Saturday, December 21, 2013

Phil Robertson: What goes around, comes around

About 35 years ago the TV series "Soap" was cancelled due to a well-organized threat of a sponsor boycott in response to an openly gay character on the show.

Earlier this week Phil Robertson, a star of "Duck Dynasty" and apparently an avowed Christian, was suspended by the A&E Network for making what some considered anti-gay remarks in an interview with GQ magazine.

The obvious contrast to your average culture warrior would be "See how society is becoming coarsened and hostile to religious faith." I have a different view, however: When you seek authority and money by turning people into scapegoats they or their allies will respond -- maybe not next month or next year, but they will respond eventually.

Folks may remember the very first anti-gay-rights campaign with singer and former Miss America runner-up Anita Bryant in 1977 in Miami as the focal point. After her side "won" she shared a long kiss with her then-husband and said, "This is how it's done, fellas." (Her marriage fell apart soon after that.)

From the outset I felt that the campaign displayed arrogance and focused on pushing folks around, which to me always contradicted Biblical principles; though I did and do believe that homosexual conduct is indeed sinful, in this instance I sided with the gay community. In a poem I wrote in 1979 and published in the high school newspaper, I warned that they'd be back, angry.

But a funny thing happened over time: The gay community actually gained sympathy. Perhaps because folks thought as I did that gays were being bullied. Perhaps gays were being more reasonable in their demands. Perhaps many of the people who were anti-gay began to get to know gays -- who may have been in their own families and even in churches.

By the 1990s things began to shift, with a local gay-rights organization disbanding about 20 years ago because it believed that its objectives had been reached. Today no one bats an eye at a "gay-straight alliance" in high schools in response to bullying of gay teens.

So when Robertson's interview was published, most of the resultant vitriol went against him. (Now, you can argue that the A&E Network was concerned only about the money it might lose if it didn't suspend him -- but then again, so was ABC in 1978.)

The point, however, is that too often Christians have isolated homosexuality as a particularly gross sin when the Bible doesn't even go that far. There's no indication that gays were ever considered an existential threat to society and culture; if anything, during the writing of the New Testament it was considered "normal" among Gentiles. (That's why Paul wrote to the early church saying that Christians should avoid it -- in essence, "We as believers don't want to be associated with that.")

That misunderstanding, and not merely contempt for the Christian faith, is what got Robertson in trouble. I think we need to rethink the entire enterprise -- and get it right.

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