When I first read his now infamous quote in the GQ article I gave Phil something of a pass. After all, being myself a churched Christian I’ve come across my fair share of brass aged Christian men with no shortage of loud opinions. I still remember one man pulling back my headphones and letting go so that it slapped against my ear. “That music is from the devil son,” he said in his brute authoritative voice. “Don’t listen to it in church.” (It was Petra.) I’ve learned to just shrug my shoulders while taking into consideration their age and the era they’re from.
And when the context of the conversation is taken into account, you begin to feel sorry for Phil in the same way you do for your grandma who speaks bluntly about sexual matters in public places to her granddaughters. It’s embarrassing to everyone, but you give old granny a sympathy pass because you figure she must be going senile or something.
And as for that context. When Drew Magary met with Phil, it wasn’t the type of sit-down question/answer interview you might expect when you hear the word “interview.” In fact I wouldn’t even use that word. It was more of a ride-along experience for Drew. What’s life like among the Robertson clan off set? Drew spent a whole day with Phil. Riding shotgun through the backwoods in an ATV. Sitting comfortably in a crowded living room watching Fox News. Shooting bottles of water off mounts in the woods with a crossbow and a .22 shotgun. And amidst a whole day of laughs and conversations and annoyances Drew grabs no more than a small hand full of direct quotes from Phil. And let me assure you that the quotes Drew used while plucking from a days worth of conversations were carefully selected for the greatest benefit of GQ. What will sell the most articles? How can we milk the Robertson name for all its worth? What scandalous statement can we capitalize on?
And like a man with his guard down, Phil expressed his views in a way he never could while the cameras were shooting (so he admits). So it seems Phil underestimated a causal ride with Drew Magary. The cameras might as well have been shooting, Phil was documented and a fiasco ensued.
Through this experience I would hope that Phil, the Bible-thumping preacher that he is, would learn a valuable lesson in this experience. That how you say something and the words you use matters just as much as what is said. Maybe more.
So I have a Bible verse for this Bible-thumper. But not just for him, but for you and I too. Because it’s a lesson the Christian community so desperately needs to learn today more than ever. It comes from the words of Jesus himself:
“I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak.” ~ Matthew 12:36
Careless words are often determined by their context. That should always be taken into account. But one wonders if Phil could have chosen his words more carefully? One wonders if his graphic guided description of male-male-female anatomy was necessary, or just offensive? (I’m intentionally not quoting that section of the article.)
And about that word. “Offensive.” Jesus said to his disciples,
“It is impossible but that offences will come: but woe unto him, through whom they come!” ~ Luke 17:1
Sometimes Christians act as though offending society should be a badge of honour. It shouldn’t. Paul writes that the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing (1 Cor. 1:18). That’s a fact, but it’s not something that should be celebrated. The cross is foolishness to those who are perishing because they don’t understand it. Indeed they can’t. It is downright offensive because it’s backwards to them; it’s radically counterintuitive. That is a reality that Christians have to deal with when we share it to those who are perishing. But we shouldn’t go out of our way to make it more offensive. In fact Jesus woe’s on us if we do.
Let me provide an example of a careless use of a word by Phil which potentially caused unnecessary offence to both “those who are perishing,” and to a certain subset of Christians. This example from the GQ article is relevant today because it is so common among Christians.
“We never, ever judge someone on who’s going to heaven, hell. That’s the Almighty’s job. We just love ’em, give ’em the good news about Jesus—whether they’re homosexuals, drunks, terrorists. We let God sort ’em out later, you see what I’m saying?”
Earlier in the article Phil uses the phrase “homosexual behaviour” and then goes on to paraphrase 1 Corinthians 6: “… homosexual offenders…” (which is more accurately rendered in the NIV2011 as “men who have sex with men”). But then he goes on afterwards to simply say “homosexuals.” The difference here is no small matter. “Homosexuality” as a sexual orientation is not condemned in the Bible. Only homosexual acts. By carelessly throwing out this distinction you would have unnecessarily offended a great deal of people, Christian and non-Christian alike.
Now I know Phil is not a Bible scholar and most of you reading this wouldn’t consider yourself one either. Nevertheless every Christian has the responsibility to take a great deal of care with our words. In fact one of the points which make conservative Christians so ineffective today when critically engaging society, is how we so often carelessly use words or phrases without properly nuancing them. And the more limelight we have, the more crucial this point becomes.
Note: I’m not one for watching reality TV and I’ve never sat through an episode of Duck Dynasty.