What a Pastor and a Duck Dynasty Star Have in Common

Schaefer and RobinsonThey both are Christians. They both are outspoken. And, they both got fired today. The cause: their stances on homosexuality. The real irony is that their positions could not be any more different.

Rev. Frank Schaefer, (as of today) a former United Methodist pastor, married off his son to his partner in a church wedding. He and his many supporters and advocates saw this  as a sacred act of compassion and love for his son and a necessary, conscientious act of disobedience to church law. After a painful church trial which found him guilty, a 30-day suspension, and massive protest, the Board of Ordained Ministry from his Annual Conference removed his credentials as an ordained Elder in the United Methodist Church.

Phil Robertson, star of the popular reality show Duck Dynasty, also spoke out on homosexuality, calling it sinful and lewd. Today the A&E Network indefinitely placed him on filming hiatus. His numerous supporters call this a breach of personal free-speech, protesting A&E’s actions as punitive, discriminatory, and intolerant. Meanwhile, members of the LGBT community are angered and hurt.

Two men. They represent polar opposite positions of a contentiously emotional debate. Both got fired for standing up for what they believe to be right. Is there a message or at least a lesson to be learned?

I think so.

This message would appeal to most people but offend passionate believers from both sides of the LGBT debate. There must be a way to honor each other, talk and act respectfully towards each other, and give space for each other to exist. Time will continue to bring about change, and I imagine that in generations to come, there will be no relevant debate. But for the time being, we must learn to allow space for all in the same room and at the same table.

In no way do I believe that these polar views on LGBT to be reconcilable. One side finds the views of the other equally appalling and morally detestable. But until the day in which one view becomes the prevailing view of most, we can find ways go forward together without violence or collateral damage.

I believe the church can and should lead the way to discovering a mutual way forward. That’s because in the church, we all claim one Christ, we are one family of God, and we love each other as brothers and sisters… well… ideally. It’s all a work in progress, and certainly the struggle over LGBT is testing our mettle.

But the Apostle Paul just might provide a model of unity we can apply to our struggle. In the First Century church of Rome, there was division among those who ate meat purchased in the market place and those who believed that eating this meat was blasphemous because it was first used in idol worship as an offering. (Remember the Second Commandment!) The division was so irreconcilable that these two groups refused to eat together any longer. That was a big deal because shared meals were majorly important to the life of the church. Why? These meals were the celebration of the Lord’s Table. One group saw that eating meat was perfectly fine; the other thought this to be utterly sinful. Sounds awfully familiar, doesn’t it?

Paul’s solution stated in Romans 14:1-15:13 was ingenious. And I believe it is quite applicable to our struggle to find unity in the church over the presence of LGBT people. Please take the time to read this passage for yourself, but here are the highlights:

  • We are all God’s servants, so who are we to judge fellow servants who belong to God?
  • Whichever side we’re on, as Christians, we are both convinced that what we do and believe, we do for the Lord.
  • Treating others with contempt because of their divergent convictions opens us to the judgment of God.
  • Respect the fact that what one calls sin is to them truly sin. Acting in a way that distresses them is not love. So don’t let something one calls good to be spoken of by the other as evil.
  • Do not let your convictions be a stumbling block to another. Rather do anything necessary that leads to peace and mutual edification.
  • The kingdom of God is not about eating and drinking, but rather peace, righteousness, and joy in the Holy Spirit. (Could we also say that the kingdom of God is not about sex and marriage? Jesus says as much.)
  • Whatever you believe, keep it between yourself and God.
  • We are called to bear with each other, especially when we find the faith of the other to be weak.
  • Accept each other since Christ has already accepted each of us so that we can glorify and serve Christ together.

That’s the gist of it. But imagine what the church would be like if we operate this way towards each other, in the gracious love of Jesus Christ. Larger still, imagine a world in conflict that loves each other this way… Perhaps if we did, Rev. Frank Schaefer and Phil Robertson would still be employed today.


