Lessons from the Phil Robertson / A&E Controversy – Part 2

phil robertson

Phil Robertson

A few days ago, I posted a blog about some lessons I’d taken away from the controversy surrounding Phil Robertson’s suspension from Duck Dynasty by A&E. As events have continued to unfold, I have read numerous comments and articles by people from all perspectives about Phil’s comments, A&E’s response, the outpouring of support, and the outrage of people opposed to Phil. While I’m happy, happy, happy that A&E has decided to reinstate Phil, I do not think this is the end of the issue. There are much bigger issues at stake than whether a rich redneck Christian gets to stay on TV. Some additional thoughts:

Christians should pay as much attention to other sins as they do to homosexuality

One of my more liberal Facebook friends linked to this article by Rachel Held Evans. Although I don’t know anything about Evans, and I don’t agree with everything she says, she makes a number of valid points. Conservative Christians tend to focus on the “big” sins like homosexuality and abortion, but say little about “little” sins such as gluttony, greed, gossip, or divorce. Evans wrote:

While there are certainly important hermeneutical and cultural issues at play, I can’t help but wonder if something more nefarious is also at work.  I can’t help but wonder if biblical condemnation is often a numbers game.

Though it affects more of us than we tend to realize, statistically, homosexuality affects far fewer of us than gluttony, materialism, or divorce. And as Jesus pointed out so often in his ministry, we like to focus on the biblical violations (real or perceived) of the minority rather than our own.

In short, we like to gang up.  We like to fashion weapons out of the verses that affect us the least and then “clobber” the minority with them. Or better yet, conjure up some saccharine language about speaking the truth in love before breaking out our spec-removing tweezers to help get our minds off of these uncomfortable logs in our own eyes.

Here’s the point: Don’t judge others just because they sin differently from you. We all sin, we all fall short of the glory of God. The sin of homosexuality is no more offensive to God than the sins of gossip, gluttony, or pride. All sin offends God. All sin condemns us to death. And all sinners need to receive forgiveness through the blood of Jesus Christ. Rather than focusing on a person’s homosexuality, perhaps we should focus on sharing the good news that all sin can be forgiven through a relationship with Jesus Christ. Perhaps we need to work a bit harder at removing the log from our own eyes before trying to remove the speck of homosexuality from someone else’s eye.

How we speak the truth is important.

One of the biggest criticisms of Phil Robertson’s interview with GQ is how he said what he said. Phil used some rather crass language to describe homosexual acts. He is quoted (out of context) as saying blacks were happy during the pre-civil rights era. The liberal media, gay rights advocates, and race-baiters jumped all over him. Never mind that Robertson was factually correct. The problem was the way he said what he said.

I’m sure that most of the blacks Phil picked cotton next to were basically happy people. This doesn’t mean Robertson supported Jim Crow laws, or that blacks were happier before the civil rights era than they are now. It just means that, from Phil’s perspective as a poor white man working next to poor blacks, they were basically happy people, in spite of their circumstances. (Yes, believe it or not, people can actually be happy, despite bad circumstances.) Since Phil’s comments were printed out of context in a side bar, we don’t know what question he was responding to. Neither do we know if his comments were edited, making them appear worse than they really were. However, if Phil had chosen his words more precisely, the controversy over them would not exist.

Phil is also correct that the Bible clearly defines homosexuality as sin. Any time a Christian points out sin, someone will be offended. However, by using vulgar language to describe homosexual acts, and by not choosing his words more carefully, he unnecessarily gave people looking for an excuse to be offended exactly what they were looking for.

Telling someone they are wrong does not mean we hate them.

There’s a meme floating through cyberspace with a quote attributed to Phil Robertson (although it’s actually by Rick Warren):

“Our culture has accepted two huge lies. The first is that if you disagree with someone’s lifestyle, you must fear or hate them. The second is that to love someone means you agree with everything they believe or do. Both are nonsense. You don’t have to compromise convictions to be compassionate.”

