Unless you’ve been living under a rock or in a cave somewhere, you can’t miss the entertainment news of Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson being ousted from the show for his comments about homosexuals. After all the uproar died down, old Phil was reinstated again followed by choruses of indignant “praise the Lord” and self-rightoues claims of Satan’s attack by conservative Christians. I didn’t want to blog on poor Phil too quickly just so that we progressives don’t all appear to pile on him at once. All that has been said probably was already said about the situation, but it would be a shame if no one learned anything from this situation. Bravado about Christian victory aside, most preachers could learn a thing or two from this episode.
One important common characteristic between Phil Robertson and any preacher is the position of public figure (well, in fact, Phil also preaches, as he’s shown here). Preachers do not preach to church walls. Preachers preach to an audience. Every sermon is not merely some explanation of the word of God, much less the very word of God. Rather, every sermon is a text that communicates between the preacher and audience, much in the same way a TV show is a text between Phil Robertson/Duck Dynasty and its viewing audience. Every text is open to interpretation, and the audience is doing the interpretation. While preachers can’t prevent misinterpretation, they can use more caution to make sure that their communication hits the mark.
One of the excuses for Phil’s usage of language I heard two weeks ago is age. Let’s face it. Phil is from the older generation (i.e. old school) where this coarse usage of language about homosexuals, women’s pelvic cavities and blacks was acceptable. In that bygone era in that particular geographical situation, there’re plenty more Phil Robertson’s. I’m not saying that ALL the people from that era who lived in that area all held the same disposition, but the person making the excuse for Phil was pointing to that historical stereotype. For argument’s sake, let’s presuppose that the excuse was valid and that age did play a part along with geographical location. It doesn’t make Phil’s statement any less offensive to homosexuals, women and blacks. Let’s go further (just to be the devil’s advocate) to say that back in those days, no one would’ve bat an eyelid to such language, let alone object to it. News flash! Today isn’t THOSE DAYS! The national TV audience also doesn’t live in the Jim Crow Era Louisiana either. Language usage is evolutionary.
If evolution of language is indeed Phil’s problem (and I’m not suggesting that it is his only problem), we need to take heed to know that our communication should also evolve with time. Although we serve a merciful God, the public sphere is not merciful. In the Christian circle, many preachers (even young preachers today) insist proudly that they are not politically correct (i.e. PC) or that they like “being real”, as if being non-PC and being real are the highest expression of Christian godliness. Many are even proud that they’re preaching the good ole gospel, that vintage stuff that Jesus once spoke. There’s only a slight problem. The same preachers also do not use Greek or Aramaic or wear robe and saddles or grow a huge beard like Jesus (or Phil). Why not? It is because time has changed. We too change! Thus, being proud of being non-PC only demonstrates the narcissistic stubbornness and calloused immaturity rather than spirituality of the speaker. It really means, “I really don’t care about your feelings. My feelings (i.e. what I want to say in the guise of what I claim God says) come first always.”
As Christians, why do we even value PC? We do so because feelings are involved. When those feelings are from our public audience, you have an explosive mix of a pastoral disaster. The author of Colossians 4.6 recognized the importance of the public audience when he wrote these words, “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”
Whatever is PC for you is someone else’s life. When we preach, we’re publicly dealing with lives. Preachers can’t afford to stick to their own guns while proclaiming arrogantly that they speak the very word of God. The public sphere will hold us accountable. Sometimes, we do deserve the backlash we get for not caring about the feelings of others. Preaching the same old gospel doesn’t mean you have to wear the same old robe and sandals. Neither does it mean that PC is our most dangerous enemy. It’s time to cast aside the old and crusty clothing in favor of new and smoother cloth.