Thursday, December 19, 2013

a word to my friends about phil robertson...

Dear Friends,

I'm writing to you, my brothers, my sisters, my tribe. I'm writing to conservative, evangelical Christians. I've grown up in your churches, your schools, and your camps. I've worked for your ministries, and I attend one of your seminaries. I sit next to you in the pew on Sunday, and we take the bread and wine together in the Lord's Supper. Like you, I believe the Bible is the inspired, infallible Word of God, and I believe it is our only rule for faith and life. Like most of you, I believe that the covenant of marriage was instituted by God for relationships of one man and one woman. Like many of you, I was distressed to see A&E bow to pressure and suspend Phil Robertson from "Duck Dynasty" because of his expressed views on homosexuality.

However, my brothers and sisters, I must say this. I've been even more distressed and deeply hurt by many of your responses to Robertson's comments and his suspension.

First, although Phil's comments themselves aren't my biggest concern, I'll address why they still hurt, even as someone who ultimately agrees with him on the biblical view of sexuality. I've seen the response, "Why should they hurt? He was just quoting the Bible." Fair question. Yes, Phil's comments contained biblical references (1 Corinthians 6, for instance), and he correctly stated that homosexual practice is indeed sinful. However, I can't say that his comments were actually biblical. Why not? Because they were neither loving nor gracious. They lacked wisdom. They promoted false stereotypes. Phil's crude anatomical references were not just an inappropriate indiscretion, they painted God's beautiful gift of sex as something else entirely. We're left to assume from his words that Phil sees the main role of sex to be personal gratification. Can we commend a view of sex that reduces women to the usefulness of their body parts in gratifying the urges of their husbands? I reject that. I reject that completely. I reject that because the Bible has such a higher view of the sexual union between a husband and wife. It's a total union, body and soul. It's vulnerability and sacrifice and safety. Yes, it's pleasure, but it's much much more. Phil's comments insinuate that the only thing gay people are looking for is sexual gratification, not the intimacy and self-sacrificial relationship that I hope Phil enjoys with his wife. True, I never plan to pursue such a relationship with another man. I do not believe that is God's will or his design for marriage or sex. However, as Phil went on to describe his views of sin, he essentially equated the longings I have for intimacy and companionship with the sexual desires some people have for animals. It's clear that Phil rightly believes homosexual practice is a sin, but it's also clear that he doesn't understand the experience of same-sex attracted people in the slightest. He may claim to love and respect everyone (and I believe he is genuine in his desire to do so), but I would never feel safe or comfortable sharing my story or struggles with him after reading his comments. Why would I open up to someone who apparently finds my struggles so reprehensible and unfathomable, comparable to both bestiality and terrorism? Phil's comments did contain truth, yes, but they were incredibly insensitive and dehumanizing to anyone who experiences desires for their same gender. This is not how Jesus would have spoken...not even close. You can say a lot of true things, but if you're not speaking in love (the language of our Savior), you're not speaking the Truth. 

Secondly, while I found Phil's comments troubling, I do disagree with A&E's decision to suspend him. We can't have healthy dialogue if our first resort is always to silence and remove our opponents. I agree that A&E's move is a troubling sign for the future ability of Christians to speak publicly about our beliefs. However, as a Christian, I am far more concerned with the responses I have seen on social media from fellow Christians attacking A&E and rushing to defend Phil Robertson. I understand the concern, but I believe this is misplaced fervor. And you know what? I'll be hurts.

The Church would have far more credibility in her defense of free speech if she were actually seeking to create a safe place for vulnerability and dialogue in her own midst. Friends, there is a reason that this blog is anonymous! Maybe I would feel more sympathy for Phil Robertson if I hadn't always felt pressure to remain silent about my story within the very community where I should have felt the most freedom. We can rush to defend people like Phil as the victims in situations like this, but what about the hundreds and thousands of kids and young people and even adults who deal with their various struggles in silence out of fear of what other Christians will say? If we're looking at this from a biblical perspective, are they not the real victims here? The silent victims?

There is a swell of righteous anger when a reality star is suspended for his crude, insensitive defense of biblical sexuality in GQ, but where was this outrage when my friend was fired from his job at a Christian school because a parent found out he was same-sex attracted? Where was the outrage when another friend of mine was thrown out of his house in high school and shunned by his church because he came out as gay? Where is the outrage over the countless teenagers who are bullied (often by Christian teenagers) because of their sexuality? Where are the tears of remorse and contrition over those who ultimately find no hope and end their lives, convinced that no one could ever really love them? Where is our swell of righteous anger, Church?

I have been blessed with a loving family and incredibly supportive friends. More and more people know my story, and I attend a beautiful, grace-centered seminary that reminds me everyday that God is good and Jesus loves me. I have enjoyed blessings far beyond what most people with my struggle enjoy. But when you, my friends, seem far more concerned with protecting the rights of Mr. Robertson to express his beliefs than you are with making sure your brothers who struggle with homosexuality know they are loved, that they have dignity and worth...that hurts. It does. 

I'm not asking you to change your beliefs on the sinfulness of homosexual practice. I share those beliefs, and I'm certainly not changing mine! My convictions here are firm. However, I do ask you to think about the message you are sending when you rush to defend the comments of Phil Robertson.

Jesus didn't die to give us freedom of speech...or even freedom of religion. He died to give us freedom from the bondage of sin and the law. "For you were called to freedom, brothers," Paul wrote to the Galatians, "Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'" (Gal. 5:13-14) We were not set free primarily so that we could express our opinions and live a happy life; we were set free so that we could love our neighbors--sacrificially--as we love ourselves. Is Phil Robertson free to make these statements about homosexuality? Yes. Are you free to defend him and post #IStandWithPhilRobertson on your twitter? Absolutely. But friends, I would ask you to consider if that is the best use of your freedom. 

Let us follow the example of Jesus. Jesus always moved toward the poor, the broken, and the outcast. He defended those who could not defend themselves, those who had no voice. He broke the social and religious customs of his day to show broken, hurting people that he loved them. The religious leaders said terrible things about Jesus because of the people he spent time with, the people he stood up for. In the eyes of the religious, Jesus was always defending the wrong people. 

If you think Jesus would be shaking his fist at A&E right now for their treatment of Phil Robertson, I'm not sure if you have an accurate picture of Jesus' life and ministry. Wouldn't it be better to imagine Jesus seeking out and comforting the young teenager whose family watches "Duck Dynasty" religiously...the kid who doesn't understand the feelings and desires that he's experiencing for other guys...the child who hears Phil Robertson's comments and only hears further confirmation that nobody could ever love someone like him, least of all Jesus? I believe this is where Jesus would be if he was walking the earth today, and I believe that's where we as his followers are called to go as well.

We will face injustice in this world. Our rights may be infringed upon or taken away. That's been the majority experience of the Church throughout history. Jesus himself was the victim of the ultimate injustice ever perpetrated: a perfect, sinless man crucified for the sins of the world. Jesus wasn't interested in securing his rights. His mission was love and healing and grace and restoration. He was interested to speaking the words of hope and life to a world in despair. 

As your brother in Christ, your fellow sojourner in the faith and one who happens to experience attractions to other guys, please hear these words. Please consider your response to the Phil Robertson situation and other situations like it. Please know that you have many other friends, friends like me, who see your responses and feel deep pain and betrayal. You may not mean it that way, but that's how it is received. Trust me. 

May we all seek to follow our Savior humbly to the all the broken places and people of our world...and may God have mercy on us all.

Grace to you, brothers and sisters, and the peace of Christ,

Love, Your Brother Behind the Mask