Rick Warren QuoteFrom a Biblical perspective, all sin leads to death and Hell, whether it’s the sin of homosexuality, or some other sin. It’s not loving to know someone is headed for an eternity in Hell, and not tell them why they are headed there and how to spend eternity in Heaven instead. Sin is self-destructive. If we were talking about other self-destructive behaviors, such as substance abuse, nearly everyone would recognize that the loving thing to do would be to confront the individual about the behavior, and help them find a way to beat the addiction. Substance abuse destroys the temporary body, but sin destroys the eternal soul. The loving thing to do is to do whatever we can to help people realize their sin, to repent, and receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

The flip side, however, is that some so-called Christians do hate homosexuals. There are those who misuse and distort the Bible to attack those they hate. Groups like Westboro Baptist Church ignore most of the Bible and distort the meaning of other passages in order to justify their self-righteous bigotry and hatred. Lumping all Christians together with Westboro Baptist “Christians” is a logical fallacy. Fred Phelps no more speaks for all Christians than Jeremiah Wright speaks for all blacks or Dan Savage speaks for all homosexuals.

Christians are called to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15) and with meekness and fear (1 Peter 3:15). Yes, the truth is offensive to those who do not want to hear it. But, if Christians truly love their neighbor as the love themselves, we will speak the truth in love, meekness, and fear, whether people get offended, or not.

Am I more interested in speaking the truth, or in extending grace?

Something I struggle with is pride. Sometimes, I’m more interested in winning a debate than in being used by the Holy Spirit to win souls for Jesus Christ. Sometimes, I pridefully think my logical arguments and insight will bring people to Jesus, rather than the Holy Spirit drawing people to Himself. I am a skeptic by nature, and am often more interested in arguing the facts than in extending God’s grace.

For this, I ask for forgiveness.

Grace without truth leads to false religion. Truth without Grace turns people off or turns them into legalists. Jesus, however, came in grace and truth (John 1:14). I’m beginning to realize, despite being a thick-headed sinner, that I need to focus more on extending God’s grace to sinners than in convincing people they’re wrong.

Final thoughts

Here’s another meme I found on Facebook – source unknown:

May each of us who calls ourselves followers of Jesus Christ share the truth with non-believers, in love, meekness, and fear.

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Pushing People Out of the Church – Part 4

Valerie Tarico

I recently read an article published by skeptic Valerie Tarico on the left-wing, anti-religion, news-and-commentary website Alternet.org entitled, “8 Ways Christian Fundamentalists Make People Convert — to Agnosticism or Atheism.”

Most of the articles on this site are either offensive or just plain ridiculous, this article caught my interest, because it contains some truths that Christians need to understand.

People who reject Jesus Christ ultimately do so because they choose to suppress the truth (Romans 1:18-19). However, there are also many things that those in the church do to push people away. As Tarico states, “if you read ExChristian testimonials you will notice that quite often church leaders or members do things that either trigger the deconversion process or help it along.”

I’ve found that I can often learn a lot by listening to what skeptics say about their perceptions of Christianity. This series looks at the eight reasons Tarico highlights.

Reason #4: Hypocrisy

Christians are taught – and many believe—that thanks to the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit they are a moral beacon for society. The writer of Matthew told his audience, “You are the light of the world.” That’s a high bar, and yet decent believers (along with many other decent people) try earnestly to meet it.   But the added pressure on those who call themselves the “righteous” means that believers also are prone to hiding, pretending, posing, and turning a blind eye to their own very human, very normal faults and flaws.

People who desperately want to be sanctified and righteous, “cleansed by the blood of the lamb” – who need to believe that they now merit heaven but that other people’s smallest transgressions merit eternal torture—have a lot of motivation to engage in self-deception and hypocrisy. High-profile hypocrites like Ted Haggard or Rush Limbaugh may be loved by their acolytes, but for people who are teetering, they help to build a gut aversion to whatever they espouse. But often as not, the hypocrisies that pose a threat to faith are small and internal to a single Bible-study or youth group. Backbiting and social shunning are part of the church-lady stereotype for a reason. They also leave a bitter taste that makes some church members stop drinking the Kool-aid.

Tarico’s comments show both considerable insight and a fundamental misunderstanding of what Christianity is all about.

The comment that Christians “believe that they now merit heaven but that other people’s smallest transgressions merit eternal torture” shows a very common, yet very fundamental, misconstruing of the Gospel. The Bible does not teach that Christians merit heaven. Christians will spend eternity in Heaven despite the fact that we do not merit Heaven. Because of our sin, we deserve Hell. Yet, through the blood of Jesus, those who receive Jesus Christ as Savior will spend eternity in Heaven despite the fact that our sins merit Hell. Christians are not more moral than non-Christians; we are just forgiven of our immorality. A Christian’s righteousness is not a result of our superior behavior or character; it is because Christ’s righteousness is credited to us.  We are saved solely by God’s grace!

