Friday, December 20, 2013

On Phil Robertson and What the Bible Says

Image courtesy of Us Magazine
This week, A&E suspended Phil Robertson, star of Duck Dynasty, from the show, following remarks he made about homosexuality. Fans have responded with outrage, although some fans applaud A&E's decision.

So I want to speak directly to those Christians who think the following: first, that Robertson's right to free speech is under attack, and second, that he is being persecuted for his religious beliefs. I know there are many of you. I hope you'll hear me out.

To the first point: freedom of speech. The American Constitution guarantees citizens the right to say whatever they like (within certain limits) without fearing prosecution or imprisonment. That's it. Robertson hasn't been arrested; there's no discussion of taking him to court. The protected right to freedom of speech doesn't at all mean you will face no consequences or judgment for what you say. It doesn't mean others won't condemn you, or that you won't be held accountable for your words. It just means you won't go to jail. So, no, Robertson's freedom of speech is under no threat.

As for the second point: Robertson is not expressing a belief outlined in the Bible. At least, not one consistent with the entire text.

Yes, the Bible does say that it is "detestable" for a man to "lie with a man as [he] does with a woman." (Leviticus 18:22) But that same chapter also has quite a bit else to say, which most Christians seem to have no problem with. The Bible instructs Christians not to eat "unclean" animals, which includes pigs (Leviticus 11:7-8). It also warns against wearing "clothing woven of two kinds of material" (Leviticus 19:19) and having tattoos (Leviticus 19:28).

Getting a bit tricky, isn't it?

Christians all over the U.S. spout bigotry, as Robertson did, in the name of their faith, claiming to be clinging to religious beliefs. Yet many of these same people watch football at least once a week, where players from both teams wear uniforms made of Spandex, a blend of natural and synthetic materials. Lots of these folks order pizzas to enjoy while they watch their sport, eating sausage and bacon, made of pigs. A few of them even get images representing their beliefs inked on their bodies. Wow, what sinners!

The entire list of things you shouldn't do is quite long, actually, and most of us violate them on a fairly regular basis. So really, unless you're spewing as much vitriol about people frying up bacon and eggs for breakfast as you are about them having gay sex, you're cherry-picking the bits of the Bible you want to uphold in order to justify your bigotry.

All of this ignores the entire point of Jesus. I'm not Christian now, but I once was, and as I understand it, Jesus existed only to make sure you're still okay if you do all the stuff God said not to do. You can stop burning your offerings and paying penance because Jesus did the hard part for you. All you have to do is apologize. This, and only this, separates Christianity from Judaism. The Christian messiah has arrived. There is no more need for atonement of sin. Christians are saved. They are forgiven. Even if they keep sinning, which the Bible guarantees they will do, they are still forgiven if they believe Jesus is the son of God.

The things Jesus really told Christians to do were to love each other (John 13:34-35). Not "tell each other how bad they are and how they're sinning." (It's actually pretty explicit about that part, that whole "judge not let ye be judged" in Matthew 7:1.)

Jesus himself kept much closer company with the worst of the sinners than with the highest of the clergy. He surrounded himself not with the most righteous and holy people, but with those society had shunned for their sin (Luke 7:36-50, Luke 19:1-10, Mark 2:13-17). His message was one of love and compassion, not of judgment and condemnation. He practiced unconditional love, and told his followers to do the same. Indeed, to stand out from followers of other religions, they were to love more, not less. They were to love not just each other, but absolutely everyone (Matthew 5:43-48).

Jesus' message was abundantly clear. Love each other, without condition, without question. A person's sins determine nothing about their value. All people are worthy of God's love, and Christians are called to mirror that love, to show compassion for others. "Love the sinner; hate the sin" does not mean "tell the sinner why they're doomed and try to convince them to change."

Other people's sins are simply not your business. Let them speak to God on their own about their struggles. It's not your place to intervene on God's behalf.

If you truly hold Christian beliefs, what you should say to gay people is, "I love you." You should say, "You are welcome in my home. No one here will judge you." Not only will you be doing as Jesus commanded, you will connect with those you love. You may even bring them into your faith. Isn't that what you really want?

No comments:

Post a Comment