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Thursday, January 02, 2014

Duck Dynasty's Phil Robertson Is a Blessing

The controversy surrounding Phil Robertson's anti-gay remarks and his revisionist retelling of how African Americans loved their lives during the Jim Crow era found both supporters and detractors across America. I probably don't have to quote him here, so you can skip to the next paragraph if you're already sick of this coverage.  In an interview in the January issue of GQ, Robertson says homosexuality is a sin and equates it with bestiality and promiscuity. Here's the quote:
It seems like, to me, a vagina -- as a man -- would be more desirable than a man's anus. That's just me. I'm just thinking: There's more there! She's got more to offer. 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. ...Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men. 
 He also made comments regarding race and growing up in Louisiana during the Jim Crow era.
I never, with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person. Not once. Where we lived was all farmers. The blacks worked for the farmers. I hoed cotton with them. I'm with the blacks, because we're white trash. We're going across the field. ... They're singing and happy. I never heard one of them, one black person, say, 'I tell you what: These doggone white people' -- not a word! ...Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.
Added to this is the most recent revelation that Robertson married his wife when she was only 16 years old and counsels other men to do the same, even to marry 15 year old girls.  Video here  

Recently his congregation's church secretary, Luanne Watts, told MailOnline they had been bombarded with calls and emails from Americans showing their support. She said: "What has happened is a blessing. Phil believes in the word of God and he will not shift from that." He is actually a very prominent elder and his fellow parishioners are solidly behind him.

Yes, Phil Robertson is a blessing. He is a portal into the mindset of homophobic America. As you know, nothing happens in a vacuum. His patriarchal views about women, his visceral reaction to same-sex love, his "Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare" notions of the Jim Crow South, all stem from his literalistic view of the Bible.

A clear distinction needs to be made here. Following World War II, America began to see the rise of so-called "Bible believing churches." Now they are found in every city and small town. I am asked all the time if my church preaches the Bible. This is code for "literal preaching of the Bible." Any church that doesn't read the Bible literally is, in their minds, considered heretical. But the issue really isn't belief or unbelief, it's literal belief, or as I like to call it, informed belief. I definitely believe the Bible; I just read it, and therefore, understand it differently than literalists.

The literal belief system is a "face value" understanding of words on a page, that leaves the meaning at the surface level. Literalists understand words in the Bible just like the words in their newspapers without reference to the changed worldview involved. "The Bible says it; I believe it; that settles it!" You see, you can't take the Bible literally and seriously at the same time. Why? Because to take the Bible seriously you need to delve deep into the text.

The surface reading will more often than not lead you astray. Biblical hyperbole is a handy example. Proverbs 22.6 says, Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it. I know from experience counseling mothers and fathers of children who departed from the faith, never to return, or ended up addicted to drugs, or incarcerated, who blame themselves and their parenting for the outcome based on this proverb. In their minds they didn't adhere to the way they should go well enough. They failed.

Literalism also accounts for the lingering doubts about racial equality. The "curse of Ham," reproducing only "after their kind," and certain Levitical instructions about keeping things separate (no planing of two kinds of crops in the same field, no wearing of garments composed of two kinds of cloth, etc.) are seen as mandates for segregation, And in case you think the issue of slavery has been decided, a world-class scholar in New Testament backgrounds told me that slavery would not be sinful today if conducted under biblical conditions. This notion is not uncommon in fundamentalist circles. We likely can't charge Robertson with endorsing slavery, but we can say he is comfortable with Jim Crow life.

Literalism is also why some fundamentalists believe that all LGBTs should be executed, based on the literal reading of Leviticus 20:13 while blithely ignoring all the other acts requiring the death penalty (including juvenile delinquency).  Roberson actually acknowledges this. "Do I call for homosexuals to be put to death? No, because if I did, I would have to include those that live in premarital sex, masturbation, adultery, violating the God given ability to divorce and re-marry..."1 In other words, he acknowledges that the Bible calls for all these and more to be put to death, but can't bring himself to go that far. But there are many who would.

Phil Robertson enables us to see the confusion, inhumanity, and twisted outlook that comes from a literal reading of the Bible. Yes, he is a blessing.

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