Filed under Cultural Quakes, Human Sexuality

17 Responses to What a Pastor and a Duck Dynasty Star Have in Common

  1. markwalt

    This post is well-worded and thoughtful as usual. And, as usual, I disagree with part of it.
    Here’s the part with which I disagree: “There must be a way to honor each other.”
    There really isn’t. Now, part of me, the moral relativist, likes the sentiment of that. After all, doesn’t honoring everyone’s viewpoint sound like a great thing? Who doesn’t want to be tolerant of opposing viewpoints?
    The part of me that doesn’t like that is the ethical absolutist. The part of me that says that not every viewpoint is a good one. That some people need to be told that they’re wrong.
    These two parts of me struggle against each other constantly, drawing a line between tolerance and indignation.
    In the cases you mentioned above, indignation wins. I think the duck hunter needs to learn compassion and, well, grow up a little. And I think it’s okay to call him out on it. I think it’s right and fitting that he’s been pulled off the air for it, and the fact that he was pulled off the air is a sign that America is growing up a little.
    Here’s why: Words have meaning. Words can sway, and words from influential people are … influential. They help set the standard of what is perceived to be right and wrong in our culture. They help society decide where the line between good and bad is drawn. The louder and more influential the voice, the more that voice can potentially influence where that line is.
    If there were a lot of people on TV constantly saying how terrible being gay is, and how lewd and sinful it is without any kind of challenge, then eventually that viewpoint could become the standard. So when someone of influence, or volume, pops off with this type of comment, they really need to be challenged immediately.
    The challenge itself then becomes the message. And in this case, the message is “grow up.”
    I would add that the ecclesiastical hierarchy who punished the Methodist pastor for his act of love and tolerance need to hear this message as well. Those folks are not going to change their message or their viewpoint unless they are challenged to do so, because, by and large, people don’t change easily.

  2. Hi Mark- As usual, thank you so much for taking the time to read my stuff and leaving a thoughtful comment. It’s interesting how in our current culture, we have a hard time separating people from their views. Issues and the people become synonymous. No, I don’t think we can always honor the views of the other, especially if they are repugnant to us. But I think we can honor each other as people, remembering that we come to our views for specific reasons, that the other isn’t necessary an evil, morally corrupt moron.
    It pains me that two people who hold different views cannot tolerate each other as people, vilifying the other. That’s not necessary, and it’s destructive to creating human community in the midst of our differences.
    What do you think?

    • markwalt

      I think whether I can honor a person apart from that person’s views depends an awful lot on the views being expressed, and also on the frequency and volume with which the views are espoused.
      A person who uses fame to put forth an unethical or immoral viewpoint, I think, is a bad person, or at least, is a person who is behaving badly. Maybe the duck hunter was having an off day. Maybe he wasn’t thinking about his words. Maybe he’s really a nice guy. Or, maybe he’s an intolerant jerk. We’ll know by his actions.
      We humans are, I believe, a collection of behaviors and intentions. And contrary to typical Christian stated practice, I do believe in judging people based on their actions. After all, what else do I have to judge them on? I don’t believe in souls, so that’s out. I don’t believe that people are redeemed just by grace, I think they have to earn it. I also believe that thoughtful, skeptical, intelligent people tend to hold grudges. All of this is pretty un-Christian, I know.
      I do think that we should be open minded, and allow the duck hunter to redeem himself, but in order for that to happen, he has to try to be redeemed. The ball’s in his court. A heartfelt public apology on his part wouldn’t hurt.

