexuality you’ll ever read. Fact.”

Of course, we are talking about the Duck Dynasty doctrine wars and the GQ interview with duck patriarch Phil Robertson. Thus, the crucial passage of the CNN religion-blog post:

Robertson, 67, … paraphrases a Bible passage from the New Testament: “Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers – they won’t inherit the kingdom of God.”

That’s a pretty close citation of 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, which is a letter from Paul, often called the father of Christianity theology, to a fledging Christian community in Corinth, Greece. Here’s what Paul’s passage says, as rendered in the New International Version, by far the most popular translation among evangelicals and conservative Christians such as Robertson:

“Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men, nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”

Evangelicals, who make up about a quarter of the U.S. population, tend to take that passage at face value.

Uh, and among traditional Christians, precisely who doesn’t take that passage seriously when it comes to talking about the reality of sin in this fallen world? Catholics? The Eastern Orthodox? Most of the world’s Lutherans and Anglicans? Pentecostal believers (the fastest growing flock in worldwide Christianity)?

Pretty quickly, CNN sets this up as a rather typical battle between a country-fried preacher (or two) and a real biblical scholar. Yes, that is ONE biblical scholar, from one seminary. The hero of the piece is introduced in this manner:

But other Bible experts said the Scripture Robertson cited isn’t quite clear about homosexuality.

“A lot of people misread this text because it’s so complicated,” said O. Wesley Allen Jr., an associate professor at Lexington Theological Seminary in Kentucky.

Now, what pray tell is the theological orientation of this seminary?

It is part of one of the world’s most doctrinally liberal denominations, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) — a flock that has long taken progressive stands on every imaginable moral and social issue. It is true, however, that as a very congregational body many of its congregations remain quite traditional when it comes to theology.

Now, having a liberal Christian academic voice in this piece is absolutely necessary as part of a balanced, fair-minded approach to the issue. Bravo. As expected, Allen’s views are completely consistent with a liberal Protestant view of moral theology and scripture.

The same is true of another voice introduced later in the piece, who voices the article’s central theme:

“The Bible may be divinely inspired, but its authors were human and saw, as St. Paul puts it, through a glass darkly,” said Jim Naughton, a Christian gay rights activist and communications consultant. “On the subject of homosexuality, the Bible doesn’t mean what Phil Robertson thinks it means.”

Now, if this is the “best, fairest, article on Christians and homosexuality you’ll ever read,” then there must be a solid block of material representing the other side of this debate, a scholar or two representing the rest of the world’s Christians. Correct?

Well, there is that St. Paul fellow, who is quoted. And then there is this:

The list of sins is likely based on rumors that Paul heard about Corinth, says Warren Throckmorton, a psychology professor at Grove City College in Pennsylvania who has studied the Bible’s teachings on homosexuality. Bible scholars call it a “vice list,” and it appears several times in Scripture.

That’s it. One paragraph of material from a psychology professor at one Christian college.

That’s it, when it comes to producing a balanced, accurate piece of journalism on this hot-button moral, social, cultural, political and theological issue?

I have read through this CNN article at least three times. Did I miss something in this best-ever news analysis piece? Was something crucial edited out of it?

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64 responses to “That oh-so-predictable CNN article on ducks and doctrine”

  1. If the liberal Protestant view described here should be featured at all — I’m not sure that it should — it should make up 0.05% of the Christian views presented, seeing as that’s approximately the % of Christians throughout history who have ever held to it. Unsurprisingly, they’ve flipped that around.

    • Oh, in academia the left is a very powerful force and that must be heard. As always, GetReligion is cheering for balanced, accurate, fair coverage of the voices on both sides. A preacher vs. one scholar is not the way to go.

      • Agreed, just noting that accurate and balanced from a Christian perspective in this case wouldn’t be 50/50, but would be more like 99/1 *against*. But from secular reporting, at least 50/50 would be nice.

        • But we are not talking about a “Christian” perspective here. We are talking about CNN and basic journalism.

          • Of course, there are those who would argue that “CNN” and “basic journalism” haven’t belonged in the same sentence in several years.

          • I am not that negative, in particular about the CNN Faith blog. It is a sometimes painful mixture of opinion and traditional news, but it is a resource that I would never wish to see vanish. No way.

          • It may just be me, but with all of the scandals from the last 15+ years I’m getting burned out on the major national news outlets, CNN included.

