Monday, January 20, 2014

I've Had My Fill of Phil

Last week I saw “Duck Dynasty” for the first time, watching the first segment of its fifth season. Maybe you saw it, too. Even if you didn’t, a lot of other people did. There were 8.5 million viewers for that opening show of the new season.
But surprisingly, the number of viewers was down considerably from the 11.8 million who watched the fourth season premiere, making it then the most-watched nonfiction cable series in history.
As you may have guessed, I decided to watch and write about “Duck Dynasty” because of the controversy stirred up last month by the patriarch of the family, Phil Robertson (b. 1946). His interview with journalist Drew Magary was published in this month’s issue of GQ magazine (which I don’t read any more than I watch DD).
Robertson’s comments were made public the middle of last month, and they have been talked about—and both severely criticized and lavishly praised—ever since.
Phil’s remarks were mainly hurtful to LGBT persons, although what he said about African-Americans was rather insensitive also. Concerning the latter, he said that the blacks he knew growing up in Louisiana were happy and not mistreated.
Many older African-Americans from the South vehemently disagreed with his perception.
It was his comments about gays that drew the most attention, though—including widespread support for his speaking out about this prevalent “sin” (his word) in American society. It may not amount to much, but in case you haven’t heard, tomorrow, Jan. 21, has been designated “Chick-Phil-A Day.”
People across the country are being urged to “stand for free speech” and “sit for good food” by wearing Duck Commander or camouflage gear and by eating at a Chick-fil-A restaurant.
As most of you probably remember, Chick-fil-A was much in the news in the summer of 2012 after CEO Dan Cathy made a series of statements condemning gay marriage. Gay rights advocates called for a boycott of Chick-fil-A.
In response, supporters planned and executed a Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day on Aug. 1. The latter won the day, for the company’s sales for the year went up by 14%, to $4.6 billion.
In his interview last month, Robertson gave “homosexual behavior” as his first example of what is sinful in this country. He supported his negative views of gays by citing one Bible passage, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10. Those verses include “homosexuals” in the list of people “who won’t inherit the kingdom of God.”
However, the Greek word used in that passage was never rendered as “homosexuals” in a Bible translation until 1946. And no competent Greek scholar will say with confidence what the Apostle Paul really meant by that rather obscure word.
As I point out in my book “Fed Up with Fundamentalism,” in his translation of the Bible, Martin Luther rendered that Greek word into German as the English equivalent of “child abusers.” My guess is that is much nearer the original meaning than a term that includes many people who are in a consensual and loving same-sex relationship.
Yes, I’ve had my fill of Phil. Robertson may well be a very popular TV star and a successful businessman as the founder of Duck Commander. (Who would have thought you could become a millionaire making duck calls?) But what he says about the situation of African-Americans in the Jim Crow south is not trustworthy.
And he certainly is no expert when it comes to the proper interpretation of the Bible or to giving “the” Christian interpretation regarding sexual orientation.


  1. I've just read your essay on King (1/15/13) and this one on Robertson, and I'm sitting here thinking about the angry and ignorant prejudices I keep reading on the internet from right-wing reactionary friends, relatives, and others in sympathy with the same kinds of sentiments expressed by Robertson. They're not all that different from the stuff King and many of us were struggling against in the 1960s and 70s. Recently one cousin, a devout Christian, posted a bumper sticker that says, "Of course, you don't see any 'Obama' stickers. I'm driving to work"; suggesting by implication that Obama supporters are lazy people who don't work. That cousin, with whom I had considerable contact back in the '60s and '70s would have never expressed such sentiments before becoming an active Christian. Although the reactionary right had its "American" bookstores and John Birch Societies formerly, it didn't have anything like FOX News to continue massaging thoughtless right-wing patriotism. However, I'm wondering this morning how much credit must be given to conservative Protestantism for the 20th-21st centuries' right-wing reactionary views and in particular its preachers. I suspect that the frontline troops for this sort of thing are the Christian preachers in many of our conservative Protestant churches.

    1. Anton, thanks for your thoughtful comments.

      I certainly think that conservative, and especially fundamentalistic, Protestantism is a major cause of the widespread right-wing reactionary views we see in society today.

      And is a major reason why there are so many people now who are negative toward Christianity, perhaps more than ever before.

      Both of the above were motivating factors behind my writing "Fed Up with Fundamentalism."

  2. It may well be that the only hope for contemporary Christianity is in its congregants embracing anew that part of the biblical canon that teaches us to doubt (the doubting, protesting literature). Prophets called their audiences to doubt royal policies; sages challenged the assumptions of the dogmas of nationalistic religion. Doubt (something I envision Jesus doing during those 40 days in the wilderness) is what makes us suspicious of silly claims, of the sort that Chick-Fil-A and Phil Robertson offer us, that fly in the face of the plain sense of the life of Jesus of Nazareth.

