Why I Didn’t Give Phil Robertson A Standing Ovation

The Duck Commander (Photo Credit:  HuffingtonPost.com)

The Duck Commander (Photo Credit: HuffingtonPost.com)

I was quoted in this article from the Christian Chronicle.  The quote is correct, though, of course, it was only a small sample of what I said.  I think the Christian Chronicle and Bobby Ross do a great job and I don’t want this to sound like a criticism of either.  However, when I gave my comments via e-mail, I assumed they were part of a larger dialogue with various people giving their perspective on the story of America as a Christian nation and the role of politics in achieving kingdom ends.  As it is, the quote left me on an island against Phil Robertson, and we all know that isn’t going to end well for me! I don’t want to be overly defensive.  I stand behind what I said, but I thought I would use this forum to share the full content of my replies to Bobby Ross and explain my position a little better.  Also, relevant to my position on these issues was my very first post on this blog.   Let me share my answers first to the questions I was asked and then I will wrap up with a few follow-up comments.

  1. Are you a Phil Robertson / “Duck Dynasty” fan? Feel free to elaborate.

I would estimate I have seen around 10 episodes total.  I’m not really a fan per se, but I found the show mildly amusing.  Duck Dynasty was our VBS theme last year, so I tried to “educate” myself about the show.

2.  Did you go into Friday night’s event with any preconceived notion or idea of what Phil might say?

Not really.  I had read some things about his interview with GQ, including the article in the Christian Chronicle leading up to the event.  My opinion on the GQ controversy was that it was probably blown out of proportion, but I also felt Phil could have been more sensitive in his comments.  I really had no idea what he might say leading up to Tulsa, but I was more favorable toward him than not, just as I would have been toward any celebrity who also attempts to represent Christ.

3. What was your reaction to his message? I think you voiced concern that some or all of it was too political?

Overall, I was disappointed in his message, because it was steeped in political ideology, though he might not recognize it as such.  To blanketly say that we were established by God as a Christian nation (and he did say something very close to that) is to ignore or misunderstand a lot of our history.  Many of our founding fathers, including some Phil quoted, were deists.  Certainly there is an underlying Judeo-Christian ethic in our law, because law has to be based on something greater than itself, but that same law somehow permitted slavery for a century and the genocide of the Native Americans.  Is that Christian? So, when Phil made his case that we should all rally to the voter’s box to reclaim our Christian nation, he is actually encouraging that we return to a myth.  There is no Christian nation.  It is the Church that is Christian not the nation.  Throughout history every nation finds itself at odds with the Creator.  It is the people of God who are to be salt and light in the nations and America is no different in this regard.  This cannot be accomplished through political power or a voter’s box.  This can only be accomplished through the ethic of the cross.  In fact, flexing such political power has often come at a great price of our primary mission (c.f. moral majority, religious right).

4. Any other thoughts?

The issue I have with this kind of message is that it is polarizing where it shouldn’t be.  The gospel is polarizing enough, but we should not infuse our political ideology into the gospel, because it necessarily means we are making it harder for some people to come to Jesus.  Imagine for a moment a struggling single black mother in the audience last Friday (though it is also worth noting that it was almost an entirely white crowd) and she heard what Phil Robertson said about the nation being ruined when you take from those who work and give to those who don’t.  Let’s say this woman was on welfare and struggled to keep a job and raise her kids.  Would she not be hurt by such a message and by consequence potentially alienated from the gospel message?  Certainly, it is okay to be suspicious of welfare in this country and there is a place to debate its proper implantation or its existence at all.  But as with so many of Phil’s political barbs, it is not appropriate to tie these debatable and polarizing matters into the presentation of the gospel. Phil Robertson is my brother.  I’m for him, not against him.  I liked a lot of what he said about sin and the human condition, repentance and baptism, etc.  I wish had stayed on those topics.  Ironically, his topic was supposed to be “it’s worth the cost to reach the world.”  And yet, what we had is a very Republican nationalistically driven speech.  The cost of reaching the world very likely includes giving up such ideological trappings.  Jonah had a hard time doing this too.

