Saturday, December 21, 2013

My Problem with Phil Robertson's Comments on Sexuality

I'm sure most of you are aware of the controversy swirling around Phil Robertson's comments to GQ Magazine and his subsequent suspension from the 'reality' TV show "Duck Dynasty" on A&E.  And there's plenty of commentary out there about it, and not a whole lot new to offer.  But I've been turning over a lot of what he said in my mind since the story broke, and my take was different from the flash-reaction of most.

I feel it's important to add my take since many Evangelical Christians seem to be leaping to his often unqualified defense.

Right off the bat, let's be clear about one thing: this is not a first amendment issue.  There is no government censorship involved.  Stop talking about free speech.  A&E also enjoys freedom of association and freedom of speech in what they broadcast.  I've seen people who should know better saying this.  What they're asking for is something approaching the Fairness Doctrine.  I know and share the concern about true attacks on free speech and religious liberty.  I support Hobby Lobby's suit, and oppose action against wedding photogs and bakers who refuse to offer their services to ceremonies they disapprove of.  Those are troubling issues, but they don't give us a right to stretch the truth.

Moving along...

Most of the reaction is to the commentary that summarized 1 Corinthians 6.  But the most problematic portion, to me, came later:

It seems like, to me, a vagina—as a man—would be more desirable than a man’s anus. That’s just me. I’m just thinking: There’s more there! She’s got more to offer. I mean, come on, dudes! You know what I’m saying?

Now I've seen some Christian's commentary that offered seemingly-obligatory caveats about the crudeness of parts of his remarks.  But that part, in isolation, betrays an unbiblical view of sexuality.  While many parts of Creation engage in sexual reproduction, God has specifically gifted human sexual intercourse to married couples.  It is an issue treated with respect and dignity in Scripture.  Even passages that deal explicitly with the subject, do so with poetic beauty and reverence.  Now I understand Robertson may not be as poetic as Solomon.  But what he has done is stripped human sexuality down to an animalistic utility function of physical pleasure.  This is profane in a very literal sense.

One immediate problem is: where does this consideration lead us?  It's almost as if he's saying to gay men, "Hey, don't you realize you can reach peak physical pleasure another way?"  If one woman is more pleasurable for a man, than what about a variety of women?  And what if we could determine that he's wrong in his estimation of what offers the most pleasure?  Does that change things?

One defense of Robertson may be that he was not at that moment speaking normatively, but was speaking off-the-cuff about his confusion about the positive facts as they are.  This may well be.  But when one is acting as representative of a Biblical worldview, why even go there?  What is to be gained by even spending private contemplation on the issue?  But all that gets to the second problem I have with it: it gets even the physical aspects of sexual desire dead wrong.

When I first realized that I liked girls, it happened well before I really knew how sex worked.  I certainly was not equipped with the necessary understanding to reach the conclusion Robertson offered.  And when you stop and listen to gay people describe their lives, you'll hear much the same thing.  One of the most disappointing and heart-breaking areas in where the contemporary Evangelical church is dropping the ball, is in its very slow uptake to the fact that people do not choose their sexual orientation.

I know that even as I write this, many people I will worship with and fellowship with tomorrow disagree (and for the record, I also know many that agree).  And not just disagree, but may become angered at my assertion*.  But there's enough testimony out there from Christians who have lived this.  People who confess their belief in Biblical authority, who claim Christ as Lord and Savior, and who have had to come to the realization that they were attracted to people of the same sex.

I've recently read Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate, by Justin Lee.  And it's a book I wish every Christian would read.  Not because I think his Biblical analysis is ultimately correct, but because reading his account of growing up with the realization that he was attracted to other guys will break the hardest of hearts.  No one would choose to go what he's gone through.  And this is someone who believes the Bible is the authoritative word of God.  And he's not alone.

Culture is not monolithic.  Many Christians see the increased rejection of their worldview in the area of sexuality and think they're being maligned and marginalized.  Many gays feel they're being ostracized, rejected and marginalized, sometimes by their own family or by the only Biblical Christians they may know.  So which group is right?  I think they both are.  To me, it's not much of a stretch that in many cultures, the tax-collectors of our day that Jesus would meet with to the derision of the religious authorities would be a gay person.  There are so many people wounded by the church because of their innate sexual orientation.  These people desperately need our compassion, our patience and the deepest extension of empathy that we can muster.  Accepting the idea that people do not choose to be gay doesn't mean you have to reject any part of the Bible.  But it should have a dramatic effect on the way in which you speak to them and speak about them.

I've looked around since I was batting these ideas around in my head, and they're being made elsewhere, like: Wesley Hill: What Phil Robertson Gets Wrong.  Also, apparently it recently came out that he'd be back on the show when new episodes start airing.

* I suspect this is in overreaction to the attack on Biblical authority that is being waged in contemporary (as in all other) culture(s).  The continued normalization of homosexuality in society is to be resisted on all fronts, it is believed, even if that means drawings lines outside where Scripture draws them.  Thus it's not acceptable to say that being gay is not chosen, because acting gay is wrong, even though there is no Scriptural basis for saying that that particular temptation is chosen.