  3. Recently my Sunday School class completed reading Frank Schaeffer's "Sex, Mom, & God" (DA CAPO PRESS, 2011). He is the son of Francis Schaeffer, one of the founders of the religious right movement. The subtitle of Frank's book pretty well says it all, "How the Bible's Strange Take on Sex Led to Crazy Politics--and How I Learned to Love Women (and Jesus) Anyway."

    The key words above are "Crazy Politics." Duck Dynasty seems to fit this mold perfectly. Indeed, I would not be surprised if it turns out that the recent controversy was carefully rigged just to generate lots of free publicity. Although the exact opposite is still quite possible, namely that the innate craziness just spun out of control. Think Mama Bear Sarah Palin.

    Frank Schaeffer's book reviews his long fight to find his grounding, and how that eventually led him out of the right wing. Along the way he personally helped propel the radical rejection of abortion rights by the right wing, back in his heir apparent days with his father.

    Now all of us have our crazy moments, our unbalanced opinions, and our skewed views. What strikes me about the right wing is the almost total lack of self-awareness about this. Held with the humility that we might be wrong, we can get along despite shared but unique crazinesses. Held with the unmitigated assurance that we are totally right, our every flaw is magnified to terrifying dimensions. Hence the strange symmetry between radical right Christianity and radical left atheism.

    I believe it is no mere coincidence that Paul culminates his great love chapter in I Corinthians 13 with these words: "For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part, then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love." NRSV

  4. Craig although I am not sure I totally agree with you and Leroy on this point of doctrine I am very impressed with your thoughts on humility. He has told you O man what is good and what The Lord requires of you...

  5. The last comment was from Charlie.

  6. Yesterday, Thinking Friend Kevin Payne sent the following thoughtful comments:

    "Good to hear your comments. . . . .

    "Interestingly, I think the most revealing thing Phil’s comments have done is to embolden those in our country that believe (correctly, I think), that the homosexual lifestyle is not one condoned by God. (I do wish, however, that Christians would learn to talk with grace and love when they express themselves).

    "It seems that being 'pro-gay,' is all the rage now in our culture, and there is a very real effort in the media to make everyone who disagrees with the current trend to look foolish, or ignorant. This really is as much of a free-speech issue as it is a moral issue, in my opinion. (Lest you dismiss me as another wild-eyed conservative, I do think homosexuals should have the freedom to unite legally, with all the advantages of marriage. I’m not so sure we should call it marriage, though, as that is a radical re-definition of an old and generally-accepted term).

    "My other concern is directly related: I think that the cultural gap re: homosexuality and the whole LGBT “agenda,” will be the defining “wedge-issue” of our time. This will polarize the culture as no other issue in the years to come, and will probably be the issue that leads to some sort of suppression of a significant portion of the Church, legally or not.

    "On a related note, the dismissal of religious bases for moral stances will also, I think, open the door for cultural acceptance of polygamy (see recent developments in Utah), and even pederasty (see recent NAMBLA movements). I hope I’m wrong, of course. Your thoughts?"

    1. Kevin, I much appreciate your thoughtful comments. Let me respond to the last paragraph first.

      I think there is a qualitative difference between homosexuality and polygamy and especially pederasty. It is almost certain, it seems, that homosexuality is an innate orientation--although there are, no doubt, some who practice homosexual behavior who are not innately homosexual.

      Polygamy and/or pederasty cannot be conceived of as an innate condition or orientation--unless unrestrained sexual activity (promiscuity) were to be so considered.

      While there will be some who try to justify polygamy or even pederasty on the basis of the growing acceptance of homosexuality, I think the moral and legal basis for such justification is miniscule.

  7. Kevin, then there is the free speech issue. I think I am about a strong a supporter of free speech as anybody. And I believe Phil Robertson had the right to say what he did.

    But saying things publicly means that others are free to disagree publicly. And when things are said that are harmful or hurtful to others, the one who made those comments have to take the consequences.

    People also have the right to say negative things, say, about African-Americans, women, Hispanics, or whomever. But if what is said is hurtful to such people, the criticism comes in response is justified.

    It is interesting to me how the supporters of Phil R. want to make this a matter of free speech, when the issue is largely a matter of objecting to people saying things that are harmful to others.

  8. And then I also received this comment from a Thinking Friend, whom I will allow to remain anonymous.

    "Thanks again for your forthright and sincere comments on a very controversial and sensitive issue. I won't address Phil and get right to the heart of the matter. I have had good friends and extended family members who embraced this life style. Those folks are among the most loving and compassionate people I have known. They should be treated with respect and equality as much as any other of God's creations. They cannot help the impulses that that they were born with. They can help the ways they choose to deal with it and how they behave.

