The dust is settling in the latest skirmish in America’s culture war. In a surprise reversal, A&E has been successfully pressured to reinstate Phil Robertson to Duck Dynasty. The radical homosexual group GLADD was forced to retreat. An exciting victory has been won for religious freedom. No, wait–it was freedom of speech. Alright then, maybe it was just the right to make $200,000 per episode and get extra publicity when you are the target of a little persecution.
That’s not meant to be cynical. Many came to Robertson’s defense because they were fed up with the gag order on Christian expression that radical homosexual groups have imposed on any Christian who becomes too influential. Homosexual activists seem to want tolerance only for themselves, and only on their terms. It’s terribly indicting that they must silence their critics in order to win “tolerance.”
Christian political activists are excited about the Duck Dynasty triumph. A writer on one major website asserted that A&E has awakened a sleeping giant, that Christians will no longer allow the radical left to bully and silence one of our own. Maybe that’s the most important kind of battle to fight, and maybe not. I am not implying that Christians should roll over and play dead when secularists try to shut them up. We still live in a country that affords legal protections. When it was to the advantage of the Gospel, the apostle Paul did not hesitate to exercise his rights as a Roman citizen. We are in good company to invoke similar protections.
But in this instance, what should we be excited about? It appears that A&E made a purely business decision by reversing its suspension of Robertson from his show. There was certainly no evidence that A&E executives experienced a change of heart or mind. I appreciate Robertson’s boldness. But having read the entire GQ article, (which I don’t recommend), I found his comments to be, on balance, an embarrassment to the Gospel.
And even given GLADD’s previous successes, why was anyone shocked when A&E initially bowed to their demands to punish Robertson? Let’s not forget that he chose to channel his sometimes crude remarks through GQ, a magazine synonymous with metrosexuality. Mark Simpson, who coined that term, has described a metrosexual as “a young man with money to spend, living in or within easy reach of a metropolis — because that’s where all the best shops, clubs, gyms and hairdressers are. He might be officially gay, straight or bisexual, but this is utterly immaterial because he has clearly taken himself as his own love object and pleasure as his sexual preference.” So my point is, when you venture into the viper’s den and start poking, expect to be bitten.
Further, should we be looking to A&E to support balanced and reasoned discourse on the weighty issues of our day? After all, “A&E” does stand for “arts & ENTERTAINMENT.” This is the same network that makes very large sums of money on programs designed to distract viewers from thinking seriously about anything.
Instead, this might be a good time for American Christians to re-evaluate our place in our culture. Is “culture war” really the way that we want to describe our relationship with the people among whom we are called to give and live the Gospel? Are petitions and boycotts the way Jesus’ kingdom advances? Have we been depending more on economic and political pressure, or on Divine power?
We don’t like to think about it, but there are abundant signs that the protected status that Christians have enjoyed for most of America’s history has ended. In the not-too-distant future, Christianity might well be a minority religion here, as it is in much of the world, where it is actually thriving. This reality could redirect our perspective in a truly productive way.
Ask the Mormons. Mormonism has always had to struggle against a resistant and often hostile majority to gain a foothold in America. Mormonism is now confident, robust and growing. This is in contrast to American Christianity, which is defensive, flabby and declining.
Whatever Mormons are doing, the good news is that this is an opportune moment for us to rediscover our real citizenship and the real source of our power. Something matters more than our rights as American citizens. It is the kingdom to which we belong. It is no dynasty. It doesn’t depend on our culture for success. We are ambassadors, not combatants. We are given the ministry of reconciliation, not war. And ultimate victory is already assured.
Now that’s worth getting excited about!