When evangelicals support Phil Robertson…

After “Duck Dynasty” star Phil Robertson made crude and controversial statements to GQ Magazine regarding homosexuality and race and was subsequently (and temporarily) suspended from A&E, it was disheartening to see so many evangelicals publicly defend him. On TV, Facebook, magazines and newspapers, Christians rallied to “stand with Phil,” sometimes hailing him as a sort of unofficial spokesperson for evangelical Christianity with little regard to the message this might send to the black people and gay people who were the targets of his remarks. 

Rather than writing about this myself, I thought I’d open the floor to some Christian brothers and sisters who can explain what evangelical support of Phil Robertson communicates to them. 


Brittney Cooper 

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"When Evangelicals support Phil Robertson, it tells me that they don’t think combatting homophobia and racism are significant issues for the Church or in building the Kingdom of God. As an African American Christian who grew up in Robertson’s neck of the woods with aunts and uncles who absolutely experienced racial discrimination in the 1950s and 60s, I find his comments about happy, singing Black people to be insensitive and unconscionable. His quip about “pre-entitlement, pre-welfare” Blacks is the worst kind of race-baiting and racial stereotyping. Yet, when (white) Evangelicals support him, I know it is because his invocation of entitlements and welfare resonates with many of their political views, which unfairly tie welfare programs to black bodies.  I wonder how we worship the same God, when Phil Robertson’s God seems to hate gay folks and be perfectly fine with the subjugation of Black folks (and women). When Evangelicals support him and his offensive views, they make it clear that they don’t support me, a fellow Christian. They make me wonder if their Christianity is only for straight, middle-class, white people?"

Dr. Brittney Cooper is Assistant Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies and Africana Studies at Rutgers University. A scholar of Black women's intellectual history, Black feminist thought, and race and gender in popular culture, Dr. Cooper writes extensively about both historic and contemporary iterations of Black feminist theorizing. s co-founder along with Dr. Susana Morris of the Crunk Feminist Collective, a feminist of color scholar-activist group that runs a highly successful blog. Find Brittney at brittneycooper.com. 


Benjamin Moberg 

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“When evangelicals support Phil Robertson, it tells me that they want me gone, that they'll do whatever it takes to scare me away. They will ‘stand with Phil’ in comparing me to alcoholics and terrorists and those who have sex with animals. They will whip social media into a storm I cannot outrun. When I tell them it's upsetting, they say I'm intolerant; when Phil's employer suspends him, they incite a mob overnight. And I am just so exhausted of this. I am tired of being the most galvanizing symbol for evangelical rage. I am tired of being told that my pain does not matter.” 

Benjamin Moberg blogs at RegisteredRunaway.com

 Tamára Lunardo

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"When evangelicals support Phil Robertson, it tells me that they have no interest in loving me or much of the universal Church. It tells me they have more interest in following the fashions of a segment of American Christian culture than in following Jesus’ command to love one another as he loves us. 

And it tells me that, not only has their myopia caused them to have missed the point of Jesus entirely, it’s also regularly causing them to miss real crises in the Church. As evangelicals cried, “Persecution!” on behalf of a man who was not denied his freedom of speech but merely his freedom from reproach for freely speaking hatred, Syrian families were being murdered, Honduran children were falling ill from unclean water, and American citizens were being denied equality. 

When evangelicals support Phil Robertson, they tell each of us—not just the gay us, the black us; but the fearful us, the harmed us—“I do not, will not love you as Jesus does.”
 
Tamára is a collector of fine tattoos, an imbiber of cheap wine, and a singer of eclectic music. She works out her thoughts on life and faith at Tamara Out Loud, occasionally with adult language, frequently with attempted humor, and hopefully with God’s blessing. Editor of What a Woman is Worth and copywriter for Feed The Children, she holds a BA in English and her five kids, when they let her; she almost never holds her tongue.


Osheta Moore 

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"When I finally tuned into what I call the Duck Dynasty Drama—the uproar and turmoil caused by Phil Roberson’s comments that African-Americans in Pre-Civil Rights Era Louisiana were somehow “happy” or “godlly,” I pushed my laptop away and cried.  I felt the chasm forged by racism stretch wider. I felt the Shalom of God, his unity on earth as it is in heaven, slip away as believers took sides, rallied together in disgust, and used “rights” and “amendments” as justification for ignoring the suffering of their African-American sisters and brothers in Christ.  

