Saturday, December 21, 2013


I have been reflecting some more on the controversy currently surrounding Duck Dynasty star, Phil Robertson, and I think I got a few things wrong in my original response to what was going down.

Retractions and corrections never get as much press as the original headline, which is unfortunate for me because I am a verbal processor. A lot of people wisely wait to speak up on an issue until they have arrived at a place of settled conviction. For me, however, I only seem to arrive at a settled viewpoint through the process of talking and debating. I usually come away from a bull session with a more sharply honed and defensible position, but I am sure that if you read back a transcript of the discussion my views would evolve wildly from the first to the last. My first stab at articulating a position is almost always rife with prototype errors that must be subsequently debugged and sometimes even apologized for.  It's a messy process for sure, but it's me. (Hey there!) It is especially problematic for me in the internet age where I am perpetually documenting my bumbling progress toward the truth before an anonymous, judgmental crowd. (Hey there!)

You may read my earlier statement regarding the Phil Robertson dust up by clicking HERE.

Of course, not everything I said was wrong, and before I get to the mea culpa let me highlight a few of the things I will stand pat on.

First, I was definitely right regarding my prediction for the arts.

Second, the Bible and Christianity is, by it's very nature, controversial...even offensive. Christians who are effective and faithful in communicating and living the truths of God's word will always be described by some as extreme, too strong, hateful, and wrong. This is true even within Christian circles. There are a few Bible teachers today who I greatly admire, but I have found that for every positive comment you find about them you seem to bump up against two or three more that are critical of them, and usually written by Christians. They are being used in a powerful way though, touching the lives of thousands, and I have noticed a strong corollary between the efficacy of their leadership and controversy. This was certainly true of Jesus. After all, they wouldn't have crucified him otherwise. I forget who said it, but the quote comes to mind, "The only way to be at peace with your neighbors is to be no better than them." I have been waiting for the inevitable storm of controversy to erupt around the Robertson family for a long time. In fact, I have confided to Sarah more than once that I sometimes pray for them and their families. Their testimony is so public, and they are frail, sin-prone human beings like me. I have been waiting for one or more of them to become embroiled in a scandal or say something regrettable. Public Christians have disappointed so often, and being a large family they present an enormous target for the enemy to bring shame onto the gospel. I pray for them often. They are in a terrifying and sobering position, but that's exactly what makes Phil's use of language so difficult to pardon (I'll get to that in a minute). Didn't he know? Didn't he care?

Third, I don't like that the knee jerk reaction in our culture is to silence people when we disagree with them, or to unfairly label disagreement as hatred. I'm not talking about free speech either, that only applies to the government's attempts to silence people, which is not applicable here. Networks and individuals have every right to associate or disassociate with whomever they please, on whatever grounds they please, but in a society like ours, with such a diversity of perspective a robust and honest discourse about issues such as those which Phil Robertson took up will be a rough and tumble business. It will involve people saying things we don't like to hear, and when that happens the correct response is to engage, discuss, or even argue...heatedly! But Phil Robertson's critics simply said "Shut up!" "Remove him from the discussion!" As an American and an engaged citizen I don't like the feel of that.

Joshua Culpa

The church should never strive to be inoffensive, nor should it apologize for the truth, but neither should it seek to be thoughtlessly offensive, crude or abrasive. Nor should it excuse or defend brothers and sisters who fail as ambassadors by misrepresenting the spirit of their King. Colossians 4:5-6 says, "Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone," and 1 Peter 3:15 exhorts Christians to talk about their hope in Christ to nonbelievers "with gentleness and respect." I don't think that some of Phil Robertson's remarks pass the gentleness-and-respect test. In short, they were crude and regrettable. I can't defend that.

The worst part about all of this is that I don't think Mr. Robertson's comments do justice to the man himself. As best as I can discern from what I have seen of them on TV and online (I don't know them personally, of course), the Robertson family doesn't strike me as charlatans. They seem to be sincere about their faith. Their heart beats for the lost. They are honest about their failings, they have a correct view of grace and the gospel, and they are missional in outlook. I find them personally compelling, exciting, and sympathetic. In truth, I love them, and view them as brothers and sisters.  What's more, I like almost all of the comments Phil Robertson has made since this all hit the fan including some comments he made which were edited out of the GQ article as well as his short but to the point response to his critics, which has been circulating widely on facebook. 

Maybe Phil Robertson is a verbal processor like me, and maybe he will come out of this national bull-session with a more sharply honed position. Whatever comes of this, I hope he and the rest of the Robertsons keep on talking. I like what they have to say, and, normally, I like how they say it.

Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders.

Gentleness and respect.

In the meantime, I will keep praying for them.

I love the Robertsons.  

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