          • I’m not a big reader or viewer of the general CNN but their faith blog’s news division is really good in general.

          • They are trying to claim they are covering Christian views, so they should give a balanced perspective on what these actually are. They entirely fail at that.

          • I think that Mr. Duffy’s point is that journalism strives to honestly and accurately describe the reality of a particular situation.

            And in this case, the reality is that a huge percentage of active and committed Christians believe that homosexuality is a sin — and have consistently believed so for thousands of years — so to write a story that provides readers with a balance of “pro” and “con” Christian views of homosexuality would not be a story that accurately reflects the reality of Christian thinking on this subject.

            A more accurate framing of that kind of story would include “pro” and “con” and “con” and “con” and “con” and….

            So is “balance” on this topic all we should desire from journalists? That sets the bar pretty low, and it seems to me that in this case journalistic “balance” would create a false description of reality.

      • Why don’t you have the integrity to complain about the bias of Fox news”. Or, do you only discuss coverage that offends your far right sensibilities?

  2. Of course the professor they do quote previously promoted conversion therapy but now opposes it. That may not change his theological commitment to the sinfulness of homosexual behavior, but it is relevant, especially if he’s meant to be the “balance” against the liberal commentators.

    • What does changing ones views on the usefulness of specific therapies have to do with theology? The nature of psychology is that over time therapies are changed when past therapies are seen not to work. Why they do or do not work is an issue psychologists have not spent enough time considering. Some of the issue relates to changing cultural norms and expectations.

      • It speaks to the person’s credibility on the issue and the CNN author’s willingness to cite him as a source.

        “Why did he go from supporting it to opposing it?” – this may influence the way the guy approaches the topic.

        “Would the CNN reporter have cited him if he still supported it?” – the article is constructed in such a fashion as to present a faux disconnect between what the reporter views as “mainline Protestantism” and what is seen as the backwards theology of the DD peeps. No scholars or theologians who support the GQ statements are cited, hence this discussion.

      • It’s relevant that their go-to guy specializes in the treatment of sexual identity problems, and has recently had a major overhaul in his views on how to address homoseuxality – essentially moving to a moderate if not liberal position – rather than someone who specializes in what the Bible says about the subject and holds a traditional view.

    • But again … so what? If they run a story about someone who has just climbed Mt. Everest, they don’t feel the need to “balance” this by bringing in someone who has lived his whole life in Holland and never had to climb a hill more than 10 feet tall. If they interview a scientist who has just discovered a new kind of supernova, they don’t feel the need to “balance” this by bringing in someone who has never discovered anything. Mere contrast is not newsworthy.

      If you want to write a story about what the Bible says about homosexuality, then you need to bring in many more “experts” and let them all present their cases. If your story is about Phil Robertson, on the other hand, you do NOT.

      If you’re writing a story about what Obama believes, you can bring in information about Jeremiah Wright as relevant, because Wright WAS Obama’s pastor, and then Obama publicly dumped him. Both decisions tell us something about Obama. Allen, on the other hand, has no relationship whatsoever to the Robertson clan. He is not able to give a more coherent explanation of Robertson’s belief; he is not able to give an account of Robertson’s journey of faith; he is not able to place Robertson’s beliefs within the context of the faith community to which Robertson actually belongs. WHAT BUSINESS DOES THIS HAVE IN THE STORY?

      • In order for the analogy to work, the balancing quote would not come from someone who lived in Holland and never climbed a hill; it would come from someone who was opposed to climbing mountains for some reason or another.

        When an article has as its subject “Does Phil Robertson get the Bible wrong?” then it is entirely appropriate to quote authorities who would answer yes as well as those who answer no. Those authorities should as evenly matched as possible in terms of educational levels, published work, etc., and should be those who would be recognized as authorities in the communities they claim to represent.

        • If you want a very detailed analogy, then it would have to be two men disagreeing about whether it is a good thing to climb a mountain without either man actually doing it.

          I’ll accept the second point, though. However, the problem with addressing the question in the title is, how do we address the question in the title? Is there really a correct way of interpreting the Bible at all? I would say yes, because I am a Christian, but a Muslim would say no (or at least, not necessarily and in places no), because he believes the Bible to be hopelessly corrupted. Unless CNN is willing to preface this debate by rejecting the Muslim position, something we both know they are not willing to do, they are not ACTUALLY interested in determining the absolute truth of Robertson’s understanding of the Bible.