When evangelicals support Phil Roberston and his comments, it tells me we’ve grown to love our positions more than people. As an African American woman, it tells me that the Church is not interested in Calvary-like reconciliation; we’d rather stop short at empty words of “I’m with the blacks” and insensitive generalizations like “they were godly; they were happy” and uneducated assumptions that, because you have not heard, seen, or have been party to mistreatment, it doesn’t exist.  

While I can prove Phil Roberston’s assessment wrong by opening up any book on the Jim Crow Era and the Civil Right Movement, I don’t think that would create space for Shalom.  Shalom happens we take up our cross and follow Jesus.  Shalom happens when we crucify our love for our rights and listen to the ones who are hurt by our misuse of those “rights”.  Shalom happens when we take Paul’s words in Galatians to heart and authentically attempt to fulfill the law of Christ by, “carry (ing) each other's burdens.”  

One of my favorite moments in Christian fiction is found in Neta Jackson’s The Yada Yada Sisters Get Down.  This book is the second in a series about a diverse group of women who meet to pray weekly.  Jackson faces the elephants in the room of whites and blacks having deep, meaningful relationships very quickly, especially in book two when one of the White main character’s husband, Denny, is mistaken by, MaDea, an aging African American woman who is suffering from dementia, as one of the men who brutally lynched her brother nearly 70 years ago.  She flies into a rage when she sees him at her daughter’s beauty shop, throwing a brush at him and screaming hysterically. Denny is affected by the pain she suffers even after all these years, so much so that he can’t shake that experience,  so he prays, talks about racism with a trusted black friend, acknowledges his own privilege as a white man, and finally accepts that as a follower of Jesus his calling is to seek Shalom, harmony and wholeness for MaDea.  He goes to the beauty shop, kneels before her and asks for forgiveness.  He accepts responsibility for the actions of her brother’s death at the hands of racist men—even though he had no active connections with white supremacists. Even though he knew and loved black people.  Even though he never told a racist joke and respects Dr. Martin Luther King. I think there’s something holy and Christ-like about his action. I think this is the response evangelicals should have towards Phil Robertson’s words.  Not indignant calls for “free speech” but impassioned movement towards reconciliation by first seeking to understand why those words hurt and then asking for forgiveness even though they may be innocent of the sin of racism.  It looks a lot like Jesus taking on the sin of the world although he himself was sinless.” 

Osheta Moore is an Assembly-of-God-Methodist-Southern-Baptist-a-teryn turned Anabaptist living in Boston. She has four children, two boys (Tyson and TJ), one girl (Trinity)  and a church plant (New City Covenant Church).  She writes on her blog, "Shalom in City" and at the top of her bucket list is to dance in a flash mob—all the better if it's to Michael Jackson's,  "Thriller".


Brent Bailey 

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"When evangelicals support Phil Robertson, it tells me less about their attitudes toward sexual minorities than their ongoing interactions with me do. Robertson's comments about gay men were undoubtedly inaccurate with regard to the reality of my experience, but throughout the commotion that followed his interview, it became apparent he had come to symbolize vastly different things in the eyes of different people who supported him: cheeky defiance, or resolute faithfulness, or endearing political incorrectness, or something else. Though such controversies ostensibly offer me a simple test for identifying who is for me or against me based on who takes which side, the complexity of lived relationships seems to be frustratingly resistant to such a dichotomy."

Brent blogs at oddmanout.net.

 

You might also appreciate Wesley Hill’s words at “First Things”: 

…Just because someone quotes 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 and is opposed to same-sex marriage doesn’t mean that they’re speaking up for a theologically informed, humane, pastorally sensitive view of what it means to be gay. Not by a long shot. And social conservatives should think twice before linking the concern for religious liberty to a vindication of Robertson.

…[Robertson] implies that if gay men could only open their eyes, it would dawn on them how myopic they’ve been. “I mean, come on, dudes! You know what I’m saying? But hey, sin: It’s not logical, my man. It’s just not logical.” The conclusion to draw from this comment, as Katelyn Beaty noted earlier today on Twitter, is “that gay men should just wake up to how awesome women’s body parts are.” But, of course, that’s just not how sexuality works. [Read the rest here.]

 

I would love to hear from more of you who were the targets of Robertson's comments. What message does the "Stand With Phil" movement send to you? What sort of response would be most healing and helpful from Christians? How can we move forward from this fraught and charged debate around a reality TV star into efforts at true reconciliation?  

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