Unfortunately, there are many who call themselves Christians who have the same basic misunderstanding of the Gospel. Many of these so-called Christians are actually false converts; they have never placed their faith and trust in Jesus Christ, and have never received Him as Lord and Savior. As 2 Timothy 3:1-5 puts it:

1 But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!

Or, as Jesus put it in Matthew 7:21-23:

21 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. 22 Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’

There are also some true believers – those who have a saving faith in Jesus Christ – who do not understand that Christians don’t “deserve heaven.” Many of these Christians have simply been taught falsely. For others, their pride and arrogance lead them to think that they are morally superior to others, and that this moral superiority somehow makes them more acceptable to God. One of the problems I have with Calvinism is that many Calvinists teach that God love the elect, but hates the non-elect; that the elect somehow deserve Heaven, but the non-elect deserve Hell. This belief is nothing more than pride and arrogance run amok, and comes straight from the devil.

Tarico is right on the mark with her charge that hypocrisy drives people from faith in Jesus Christ. Numerous studies have confirmed that one of the main reasons cited by those who leave the church is the hypocrisy of Christians. Numerous high-profile Christian leaders have been exposed as adulterers, thieves, liars, or outright frauds. Tarico is correct in stating that “backbiting and social shunning are part of the church-lady stereotype for a reason.” The Bible teaches Christians to “love your neighbor,” but too often churches are filled with factions, condemnation, and hatred. It’s not just the Westboro Baptist Churches of the world; it’s also a problem in almost every church. Churches are filled with sinners, and sinning is what comes naturally to us, even as Christians. We teach one thing, but live another. Our pride and arrogance fuel this hypocrisy.

Christians need to get real with themselves, real with God, and real with the people around them. We need to understand that we are fundamentally sinners; our righteousness is not our own; we are saved, not because God loves us more, but because we received His forgiveness, which is offered to all. We need to quit trying to convince ourselves that we are morally superior to others; rather, we need to fall on our faces before our holy God and repent of our pride and conceit. Paul tells us to “do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.”

Pride and arrogance lead to hypocrisy, and hypocrisy drives people from the church. Tarico is right on the money when she states that, “believers … are prone to hiding, pretending, posing, and turning a blind eye to their own very human, very normal faults and flaws. ” Christians must learn to acknowledge our faults, both before God and before others, and not allow pride and vanity to turn others from Christ. There is no room in the church for snobbery, smugness, or self-importance. Rather, humility, genuineness, and unpretentiousness should rule our lives. Humility and genuineness will draw people to Christ; pride and hypocrisy will push them away.

Pushing People Out of the Church – Part 1

I found a link to an article entitled, “8 Ways Christian Fundamentalists Make People Convert — to Agnosticism or Atheism,” on Facebook. Alternet.org is a left-wing, anti-religion, news-and-commentary website. While I disagree with the vast majority of their conclusions and find much of their content to be just plain irrational, I find some of the articles fascinating, because they help me to understand the thinking behind why many non-Christians reject the Truth.

Ultimately, those that reject the Gospel do so because they suppress the truth (Romans 1:18-19). Yet, there are also things that Christians do that reinforce people’s sinful natural desire to reject God. The article’s premise is that Christians push many people to leave Christianity because of what they say or do. As the author, skeptic Valerie Tarico, states, “If the Catholic bishops, their conservative Protestant allies, and other right-wing fundamentalists had the sole objective of decimating religious belief, they couldn’t be doing a better job of it.”

While I disagree with the premise that the stupidity of some Christian leaders is a rational reason for rejecting Christianity, I found that Tarico makes some valid points about behaviors and attitudes that are too frequently found in Christianity that indeed do push people away. In this series, I will be examining each of the 8 issues Tarico discusses to see what Christians can glean about our own attitudes and behaviors that should be changed.

Reason 1: Gay Baiting

Tarico writes:

Because of sheer demographics, many gay people are born into religious families. The condemnation (and self-condemnation) they face if their families see homosexuality as an abomination can be excruciating, as we all know from the suicide rate. Some emotionally battered gays spend their lives fighting or denying who they are, but many eventually find their way to open and affirming congregations or non-religious communities.