    "I believe it is wrong to try to normalize this condition. Any system or organ in the human body can be born with a malfunction including gender. We don't pretend that diabetes is normal. We treat it and do our best to control it. The same can be said of a score of birth defects and chemical imbalances. Hanson's Disease, convulsive disorders, blood disorders and developmental disabilities are ugly mistakes of physiology, but we don't try to pretend they are normal. Through medicine, psychology, education, care-giving and ministry, we try to make the lives of those unfortunate people as pleasant and normal as possible, but we don't attempt to normalize the condition--we deal with it. Same sex marriage is un-biblical and a threat to a normal upbringing that every child deserves.

    "It would make an interesting longitudinal study to examine the health results of children being raised by gay parents.

    "The credibility of my point of view is weakened considerably by moralistic fundamentalists who condemn and degrade the gay community. That is not helpful and certainly not Christian."

  9. I suspect Kevin is right that acceptance of gay marriage could lead potentially also to acceptance of polygamy, which I wouldn't oppose, by the way. The very same arguments against limiting marriage to one male and one female would work against restricting marriage to monogamy. However, pederasty is a very different phenomenon. It involves minors in unequal power relationships to adults, and that's a matter of abuse. Where the occasional Mormon example of polygamy gets into most trouble is when wives are underage. Nobody except a weird fringe is for legalizing pederasty. In fact, in our culture the rules and laws protecting sexual boundaries in all kinds of relationships have become much stronger at the same time that we've liberalized greatly regarding homosexual relationships.

    1. Well there is certainly a biblical (Old Testament) basis for polygamy.

      Years ago I saw a bumper sticker that said, "Restore Biblical Marriage -- Support Polygamy!"

      Still, I can't imagine that usually being a good thing for the wives married to the same man at the same time.

  10. Earlier today I received this pertinent comment from Thinking Friend Temp Sparkman:

    "All people grow old, and some, rich and famous, but not all rise above their prejudices."

  11. Polygamy isn't only about plural wives; it could also be about plural husbands. And the anthropological research shows that throughout human history, polygamy has been the rule more than monogamy.

    I don't know whether it's a good thing or not. I would guess that, like monogamy, it has its pluses and minuses. But obviously the legal technicalities can be worked out. Which leaves our laws against bigamy in the same camp as our laws against homosexual marriage--a religious bias.

  12. OK, if we are going to discuss polygamy, I am going to put in my two cents worth. First, the Old Testament endorses polygamy. The New Testament endorses celibacy. Both are fairly flexible on alternatives. Both hint at various problems with various forms of marriage, but from our modern perspective leave an awful lot unsaid. Inquiring minds want to know!

    A major force behind modern bigamy laws is the issue of unknown second marriages. No wife wants to discover years later that her husband had a second family in another city. A starting point for any legalization of polygamy would have to be the absolute requirement that all existing members of a marriage would have to fully agree to any additional plural marriage.

    As our modern economy involves different types of structures than ancient family economies, issues such as child custody, inheritance, divorce, etc. would have to be worked through. The Bible says enough about polygamy that we know that ancient polygamy had a variety of internal social pressures, so those would need to be considered. Plenty of Leah and Rachel issues to consider. Finally, the interaction with outside legal structures would have to be clarified, such as Social Security benefits, alimony, grandparent rights, and inheritance. Perhaps a nod to Islam would be to consider whether there should be a maximum size to such a marriage. Adjusted for an indeterminate number of men and women, the Islamic cap of five individuals might be worth considering. David and Solomon may have been in mass marriages, but I am not sure we want to unleash that in the modern world.

    An interesting legal precedent was just set in Utah concerning a family in a reality show which won the right to live together in their "plural" marriage, although technically most of them are not married. This may be the current compromise, sort of like our sort of legalization of marijuana. We will muddle through for a while until we figure out where we are going. I remember when I was young some people lived on something called a "commune" and the world did not come to an end.

    Most marriages in the Bible did involve one man and one woman, and I expect most of them in any likely future will continue to do so. Whether the names are Adam and Eve or Romeo and Juliet, life seems to lean in that direction. Having said that, there are also those moments where David loves Jonathan more than women, or Jacob wakes up married to Leah, when life gets more complicated. How many husbands did Elizabeth Taylor have? All I know is, God is love.

  13. Well with these thought-provoking comments about polygamy (including polyandry), I think perhaps I will make a blog posting about this subject next month.

  14. Speaking of 1 Cor. 6:9-10 you said, "However, the Greek word used in that passage was never rendered as “homosexuals” in a Bible translation until 1946. And no competent Greek scholar will say with confidence what the Apostle Paul really meant by that rather obscure word." I have to say I disagree with you. There are 2 words in 1 Cor. 6:9-10 that imply homosaxuality and sodomy right from the Textus Receptus. First, According to Strong's, the word effiminate is, "of a boy kept for homosexual relations with a man" - and - of a male who submits his body to unnatural lewdness.
    In G733 the phrase, "abusers of themselves with mankind" is "one who lies with a male as with a female, sodomite, homosexual." The interlinear - Textus Receptus, dated 1516 - 1535 uses the terminology "soft-ones" - catamites for effiminate, and sodomite for "abusers of themselves with mankind."