There has been a LOT of talk recently about Phil Robertson being suspended from the hit reality TV show, Duck Dynasty. As for me, I have been in conversations with and listened to conversations by people from all three sides of the controversy – those who back Phil, those who think Phil’s words were pig headed or immoral, and those who think Christians need to stay out of discussions on this topic and focus on sharing a Christian witness.
As I listen to these various conversations, it is almost as if people are not even talking about the same event. The perspectives and conclusions are so different. Listening, though, the greatest problem I see is that very few, and I mean that literally, have any idea what the real issue is in this conversation. Those who back Phil are focusing on the wrong subject, those who are against Phil have no idea what he is even talking about, and those who want to avoid the subject don’t realize that no witness can ever take place until one is able to express the gospel message in a way that can be understood by the ones who have no clue.
So, I want to make three points that will, hopefully, get to the heart of the matter. The three points deal with a basic understanding of the core of the Christian faith, how that gets expressed in culture, and the nature of people’s understanding of what is real and not real.
1. We Are Sinners and We Sin.
While this statement may seem obvious to most Christians, there is a distinction that is too seldom made – being a sinner and sinning are two different things. One problem with Phil’s statement is that he did not make this clear to those he was talking to – people who don’t understand the basic beliefs of the Christian faith.
Sin, in its essence, is a corrupted state of human nature. Humanity exists in this state because of the Fall of Adam and Eve, and the result of this state in human individuals is that it separates us from God. Sins, on the other hand, are specific thoughts and acts which people commit. Sins are the outward evidence that we have a Sin problem.
So, when Phil spoke of homosexual behavior being a sin, he was right. At the same time, he did not explain enough to help those who don’t understand the difference between Sin and Sins to get what he was talking about. They interpreted what he said to mean that those who identify themselves as homosexuals are evil people who are hated by God. The truth is, same sex attraction is not a sin – just like the temptation a heterosexual might experience toward someone of the opposite sex is not a sin. The sin occurs when the temptation becomes an actual coveted desire or action.
Sins are a problem, but Sin is THE problem. It is Sin that separates people from God and which must be forgiven if people are going to get right with God. To his credit, Phil did try to make this point by explaining that all Sins, not just homosexuality, are a problem. But this distinction must be made overtly and intentionally or the conversation about this controversy will never get anywhere.
2. Marriage Has a Definition.
One of the goals of gay rights advocates is “marriage equality” – they want marriage between homosexuals to be recognized as equal to marriage between a man and a woman. They consider it a matter of equal rights.
In truth, it is not a matter of equal rights at all. It is actually a blatant attempt to have a relationship which is considered to be immoral based on traditional Christian beliefs accepted as moral and normal. If it were simply a matter of rights, the push would be to make it possible for those in homosexual relationships to gain particular rights. But that is not what is happening. What is being pushed is acceptance of the relationship itself. We see this in the fact that when the rights are granted (as when civil unions are made legal), the gay-marriage advocates are not satisfied and continue to push for marriage. We see it in the fact that in the places where gay-marriage is legalized, there is virtually always a push to punish businesses (and even religious institutions) that do not want to participate in a gay-marriage.
The fact is, heterosexuals who live together outside of marriage sin in the exact same way as those in homosexual relationships. The real issue is, marriage has a specific definition. It is the formal union between one man and one woman. If you hyphenate the definition to add in something else, it is no longer marriage. The term gay-marriage simply is not marriage, and trying to force it to be so does not change the reality.
Beyond that, marriage has a particular place in God’s economy. He created reality to exist in a particular way, and those who want to change the definition of what that means still don’t change the reality. God created male and female with complementary physical and spiritual components. Based on the objective reality of this creation, the nuclear family is ideally designed to be the foundation of human culture. When people attempt to alter the design, it doesn’t work out well. Homosexual relationships are not sins because God hates homosexuals. It is sin because it is a rejection of what God established as reality.
3. Worldview Matters.
There is a way that reality exists and it does not exist any other way. That, though, does not stop people from conceiving of and living life in ways which do not reflect reality. In modern American culture, there are a great number of people who live life by a different understanding of reality than the Christian beliefs upon which the nation was founded.
Here is the problem. When people come to an understanding of what they believe is real, everything else is understood to be not real. So, when a person makes a statement about reality that another thinks is not real, it literally doesn’t make any sense to the one hearing it. The beliefs that support traditional marriage and those that support the concept of gay-marriage fall into this category. They are literally based on differing beliefs about how reality is structured. As such, most arguments about the topic don’t make any sense to those who argue from the other side. It doesn’t matter if one side represents actual reality or not, a person’s understanding of reality is all they know.
Here is how that gets expressed in the culture. In order for a society to have order, there must be some commonly accepted standard of behavior. That standard is based on some set of beliefs that the people in the society believe represents reality (a worldview). The standard that is ultimately accepted determines what values are accepted and what laws will be made. When there is division in the land about how reality is structured, not only is there cultural clash, but people literally don’t understand the arguments of the other side.
We see this in the Duck Dynasty controversy. Phil said homosexuality is a sin. He based his statement on a personal understanding of the distinction between Sin and sins discussed above. And because this is the way he understands reality, he didn’t see the need to explain that to the interviewer. Virtually everyone assumes that those they are talking with, at the very least, understand reality they way they do. After all, another point of view cannot possibly be real and that should be obvious to the person hearing the explanation.
He was wrong. The ones who reacted negatively started with a different understanding of reality and interpreted his remarks as a personal attack on a particular group of people, not in the way he meant it, as a statement that all humans are sinners. Neither side understands the other, so the words they utter are totally misunderstood. This has happened on both sides because, for the most part, neither side understands the worldview beliefs of the other. They think they are hearing something different than what is truly being said and are, thus, making arguments which don’t actually address what the other person is saying.
There is only one cure for the problem – education. As long as people don’t understand the differences in worldview beliefs, they will never effectively communicate. Christians who want to share their faith with those who have different worldview beliefs have to truly grasp the worldview beliefs of the person they want to share with. If they don’t, what they say will be interpreted to mean things they don’t really mean. It is as simple as that.