    • Edmund Metheny

      First – my opinion on Rev. Shaefer and Mr. Robinson.
      Both of these worthy (and somewhat furry) individuals acted as faces for the organizations which employed them, and as such had the “brand name” of their respective organizations tied to their persons. Anything either of them said or did could be seen as reflecting on their employers. However, both are also private citizens, and retain their right to freedom of expression.
      The issue here is whether their activities could be tied back to their respective organizations? Did Rev. Shaefer perform a wedding ceremony as a Methodist minister or as a private citizen? Was Mr. Robinson’s interview with GQ magazine a matter arranged for, supported by, or officially sanctioned by A&E, or was it something he did entirely on his own as a private individual?
      In both cases, if acting as an official representative of their organization, then they are accountable to that organization, but if acting merely as private citizens, then they aren’t. People who dislike the message that they are giving may try to say otherwise, but the right to free expression is one of the foundations of our nation, and is not to be abridged lightly.
      In the case of Rev. Shaefer, it is my understanding that he officiated over the wedding in an official capacity as a Methodist minister. This means that he is accountable to the Methodist church for his actions. As much as I support him in what he did, and as foolish and petulant as I feel the Methodist church’s reaction to his activity is, I acknowledge that they had the right to do what they did. In the case of Mr. Robinson the issue is less clear, but my understanding is that GQ doesn’t just interview any sort of schmuck off the street, so it was likely that he was interviewed because of the popularity of his television program. So the issue boils down to whether A&E sanctioned the interview ahead of time or not. Since I don’t know the answer to that I can’t make a solid judgement on whether his firing was legit or not.

      • markwalt

        These are all good points, but I think things might be a little more complicated than that.
        I believe that A&E has a right to dump somebody who becomes hated because of his public behavior, because publicity is pretty much A&E’s business. I’ve never been in show business but I’ve heard of such things as “morality clauses” in contracts which are signed and agreed to up front, in which I believe the public behavior of TV personalities has a bearing on their employment.
        Given my belief in the existence of a morality clause, I’d say his termination is legit.

      • Being a Christian minister isn’t just a ‘job’. It’s infused with notions of morality and leadership. If a Christian minister acts one way when “not wearing the ministerial hat”, and another way when “at work”, then the work is not sincere, and people are unlikely to want such a ‘shepherd’.
        Accordingly, I think the question of whether Shaefer was acting as an official representative of his organization, is irrelevant, because in that role he effectively always was representing them.

  3. Edmund Metheny

    Second – the whole wibbly-wobbly, sexy-wexy thing.
    Chris, you have a problem.
    Here you are stating pretty clearly that what you want is for the two sides in the discussion to get along, acknowledge one another’s beliefs, and all those other bullet points you mention. This is a great ideal in principle, but it hits a stumbling block in that church doctrine can’t have it both ways – you can’t have a church that treats the LGBTQ community as equal and doesn’t, a church at ordains openly practicing LGBTQ individuals and doesn’t, that condones LGBTQ sex and doesn’t. As I have said before, the issue is binary – you either have equality or you don’t. “Almost equal” is not “equal”..
    The easiest and least stressful way to handle this situation in the long run is simply split the Methodist church into two parts – one that supports the equality of LGBTQ Christians as full members of the church, with all the rights and respect that the straight Christians have, and another that does not accept such things as the ordination of LGBTQ Christians, or the right of practicing LGBTQ Christians to receive a church wedding or to have their marriage recognized by the church. I don’t see the United Methodist church bickering constantly with the Lutherans or the Presbyterians or the AME or the Free Methodists.
    But you have said earlier that such a split would be the death of the UMC. I doubt this would be the case honestly. I think in a very few years one of the two new denominations would shrivel on the vine, so to speak. But if you are right then I am really not sure what you are trying to promote here.

  4. Edmund Metheny

    Third, the whole “Love the sin and hate the sinner” thing.
    First of all, I don’t see things in terms of sin as you refer to it. Since I do not believe in any form of divine balancing that will grant perfect justice in the next life, I feel it falls to us to see, recognize, and deal with harm as it comes up, both in actions, words, and beliefs.
    To ask someone to acknowledge and respect someone else’s opinion when it differs from their own, and to respect the individual regardless of that opinion – that only works when that opinion has no real consequences for others. We may tease one another about it, but I really don’t care that you like the Redskins, and you really don’t care that I don’t like football. Why? Because those beliefs have no real affect on the lives of others. But when someone espouses views that are hurtful or discriminatory towards others whom I know and love, then I cannot help but judge them poorly for their views, as I would judge anyone who holds views that are harmful or discriminatory but particularly towards those who hold views that are harmful or discriminatory towards those I care about most.