          If they are not asking for truth, though, the only thing they can ask for is consistency; is he wrong about the Bible AS JUDGED BY THOSE WHO SHARE HIS FAITH? It makes no sense to ask him to be consistent with someone outside his faith group. Perhaps CNN thinks that this faith group “obviously” consists of all Protestant Christians; more likely they have not actually given it much thought. Does Robertson agree? I don’t watch the show or know much about his beliefs, but I know that quite a few Protestants think that other Protestants are “almost as wrong” as the Catholic Church and are taking the broad gate that leads to destruction. Would Allen’s comments cause Robertson to reconsider, or would he say, “Yeah, that’s about what I would expect from someone who attends THAT church”?

      • Of course mere contrast isn’t newsworthy. Did something I said give you the impression that I believe otherwise?

        The article asks the question whether Phil Robertson is wrong about what the Bible (particularly 1 Corinthians) says about homosexuality, and it essentially only presents the argument that, yes, he is wrong. Mr. Allen isn’t quoted to give an explanation of Mr. Robertson’s belief, but to say that Mr. Robertson’s belief – and therefore the belief of conservative evangelicals on the whole – is mistaken. Is it journalism or it is an opinion piece? If the former, it should do a better job of balancing the opposing views among Christians.

  3. Not really interested in reading everything about this kerfluffel, or in watching DD. (I do miss the days when A&E actually had programming about the arts…) I think some investigative journalism would be in order, to find out whether an incidental comment I saw at another web site is true: that all the principals on DD but one have Master’s degrees, and they think up funny skits for the A&E crew to film. I don’t have any illusions about “reality TV” shows, but, my goodness, what if DD really IS all an act? I think a thorough job reporting on that would be really interesting, and a so-far-missed opportunity for good journalism.


    • Your comment implies that you have never watched the show, which explains why you can write “what if DD really IS all an act?” You do not need an investigative reporter to figure that out–just watch the show and you will see that it is all an act. The show may not be entirely scripted–it may be largely ad-libbed–but it is carefully constructed with each episode having an A plot and a B plot. The situations are usually so outlandish that they are obviously staged. Duck Dynasty is almost always described as a “reality show” but it is very similar to the classic comedies of the 1950s and 1960s.

      • You’re right, I stated above that I have never watched the show. Okay, it’s “obviously staged.” What intrigues me more is the Master’s degree angle. That might actually be disappointing to a slice of DD’s fan demographic, but I might be wrong…


        • Why would Masters degrees be disappointing? Not everybody with college degrees end up working in typical offices where people wear suits. Check out Silicon Valley. Somebody has to be running their business, which was very successful before they got the TV gig. I’m guessing they have MBAs.

    • I hear you about A&E.

      At one point, my favorite A&E show was a number called “Foot Soldier”, in which host Richard Karn (best remembered as “Al Borland” from “Home Improvement”) narrated stories about different infantry units from history.

    • The GQ article indicated the Robertson had been to college, although what level of degree he got if any is not clear.

  4. This seems to be the situation with the mainstream media in discussing anything having to do with homosexuality and religion. For another example, see this story on NPR’s Here and Now program about the defrocking of a United Methodist pastor for having performed a gay marriage. The headline says “Defrocking Opens Deep Divide Among Methodists,” but the story reports only the pastor’s viewpoint.


    No one should expect CNN to defend Christian orthodoxy. That’s not CNN’s job.

    At the same time, no one should expect CNN to defend a liberal Christian stance on this issue either. That’s not CNN’s job.

    The goal is JOURNALISM, to do the best job that you can to let the public know what people on both sides of the debate think.

    In this case, CNN went with a local preacher vs. a liberal scholar and a liberal activist. The message: Local people believe one thing; national level experts and scholars believe something else. That’s a debate?

    • Don’t forget that they picked a seemingly arbitrary Bible translation to cite.

      While the NIV is the Bible of choice for more “modern” Protestant congregations, the KJV still has a commanding presence. A good reporter should have been aware of this and so should have checked both translations.

      The KJV rendering of the passage in question is:

      9 Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind,

      10 Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.

      This sounds a lot like what was cited in the original GQ article. So much so, in fact, that one wonders whether or not CNN chose the NIV because it is “softer” on the topic.

      • Actually, I will defend CNN on that. If you see this as only a story about backward evangelicals, then you need the NIV. That is the most popular evangelical Bible these days.

