I hesitated in adding my voice to the Phil Robertson/Duck Dynasty/A&E controversy, because I didn’t feel that I had anything new to say. Until now. I want to cover a couple of points about the controversy itself, what should be the frame of the debate, and how to proceed.
First, Phil (if I say Robertson, it might be non-descript) mentioned a type of argument against homosexuality from personal preference. Not the most powerful apologetic for biblical sexuality, admittedly. But hardly offensive, either. He did mention that homosexual behavior was “sin.” That’s a word that tends to embarrass Christians. It shouldn’t. It indicates moral disagreement.
Next, he did mention his summary of his experience with blacks in Louisiana in his growing-up days. That could perhaps be offensive, but construing it as racial hatred is hyperbolic (and irrelevant to A&E’s part). In response to a question as to what is sinful, Phil then lists several sins of a sexual nature, including: homosexuality, bestiality, and fornication and adultery (though he described those rather than listing them by name). Understanding this is critical to what follows. He then quotes the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians, listing several sins that if, left unforgiven by the applied blood of Jesus Christ, will result in Hell (of course, that’s any sin).
All of what I have said has been said before. Something that keeps coming up, however, is the criticism that Phil is linking homosexuality and bestiality (“comparing” is the word that keeps arising). There are two extremely important responses to this. The first is to point out that Phil never links the two in any sense (beyond the question). He doesn’t claim one leads to the other, nor does he imply that any one person who participates is participating in the others, or that any are better or worse. The second consideration is that, yes, he is comparing them—in one specific sense. The sense of the question, which was: “What, in your mind, is sinful?” So, we can see it’s simply a mistake to complain that he is linking homosexuality and bestiality, just as it’s a mistake to say he was linking adultery and bestiality (beyond the aforementioned general classification).
Next, there are two areas that should help to frame the debate. The first is the underlying principle that moral disagreement equals hate. The fact is this type of principle is virtually impossible to prove. If moral disagreement equals hate, do we morally disagree with hate, or not? If we do, then we are mired in a moral quandary whereby we must engage in hate, even as we condemn hate. If we do not, then what, precisely, is the problem with hate?
But something else has me thinking. How would I feel about a guy who had a really popular show who said that Jesus Christ was a horrible person, or who said something totally reprehensible? I wouldn’t like it at all, and depending on certain factors, I may want the show cancelled(!). What is the difference, if any?
Whether we want the hypothetical show cancelled or not, the frame of the debate should be around homosexual behavior and if that is morally permissible or morally prohibited. I think we can appeal to the Bible (Romans 1), even if someone does not accept it. But further, we can also appeal to moral tradition, moral intuition, etc. Some of these can be used jointly in a case of the moral prohibition against homosexual behavior. However, fundamentally, the issue is whether or not the biblical Christian worldview is true. Christians who hold to the Bible should seek to establish that, otherwise people will not follow our arguments.
Finally, I caution those who want to do boycotts against boycotts in general. They usually do not work. I’ve seen suggestions that A&E sponsors should be boycotted; I’m not sure that will be helpful. The one possibility: not watching A&E anymore. I’m not calling for such a boycott, but if you engage in any, do not do so out of a power move. Do so on moral grounds.