One other note…there was a lot said about our current national leaders that would not comply with 1 Pet. 2:17, “Show proper respect for everyone:  Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the King.”

End of my comments to the Chronicle.

I did not edit my comments above, so that it would not appear as if I were changing them now to be perceived as more favorable.  Obviously, if you didn’t hear Phil’s talk at the Tulsa Workshop the above may be hard to follow, but you can get the general sense on how I differ with this “America was founded as a Christian nation” narrative.

At the end of Phil’s talk, it seemed the entire arena was on its collective feet, but I sat where I was and applauded politely.  A standing ovation for me would have meant my tacit approval of what was said.  Much of what Phil said was awesome!  I loved it when he talked about the Bible, sin, and the human condition.  He spoke passionately about Jesus being the solution.  But how we package the gospel matters, and agree with me or not, I felt the packaging hurt the message, even if the messenger was the Duck Commander.

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About dgkeheflin

I blog about theology, church, culture, etc.
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18 Responses to Why I Didn’t Give Phil Robertson A Standing Ovation

  1. Paul Smith says:

    If I were you I would grow a (real) beard real quick… (hee, hee, you know I got your back!) BTW, I loved your answers in context. You are so close to becoming Bonhoefferian (and Lipscombian, too).

  2. Richard Shields says:

    Excellently done, as usual. I take it you don’t watch Sean Hannity? Seriously, I agree enthusiastically with your comments and observations. Love you, Dad

  3. dgkeheflin says:

    Reading the comments on the Chronicle site has convinced me I better be ready to duck (pun intended!). I’ve not read any of Lipscomb, but I understand his pacifist position more and more. I’m not against voting (rather for it actually) and it can have some limited good, but the message to the church should be get back to the cross instead of get back to the voting box.

  4. dgkeheflin says:

    Thanks Dad! Good to hear from you. We need to talk soon!

  5. ozziepete says:

    Thanks for sharing those responses David. I thought you clearly explained your position. It also happens to be one I agree with! 🙂

  6. We were thinking along the same lines. I love Phil. He did a great job but my mind kept going back to a few hours before Phil when Josh Ross stood in that exact place and said, “My black friends never say, I wish we could go back to 1950 America when it was a ‘Christian’ nation!”
    (I wish Phil could have heard that.)
    All in all, I appreciated his message but I didn’t stand at the end either.

  7. dgkeheflin says:

    Paula, that’s part of what I was thinking too. Phil’s message and tone seemed to be very out of step with the overall attitude of the Tulsa speakers. Even the video (The church for) they aired before Phil spoke was completely different than Phil’s message. I appreciate your comment and thanks for reading.

  8. dgkeheflin says:

    Appreciate that John!

  9. Linda Allen says:

    David your writings always come from a servant hearts, you make me very proud. I understood your message and do agree. Always be bold for the Lord.

  10. Excellent job, David. I’m in complete agreement with your statements here. I would encourage you not to read the comments on the Christian Chronicle’s web site. I don’t know about you, but I’ve had my fill for the year of internet debates (Noah movie, World Vision, Phil Robertson GQ interview, etc.). Great job, again, with this blog. I’m always encouraged by your posts.

  11. dgkeheflin says:

    Thank you Linda…always good to hear from you!

  12. dgkeheflin says:

    Thanks, Darin. I hear you on the internet debate stuff. We could all grow in learning how to participate in loving give-and-take.

  13. Thanks for not outing me for leaving 20 minutes into his talk…

  14. dgkeheflin says:

    Ha ha Doug! As long as you don’t out me for not giving a standing ovation to the children’s program too! (Note: That was not of protest, but laziness!)

  15. stevdor75 says:

    I appreciate what you said and did. We need more ministers with insight and independence of thought like you.

  16. dgkeheflin says:

    Steve, thanks for reading and your kind comments.

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