        IF THIS IS simply a story about brilliant mainliners (NRSV) and backward evangelicals (NIV).

        • It’s been my personal experience that the more “hard-line” a Protestant is, the more likely they are go for a KJV. I’ve even seen some “hard-line” Protestants argue that any translation but the KJV is “Satanic” in nature.

          This is part of the reason why, whenever I’m debating the Bible with someone, I almost always default to the KJV unless I have reason to go to another translation: it’s just more widely accepted in the circles I frequently wind up in.

  6. I wonder how easy it is to find traditional/orthodox/whatever-adjective-best-describes-adhering-to-historical-creedal-Christianity scholars who are willing to go on record about this story.

    It wouldn’t surprise me if many just want to keep their heads down and hope the whole homosexuality controversy disappears. After all, to go on record as defending the traditional reading of these Bible passages would shut a lot of doors, or paint a target on one’s back (if not one’s forehead), professionally speaking. So unless pushing traditional teaching on the sinfulness of same-sex relations is a big deal for a scholar personally, my guess is that most would try to avoid the reporter’s spotlight.

    Of those who wouldn’t dodge the reporters, my guess is that those from big-name denominations aren’t interested in
    dragging their denomination’s name into what looks like a tempest in a
    teapot, or a minor skirmish in a culture war. For example, Fr. Robert Barron might make a statement, but he would almost certainly be taken as “Catholics take a stand on Duck Dynasty” and I’m not sure he or his bishop would want to fight that fight for something as ephemeral as a reality-TV show.

    I wonder how many traditional Christian scholars of moral and/or biblical theology this leaves for reporters to interview?

      • I would have thought Al Mohler, Scott Hahn, Peter Kreeft, or someone like that. I know they are theologians rather than bible scholars, but expertise in biblical studies didn’t seem critical (Jim Naughton?!).

        On the bright side, they didn’t drag out Fr. Thomas Reese.

        • Do you really want Albert Mohler as a representative of traditional Christianity? He advocated wiping out the homosexual population using eugenics.

      • I strongly suggest that the readers/contributors here go to Gagnon’s home page and check the “Articles On Line” link, especially a couple of talks he gave to the Ruth Institute some time ago on Outstanding defenses of Paul’s and Jesus’ teachings. Also gives both religious and strictly secular reasons why homosexual behavior is harmful.

      • CNN analysis piece

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  7. The trend of the moment among a tiny fraction of Christians is what Paul really meant 2000 years ago. Why can’t orthodox Christians just follow the culture and get in line?


    I’d really like to hear from CNN why the views of the vast majority need not be given fair play. That’s a weird journalism decision I can’t begin to understand. I find this article offensive. Even more offensive is how poorly the reporter has responded to this criticism. And that it was praised in this bizarre fashion makes even less sense. Perhaps a major portion of the article was accidentally edited out? Or something?

    • I think the praise makes sense if you read it as a joke. Like, this is so obviously NOT a good or fair article on Christians and homosexuality and so he’s poking fun at how bad it is? Although that’s kind of weird, too.

  8. “Now, having a liberal Christian academic voice in this piece is absolutely necessary as part of a balanced, fair-minded approach to the issue.”

    Why? What does this add that was not already known by anyone even dimly aware of Christianity in contemporary America?

    This strikes me as similar to statements such as, “… but critics disagree.” Of course they disagree (with whatever assertion had just been made); that’s why they’re called “critics”. Or, “Christians say that Jesus of Nazareth was the only-begotten Son of God, born of a Virgin, but Jews disagree.” Well, yeah: because if they believed that, they’d surely convert to some form of Christianity. Nothing is actually added by the statement.

    It would be one thing if CNN found that another member of the Robertson family disagreed on the topic, or if they found that the pastor of Robertson’s own church disagreed with him. That would at least bring the conflict within arm’s reach, so to speak, of Phil Robertson. Instead what we get is this: Some people who disagree with Phil Robertson on many points of theology also disagree with him on the theology of sexuality. And this is supposed to be news?

    CNN presents itself as a serious, credible news source. But critics disagree.

  9. Welcome to the Age of Bovine Manure! If it looks stupid and it sounds stupid, it is stupid – and it is 99% of what we get in the mainstream media.

  10. Correct me if I’m wrong – but I’m under the impression that Protestants can interpret scripture personally and decide what it means. Each church seems to have its own version of interpretation.

