Get Over It
By Joe Morris Doss
It is now a week since Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty made his unacceptable comments about LGBT people and African Americans in a GQ Interview. Pundits and reporters keep holding it up as news, which I find amazing. Among the many reasons I find what was said and how it is being examined so upsetting is the way the media seems to accept that this man is expressing “the” Christian position. But I am also pained by the way so many sincere Christians try to evangelize by offering their version of a moral code as the good news itself, a socio-eco-political-philosophical, simplistically black-and-white, moral code that acts as a filter through which they read scripture. Then they seem amazed that this narrow minded moral code cannot be understood as good news by those who love justice and peace – and especially by those the moral code condemns, castigates, marginalizes, brutalizes, and oppresses.
My first point is that, when a Christian speaks to public issues, they must not claim that his or her point of view or version of scripture represents that of the Christian Church unless it is an objectively verifiable claim. In fact, the church disagrees about most issues, and most especially those of individual behavior. (Most of us are much closer on issues of social and economic justice.) It isn’t just that Baptists disagree with Roman Catholics and Presbyterians with Eastern Orthodox and so forth. We disagree strongly within denominations, and our members disagree with their leadership and their theologians and with the teachings of their own church. For example, there is no more ecumenically agreed upon issue still at controversy than the death penalty. The teachings of every almost every organized denomination in the world agree that this is wrong. Yet, majorities of American Christians defy the teachings of their church and support the death penalty. We have to be careful about our claims, without being self-righteous and incorrect.
A person, as well as a society, is most distant from being Christian when taking the name of God in vain on issues that come out of cultural presuppositions and conventional wisdom rather than from the authority of the Gospel. This is especially so when claiming the mantle of Christ based on what the church may teach at a given moment in history or how the scriptures may be interpreted at a particular time in history. This is most dangerous when scripture is interpreted literally where convenient and discounted where inconvenient – over against the grand themes of justice, compassion, and righteousness in which the Judeo-Christian tradition has long seen the purposes of God for human society.
My second concern has been lost altogether in the frenzy of coverage. The interview was a sincere effort to evangelize the reporter, Drew Magary, to become a Christian. Robertson shared his thoughts on the sin of homosexuality and the godliness of African Americans before the Civil Rights era on a long ATV ride through his farm. Toward the end, Robertson turned to Magary and asked:
“So you and your woman: Are y’all Bible people?”
“Not really, I’m sorry to say.
“If you simply put your faith in Jesus coming down in flesh, through a human being, God becoming flesh living on the earth, dying on the cross for the sins of the world, being buried, and being raised from the dead—yours and mine and everybody else’s problems will be solved. And the next time we see you, we will say: ‘You are now a brother. Our brother.’ So then we look at you totally different then. See what I’m saying?”
I think so?
But Magary didn’t take that moment to accept Jesus as his savior. Instead, he said, “I’m afraid, I must get out of the ATV and go back to where I belong, back to the godless part of America that Phil is determined to save.”
From my point of view, it is disgraceful that Drew left the farm with the impression that to be a “Bible person,” means seeing homosexuals as sinful and believing that Blacks were better off under segregation. That is not the good news of Jesus whose birth we celebrate in this season. The message of Jesus is of God’s love – unequivocal and for everyone, period. It is not simple, and in fact as this message gets spelled out in scripture it becomes all the more clear and compelling. But the good news never contradicts God’s fundamental and unconditional love for everyone.
This is the message I would offer to Mr. Robertson if we went duck hunting together or were conversing at a fish fry: When there is a conflict between justice and an interpretation of a Biblical text, taken out of the context of the whole of scripture, one may rest assured that the church will eventually reconcile the two in favor of justice. There is no perception of morality that can stand over against justice; there are no values that can trump justice. Think again.
Joe Morris Doss, founder and president of “At the Threshold,” has served parishes in Louisiana and California as an Episcopal priest, and the Diocese of New Jersey as Bishop. Bishop Doss has long been involved in civil rights activism, including the integration of LSU while he was student body president. He was the founding president of Death Penalty Focus, the founding chair of the National Center for AIDS in San Francisco, and together with Bishop Leo Frade of Southeast Florida, the organizer of a famous rescue mission that freed thousands of pardoned political prisoners from Cuba. Bishop Doss is the author of several books including “Songs of the Mothers” and “Let the Bastards Go.” With his son Andrew Doss, he co-wrote the drama “Earnest,” about the transformation of a death row inmate.