All in the same day, New Mexico became the 17th state to legalize gay marriage, Olympic figure skating gold medalist Brian Boitano came out as gay, the United Methodist Church defrocked the Rev. Frank Schaefer for refusing to denounce gay marriage, and, receiving by far the most social network attention, the A&E Network has suspended Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson indefinitely for his published comments against homosexuality (in GQ Magazine, Jan. 2014).
Let’s address the public outcry of the latter first. Many are claiming that their favorite duck hunter lost his job for sharing his faith. You know, the war against Christians thing. If this were the case, I would be among the loudest to protest, but this was not the case. Others are claiming that his first amendment rights were abused. Again, a great cause to be upset, but this was also not the case. Phil Robertson and all of us have the right to say whatever we like without being arrested for it. Phil was “indefinitely suspended” from his high paying high profile tv job, not prosecuted.
Faith in America said it well. “The Phil Robertson/Duck Dynasty/A&E issue is not a question of Phil Robertson not being able to express religion-based bigotry towards gay and lesbian people. It’s a matter of his employer choosing not to allow Robertson to espouse and promote this uniquely harmful form of bigotry under the A&E brand.”
Not only do we have a right to choose our own public image, our employers have that same right, and those who work in the entertainment industry making millions of dollars, like many of our actors and athletes including Robertson, have the opportunity to use their positions to influence the world for good, or the danger of putting forth an image that their networks, teams, etc. do not want attached to their name. A&E had every right to suspend their star’s employment in the name of protecting their own reputation.
It was not Robertson’s statements of religious faith that brought his suspension. It was his ignorant and offensive declarations about homosexuality (and maybe his race rantings or his ridiculous musings about vaginas and anuses). While indeed certain extremist Christian groups have embraced such ignorance into their teachings, there is no legitimate connection between anti-gay sentiment and the Christ of Christianity.
The Duck Dynasty stars have always been outspoken about their Christian faith, becoming iconic figures to many of their viewers, and the show itself ends each episode with a prayer. Politically, while the Robertsons have independently campaigned for Republicans, the show itself has drawn a following in both red and blue states and has managed to remain largely nonpolitical and to avoid issues like race and gay rights, according to the Chicago Tribune.
We all have our favorite public figures, and especially if we have just purchased Duck Dynasty t-shirts for everyone on our Christmas list, and have embraced them as Christian icons, we are hurt by this suspension. My prediction is that he will be back after the dust has settled. That’s my personal interpretation of the “indefinite” suspension. If not, he will surely surface soon somewhere else. We have not heard the last of Phil Robertson. Besides, next season is almost all taped, so it’s pretty likely he’ll be there.
Perhaps those who are most enraged by Robertson’s suspension would most applaud the United Methodist Church for the second piece of news today, the defrocking of the Rev. Frank Schaefer. Rev. Schaefer brushed against the Methodist powers for conducting a wedding ceremony for his gay son in a state where gay marriage is legal. One month ago he was given a choice of abiding by the denomination’s entire Book of Discipline which would mean committing to never conducting another such service, or of being defrocked, and he was given one month to think about it. That month ended today. He chose to be defrocked.
A courageous move on his part, challenging the status quo, the way it’s always been, forcing the establishment and the public to face the issue again. Schaefer is not the first and surely won’t be the last, but he has lost his job for standing firm for his beliefs. Again, just as with Robertson and A&E, the United Methodist Church has every right to choose their positions and to employ only those who comply. Schaefer will have to find a way to minister outside the UMC. Rev. Jimmy Creech has written an excellent memoir of his similar defrocking, and his ministry has broadened tremendously.
I am not Methodist, I do not live in New Mexico, I was not familiar with Brian Boitano, and I have never watched Duck Dynasty, so I am not personally tied to any of these four stories. Yet, I am very tied to all to all them for two reasons. One, I live and interact in a world of people on all sides of these stories, and two, I am a Christian.
As citizens of the world, living and working together, we can be assured we encounter gay people every day. The American Psychological Association has estimated that 1 in 10 males is gay and 1 in 20 females. Many are choosing to live openly, but many more are just living their lives among us without our knowledge. Maybe we could just be kind. To everyone. Without trying to figure them out or judge them. Just plain “be ye kind one to another.”
As Christians, we do not know and understand all things. There is much we have yet to learn, and there is much we, like everyone else, have been incorrectly taught. Unlearning is far more difficult than learning, because, studies have shown, once we hear something seven times it often has become a part of who we are. In many religious circles we have heard that homosexuality is a sin, not seven times, but seventy times seven!
Today’s news shows a changing world with the wheels of justice ever spinning, sometimes forward, sometimes back. Sexual orientation, the social justice issue of this generation, is widely misunderstood, especially in certain religious circles.
My challenge to us as Christians is that we educate ourselves by listening to voices outside our own constructed boxes. Use the news stories not just to seek argument, but to seek growth and understanding. The media storms that follow news like today’s is a good place to find all kinds of voices, or the gay person in the next cubicle might be an excellent and enlightening voice.
At the very least, as Christians and as human beings, let’s admit to ourselves that we really don’t fully get the orientation thing, and leave open the possibility that our understanding might, maybe, just could possibly be not entirely correct.