      • I don’t think Kathleen’s comment is really concerning journalism, so I didn’t bother to write a reply to her earlier. But yes, she is wrong. Protestants do not, as a general rule, “interpret scripture personally and decide what it means,” any more so than a Roman Catholic reader of the Bible must use basic reading comprehension to understand what it says. Besides which, “Protestant” is used to mean almost anything vaguely Christian (though at least usually Trinitarian) but not Roman Catholic or Orthodox, which isn’t really a fair point of comparison since there is no single “Protestant Church.” Most Protestant churches (by which I mean denominational bodies rather than local congregations) have doctrinal standards, which means that you can’t, for example, deny the Trinity as a Southern Baptist.

        • Actually, I was referring CNN’s question – “Does….get the Bible wrong.” Who decides what the right and wrong interpretation is?

          So each mainline Protestant denomination (Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, etc.) has their own central authority that determines what their beliefs/teachings/interpretations are? Like the Presbyterians believe in predestination and the Lutherans don’t – as an example.

          • In the case of the Bible’s condemnation of homosexuality, there are really only two schools of thought in Christendom, so it shouldn’t have been difficult to present them both. There isn’t a need for the article to provide a magisterial ruling for each denomination. Indeed, they could satisfactorily have quoted a Roman Catholic Bible specialist for the traditional view.

          • The idea that each Christian is free to interpret scripture as he or she wishes is not, generally, part of Protestantism. And yet, many people think it is. I think this originated as a critique by Rome of the Reformation and it is a half-truth: the Protestant does not need an infallible authority to interpret the Bible, but he is not free to disregard clear passages of scripture, such as those that forbid homosexuality.

          • The other issue is that there was a near universal agreement among all Protestants of all denominations in 1950 that homosexual sex was condemned by the Bible. In fact, I may be putting the year too early when that was last the over-wheliming consensus.

          • The pace of change with regard to homosexuality, both in religious and secular thought, has been astonishingly rapid. In less than a century Western society has moved from millennia of universal disapproval to the brink of universally endorsing same-sex relationships as legally and socially equal to traditional marriage. This too is something the press ought to take into account when writing about opposing views of homosexuality and marriage; after all, the first “registered partnerships” in the world did not exist until 1989 in Denmark, and the first country to legalize same-sex marriage was the Netherlands as recently as 2001.

  11. The problem lies in still thinking CNN, or most politicians, or most people in the academic world have any concern at all about journalism or fair play or serious discussion at all. They have an agenda, a serious and deadly agenda that drives their every move. In private, they must laugh their head’s off at our never dying naivety. They are at war, and we think we are still at the intelligent discussion level. Time to wake up.

  12. That takes some pretty obtuse reading to determine the Bible is not uniformly opposed to homosexuality. But if CNN had wanted to take a true opportunity instead of “guilt by association” they would have used that passage to show Robertson wasn’t putting homosexuality on moral equivalency with all of those groups but rather reading off a grocerty list of things that people adhering to the New Testament will find sinful. Instead they went to a seminarian who agreed with the Ted Turner worldview to show that “anyone who disagrees with CNN’s editorial is unChristian.”

    I grew up in the Disciples of Christ Church and calling them “liberal” is laughable. Irrelevant, too small to compete with Baptists and not real big on missionary work or megachurches, and somewhat more relaxed than fire and brimstone. But its hardly Bishop Shelby Spong world, Episcopalians are typically far more dogmatically left leaning than DoC. Did CNN accurately report that a prominent Disciples member was Ronald Reagan – need I say more?

  13. I’ve noticed that in news reports Robertson’s comments have been cut up and pasted in various ways. The original passage from GQ is:

    “[GQ asks] What, in your mind, is sinful?
    [Robertson replies:] “Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men,” he says. Then he paraphrases Corinthians: “Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers—they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right.”

    I’m wondering if there’s a deliberate “false ellipsis” in the way GQ has transcribed the quote. By adding “he says. Then he paraphrases Corinthians” the GQ writer separates the bestiality and promiscuity (or is it polygamy?) in Robertson’s quote from the “adulterers, idolaters” and so on, creating a segregation of sins that Robertson may not have intended.

    If one reads the entire quote without the ellipsis, it’s clear that Robertson is not making homosexuality or bestiality a “special case” in his laundry list of contemporary sins, as most news reports have suggested.

  14. Paul was very capable of speaking for himself. Whoever this Allen guy is he better straighten out before he ends up in Hell!