Friday, December 20, 2013

Phil Robertson and the Cultural Conversation: An appeal for intelligent conversation

I don’t want to join in on the hysteria over the Phil Robertson controversy, but I do want to point out some of the underlying issues that I see apparent in this controversy and every controversy of its like in the recent media.

First, I should say that I am a Christian who believes in the historical Christian orthodoxy, which holds that God’s intention for marriage is for a monogamous marital relationship between a man and a woman (there are some thoughtful Christian in recent times who disagree); however, I am often embarrassed by those with whom I agree. I have learned that you can be right and still be a bigot. Altogether, I am embarrassed with our culture by those on both sides of the discussion.

Have you ever seen two people in an argument who, instead of reasoning with each other, they simply continue to yell louder. Nothing is accomplished. That is what I see our culture doing at large. If you look at the blogs and Facebook memes, very few of them seem to have the intension of bringing a mutual understanding. They are functioning more like passionate fans at a sporting event, taunting the other team and getting each other riled up.

I want to direct you to an article by a writer with whom I disagree on the issues at hand (, yet I greatly appreciate his intelligent attitude. The author quotes G. K. Chesterton, who defines bigotry as "“an incapacity to conceive seriously the alternative to a proposition.” He then points out that those on his “side” are acting just as bigoted as they belief Phil to be. I want to confess the same closed-mindedness from my “side.”

We are not understanding each other. I see both sides holding presuppositions that they don’t seem to be able to articulate very well and refusing to try to understand the presuppositions from the other side of the debate.

For example, the gay rights side sees this as a civil rights debate. To them, this is on the same level as racism. A person cannot do anything more about their sexual orientation than a person can their race. Christians need to respect this concern and understand that this concern exists. In fact, if they are correct in this, than I would be on their side. That is why I believe that Christians were rightfully the trailblazers in both in the abolitionist movement and the civil rights movement. Because, to Christians, every person is made in the image of God and has a worth so deep that no human should dare to rob them of it. Christians get this belief from our belief in the creation order, that God created man in His own image (Genesis 1:27). Every person, regardless of race, social status, or (yes even) sexual proclivity cannot be robbed of that sacred worth.

The issue for Christians is different though. It is different because the same creation account from which we assess that infinitely sacred personhood of each individual is the same place in which God designates the sacredness of the marriage union (Genesis 2:24-25). And this marital order, between a man and a wife, is continually defended throughout Scripture, to which we grant authority (see esp. Romans 1).

This is where the conversation needs to take place, on the worldview level. And, it needs to take place graciously and intelligently. People are complex and so are the issues with which they wrestle. As an article from the same writer referred to above points out (, there is more to a person than their particular stance on an issue. Both sides of this debate have advocates who have gotten embarrassingly out of hand. Both sides of this argument have advocates who are intelligent and reasonable. The reasons that someone may hold a view are complex and multifaceted. Just as I want it to be known that most intelligent Christians do not desire to suppress people’s constitutional rights, I also want to be fair that not every gay rights advocate wants the complete overthrow of Christian morality.

I am not a relativist on this. I not only believe that marriage as described in the history of Christian orthodoxy is accurate, but I believe that it is important to defend. I just want to have that conversation intelligently.

One last thought: I recently took a seminary class on Christian missions. As I read a plethora of articles on missions strategy, I noticed a common conviction. When entering a foreign culture that we hope to reach for the gospel, we have to do so carefully. We should be aware of indigenous presuppositions and, while we want to speak truth, we want to be fearfully careful not to offend unnecessarily, thus closing the doors for open conversation. Why do we not take the same approach in our own culture?

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