  5. Edmund Metheny

    I’m going to have to disagree with you on the morality clause Mark – or at least verbally quibble. I disagree that the termination was ultimately legitimate because I think that ultimately freedom of expression can and should trump contract law, and that it should no more be legal to fire Mr. Robertson on the basis of his stated opinions as a private citizen (which A&E, having done due diligence in his hiring, would have had a hard time missing) than it would be legal to fire him for supporting unionization or organizing for improved working conditions in his free time.
    However, I am pretty sure that the network has the deep pockets and the legal muscle to make such a termination stick regardless.

    • markwalt

      Well, for four miserable months I was the General Manager for a car dealership that was shutting down in Connecticut. They sent me to training for the job, and I was surprised to learn, that in Connecticut, you can actually fire someone for disparaging your business to other people, even if it takes place outside the scope of the business. The reason I know this is because it actually came up within the company at which I worked (not at my dealership, our morale was so low we were all constantly disparaging the company to anyone who would listen). It’s not exactly the same scenario, but it does suggest that your First Amendment protections might be more limited than you would expect.

  6. Candy

    Everyone should read the entire GQ article before anyone makes up their mind on Phil Robertson. Its a good read. Phil is a good Godly man. The Pastor fired is also the same. Phil is not saying anything evil about homosexuality, he says its a sin. Well, we all sin in some form every day. He wants everyone to know Jesus Christ.
    The Pastor married his son and his sons partner because he saw love and gave no judgment. Phil is not judging either. He says that in the article. Both are loving everyone despite the sin. I wonder if the Pastor feels that homosexuality is a sin and says, Its not my place to judge, God will do that.
    Here’s the link to the article http://www.gq.com/entertainment/television/201401/duck-dynasty-phil-robertson?currentPage=3

    • markwalt

      Well, not exactly. I did read the article. First, he says that homosexuality is bad, he actually says it twice, which is certainly a judgement. Then he says he doesn’t judge. Which doesn’t seem to be truthful.
      I think it’s his right to say whatever he wants. But if what he says makes him look bigoted and hateful, then everyone else has a right to call him out on it, which is what’s happening. Of course, he does go on to say that you should love everyone, but since he’s just said that after heaping some serious bigotry on a major portion of the population, I guess what he’s really doing is claiming love and preaching hate.
      Now, those are pretty strong words from me, so perhaps I’d better explain. Homosexuality isn’t a sin. It’s not a choice that people make. It’s an attribute of one’s existence. I know this because of my son, who may have not “come out” until he was in his 20’s, but I knew he was gay since he was much much younger. I know that he didn’t want to be gay, because of the social stigma, and I know that he struggled with it.
      If he could have had a choice in the matter, he would have chosen to be straight. But he didn’t have a choice. He is who he is because who he is is a natural way to be. He’s not sinful, and he doesn’t need to be ashamed of who he is.
      I don’t believe in God, and neither does he. But let’s suppose that we did. What sort of God would create someone, like the nearly one out of every twenty five humans in the world to be gay, and then declare them sinful because of how He created them? Certainly not a loving God.
      When someone preaches that homosexuality is a sin, they’re not just making a mistake. They’re creating an environment where people are marked as being wrong, being sinful, and sometimes being unlawful, just for being who they were born to be. Imagine having brown eyes and being told that brown-eyed people are sinning for being brown-eyed. Imagine being told that your brown eyes are a choice that you’ve made that is the wrong choice. Or, brown-skinned.
      There’s no way that this is loving. Because it leads to all manner of horrible things. It leads to bad laws, intolerance, hate and violence.
      It’s pretty easy to find incidents in the news of violence against gays the world over. Just look at the headlines coming out of Russia.
      Which is why we have to react strongly when we see it. If we are to be the ethical, moral, loving, and inclusive society that we like to pretend we are, then we have to make some noise from time to time, because if we don’t, then things can get out of hand.
      Well, actually, they are out of hand. We’re only just starting to get ahead of the game, but we’ve actually got a long ways to go before we can claim to be tolerant. Part of the reason we’re making progress is that when some bigoted, loud-mouthed, narrow-minded, but “God Fearing” man says hateful things in the name of love, we exercise our first amendment rights and tell him what we think of that.