Ignorant and mean-spirited attitudes about homosexuality don’t drive just gays out of the church, they are a huge deconversion issue for straight friends and family members. When Christians indulge in slurs, devout moms and dads who also love their gay kids find themselves less comfortable in their church home. Young people, many of whom think of the gay rights issue as a no-brainer, put anti-gay churches in the “archaic” category. Since most people Gen X and younger recognize equal rights for gays as a matter of common humanity, gay baiting is a wedge issue that wedges young people right out of the church. That makes Fred Phelps a far better evangelist for atheism than for his own gay-hating Westborough Baptist Church.

There are a couple of fallacies with the argument. First, Tarico states that gay people are “born.” She implies that homosexuals have no choice but to be homosexuals. There is no scientific evidence that I am aware of that anyone is born gay. Rather, the evidence I’ve seen is that becoming homosexual is either a choice made later in life, and/or is environmentally influenced. Despite the intense search to identify a “gay gene,” none has been found. Many former homosexuals have completely changed and are happily married heterosexuals. Secondly, she equates Fred Phelps and Westborough Baptist Church with Christianity. It is a logical fallacy to assume that because Fred Phelps calls himself a Christian, all Christians are therefore hate mongers. If this is true, then all Democrats must also be hate mongers, because Phelps is a life-long Democrat, having run in various Kansas Democratic Party primaries five times, although never winning.

Despite the fallacies, Tarico makes several valid points. Most importantly, Christians should not hate homosexuals. Rather, we are to speak the truth in love. Jesus did not come to condemn sinners, but to save them (John 3:17). When a Christian hates gays, it is a symptom of the sins of pride and arrogance in their lives. Some Christians believe God hates homosexuals. God doesn’t hate anyone; He hates sin, but loves people. He sent His Son Jesus to die on the cross to save sinners, including homosexuals. The idea that God hates some people, but loves others, is theology without Biblical basis, and is straight from Hell.

Christians should not agree with homosexually as acceptable behavior, but neither should they think that being gay makes a person worse than other sinners. True, the Bible calls homosexuality an abomination (Leviticus 20:13), it also uses the same word (תּוֹעֵבָה “toebah”) to describe other sexual sins; idolatry (Deuteronomy 27:15); pride, lying, murder, planning evil, and sowing discord (Proverbs 6:17-19); and using false weights (Proverbs 11:1). In other words, the Bible uses the same word to describe homosexuality that it uses to describe a liar or one who sows discord – a person who causes disagreements. In reality, all sin is an abomination to God; that’s why we all need a Savior, to remove the curse of our abominable sin and restore our relationship with a holy God.

Tarico is also correct that many homosexuals feel excruciating condemnation from others and often from themselves for their homosexuality – the suicide rate is much higher for homosexuals than for others. I would also add that many feel the conviction of the Holy Spirit. Our goal as Christians should not be to add to the condemnation, but to help gays come to a relationship with Jesus Christ. There is no Biblical basis for the belief that gays cannot be saved until they quit being gay; in fact, they cannot change without the power of the Holy Spirit, and they cannot receive the Holy Spirit until they are saved. True, the Bible calls for repentance; but, repentance doesn’t mean to stop sinning – it means “to change one’s mind.” Our goal is to share the truth “with meekness and fear” (1 Peter 3:15), and to allow the Holy Spirit to work to bring about salvation. Once the homosexual comes to the knowledge of Jesus Christ and is saved, our goal is to help the new believer to grow in their faith and relationship with Jesus. It’s the Holy Spirit’s job to convict people of sin, not ours. As the new believer grows in their faith and relationship with God, at some point, the Holy Spirit will convict them of the sin of homosexuality. At that point, our job is to lovingly help the person trust in the Holy Spirit’s power to overcome the sin.

Christians must learn to treat homosexuality the same as they would treat any sin. Sin is to be expected of the non-Christian. Once a person is saved, overcoming sin is a life-long process. Homosexuality is a deep addiction that can be a long, painful process to overcome. While the church cannot ignore continued, deliberate sin, it also cannot condemn non-Christians and new believers because they have not yet matured spiritually. Rather, our place is to minister to them, come alongside them, and help them to become mature in Christ. When this happens, the sin of homosexuality will eventually be dealt with by the Holy Spirit, and those of us in the church can help the person overcome their homosexual addiction.

Listening to what non-Christians and skeptics have to say about Christians can give us insight as to where we need to change in order to better reach them with the Gospel. Many non-Christians perceive Christians as hating homosexuals. In order to overcome this perception, we need to allow the love of Christ to flow through us. While we cannot accept the homosexuality, we must accept the sinner. God’s love demands it of us.

Romans 5:8
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.