      • Mark, Phil’s comments in the interview, were more nuanced than may at first be apparent. Even a lot of Christians miss this nuance. In the interview, Phil did not make a statement as broad as to say that “homosexuality is bad”. He talked of “homosexual behaviour” and “homosexual offenders” and of homosexual sex. And this is how the Bible approaches it too; it’s the sexual act that’s the issue. In the same way that the Bible does NOT state that having brown eyes is sinful, it does not state that being attracted to members of the same sex is sinful. Rather it says that having gay sex is sinful. There’s a difference. Look up those key passages such as Leviticus 18 or Romans 1 – it’s the act of homosexual sex that is depicted as sinful.
        You may respond that such a distinction is pedantic. But lets consider what you have typed above. You wrote “What sort of God would create someone, like the nearly one out of every twenty five humans in the world to be gay, and then declare them sinful because of how He created them?” Well, what about the majority of the population; the straight ones? Those of us who lust after members of the opposite sex, and sin by doing so. Or those of us who have a natural propensity to be jealous or drunk or any of the numerous other sins listed in the Bible. All those sins are actions, or at least wilful thoughts that we allow ourselves to engage in. Note too that it’s not a sin to be tempted, but rather to entertain or give into the temptation.
        Historically, the term ‘homosexual’ referred to both attraction and to sexual acts. But today, many people define ‘homosexual’ as primarily meaning being attracted to members of the same sex. So these days under the narrower definition, a sentence such as “It’s a sin to be homosexual” is a confusing, unspecific statement, and I agree with you that it doesn’t make sense. And I don’t believe the Bible uses the term under that modern definition. The Bible portrays Christian marriage as inherently heterosexual, and says that some should live the life of a eunuch (presumably single). And although the Bible portrays homosexual and heterosexual lust as sinful, it does not portray same-sex attraction as sinful. Rather it portrays sex outside of a heterosexual marriage as sinful. We all should be aware of these subtleties.

        • markwalt

          You’re doing that weird thing that some religious folks and apologists do. Focus in on some pedantic (yes, I do thing you’re being pedantic) detail rather than the whole of the argument.
          It’s the same thing that created the concept of the “holy trinity” and “transubstantiation” and other similar, logic-bending concepts.
          All it proves, is if you twiddle the language enough, you can justify anything. Any stance, any logic or lack thereof. You can claim that ugly is beautiful, hate is love, and war is peace. And, religious folks often do just that.
          This isn’t logic. This is a bending and a twisting of reality and reason to allow yourself to believe in something that you otherwise wouldn’t believe in.
          Ask yourself why you do this? Why the need to pedantically justify something in this way?

  7. markwalt, what is pedantic to you is sometimes far from pedantic to those who are more directly affected.
    When we take an obtuse approach to this topic, it often causes great pain to gay and lesbian people. It’s this approach that has led to some gay and lesbian people mistakenly thinking that God considers them to be abominations. Walking, talking abominations! How sad is that. Such mistaken perceptions arise because people don’t read the Bible carefully. As far as Im aware, the Bible never refers to people as abominations. Rather it refers to certain acts and abominations. A person is not an abomination in the eyes of god, ever. Likewise, same-sex attracted people do not offend God, so long as they do not indulge. This accurate reading of the Bible is not just being pedantic. It’s good news, that brings hope and freedom from a debilitating sense of condemnation that many mistakenly and unnecessarily experience every day.

    • markwalt

      I think you’re assuming that I don’t understand your point. I do understand it. I fully understand the Biblical stance on homosexuality, and I understand that you maintain that there is a difference between homosexuals and homosexual behavior.
      My point is this: To say that the Bible only condemns homosexual behavior and not homosexuals themselves is doublethink. To condemn one is to condemn the other.
      The idea that a homosexual can be cured, or at least choose to not act like a homosexual is, to me, the very definition of intolerance.
      To use an analogy, one wouldn’t tell a cat to stop behaving like a cat, and tell the cat that you love it unconditionally. You don’t. If it doesn’t stop behaving like it was born to behave, you’re going to torture it for eternity, or, depending on your dogma, not let it in to your shining city. This is not unconditional love. This is conditional love and punishment.
      This is what confronts the LGBT community. Stop being who you are, and be someone else, or suffer the consequences.
      Turn the other cheek, love thy neighbor, judge not, yada yada yada. If you tell them they can’t be who they are, then you’re not following the good advice from the New Testament. And you can’t tell them not to be who they are unless you ignore the Old Testament.
      And, as I mentioned before, if you’re going to start ignoring parts of the Bible, you might as well either ignore the whole thing or rewrite it for the 21st century. But then, you couldn’t claim it to be the word of God.
      So, you’re kind of stuck, aren’t you?

  8. markwalt, your reply above raises multiple points, so Ill quote and respond in order –
    “To say that the Bible only condemns homosexual behavior and not homosexuals themselves is doublethink. To condemn one is to condemn the other.”
    I guess it depends on what you mean by ‘condemn’. Most often in this context, people use that term to refer to condemnation to hell, or to more broadly illustrate something as sinful. Im saying that the Bible condemns those who engage in homosexual sex, but does not condemn those who are same-sex attracted but who don’t indulge in homosexual sex (or repent of it). So no, I don’t think doublethink is involved.
    “This is what confronts the LGBT community. Stop being who you are, and be someone else, or suffer the consequences.”
    Your cat analogy seems to ignore what I wrote in my first post above. IE that straight Christians likewise are called to deny various inclinations inherent in them; jealously, hetero lust, etc etc. All Christians are called to stop being who they are naturally, in some ways.
    “Turn the other cheek, love thy neighbor, judge not, yada yada yada. If you tell them they can’t be who they are, then you’re not following the good advice from the New Testament.”
    Those 3 principles are indeed Christian, but they are only one side of what Christ stood for, and the broader context of the Gospels shows that they are not necessarily the absolutes that you seem to portray them to be. You seem to imply that these principles mean that Christians should never evaluate or hold others to a standard of moral right and wrong, but rather should just accept everything. But the reality is that the Biblical notion of ‘judgement’ is not as simple as many suppose it is. Christians are supposed to “judge correctly” (John 7:24) and to encourage other Christians to be holy (Gal. 6:1-5, James 5:19-20, Titus 1:13) rather than ignoring sin. Christians are not supposed to judge non-christians though (1 Cor. 5:12) – a common mistake. Those who cite Matthew 7:1-4 to claim that Christians should not point out others’ sins, tend to ignore verse 5, which encourages us to help others avoid sin. Jesus himself told the woman caught in adultery to stop it (John 8).
    “And you can’t tell them not to be who they are unless you ignore the Old Testament.”
    I assume you meant the New Testament? My point above addresses that.
    “And, as I mentioned before, if you’re going to start ignoring parts of the Bible, you might as well either ignore the whole thing or rewrite it for the 21st century.”
    It’s easy to miss various bits as an oversight, but a true Evangelical does not ignore any part of the Bible.
    Thanks for your replies.

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