We have been hearing about the controversy over the suspension of Phil Robertson from Duck Dynasty. He was interviewed for GQ and made various comments. But, of course, only two sets of comments have drawn attention. And it was those that had to do with homosexuality and with race relations in Louisiana prior to civil rights. The remarks have been the topic of discussion on every news show imaginable. I get to hear this because I have an hour drive to get to work and another hour home. Since I have Sirius, I often listen to different stations to pass the time. Today, I was listening to the news stations.
The show that interested me the most today was one that had both Newt Gingrich, the former Speaker of the House of Representatives, and either the CEO or the President of Concerned Women for America (sorry I did not catch her name, I was driving). What interested me was the struggle they had in defending him. Both commented that his remarks were crude. They both also agreed that A & E was well within its rights to suspend him. But, they argued that A & E should not have. The reasoning was interesting. Being politically conservative, they were both in the quandary of having to support the rights of a private entertainment company to dismiss an employee simply because they did not like his non-work remarks. Thus, they were forced to argue that it is not a good policy for a company to remove an employee simply for expressing views that are common in much of Evangelical America. But, they again agreed that there was no violation of First Amendment rights, since First Amendment rights do not apply to a private business.
Since I believe in workers’ rights, I have no problem defending Phil Robertson. The guy spoke in a fully inappropriate way. He spoke the typical self-serving cant of the person who argues that blacks were happy in the good old days. His form of addressing sin was unnecessarily crude, as was acknowledged by both Gingrich and the CWA. But, no employee should be able to be dismissed based on what he or she does in a non-work environment, unless it is illegal. If we do not adopt that attitude, it would be all to easy for someone to be dismissed for being an outspoken Christian, or for someone to be dismissed for being an anti-abortion activist. So, I defend Phil Robertson because I do not believe that businesses should have the false rights that they used to have in the 19th century, before the advent of workers’ rights.
But, that is not why I am writing this post. You see, Pope Francis was brought up during the discussion and suddenly the mood changed. You could hear everyone sort of relax and the tone of the conversation changed. And yet, everyone acknowledged that Pope Francis held the view that homosexual relations are not in accord with Holy Tradition. But, they also said that the way in which Pope Francis addressed the issue was incredibly loving and appropriate. Frankly, I suffered mental whiplash while I heard how the previously angry people suddenly turned into an old-fashioned 1960’s hippy love in. But, it did point out something to me.
Pope Francis has been behaving in ways that have the whole world looking at him. I do suspect that eventually he will make a decision that will not be approved by the media. But, here is what he has done correctly. Like Jesus, he has associated with the outcast of society while not condemning them. He has shown his love for all over and over in ways that are undeniable. He has communicated that God so loved the world that he sent His Son, and that therefore we must also love the world in the same way. He has not condoned sin, but neither has he spoken about sin in such a way that makes people committing that sin feel that there is no hope for them. It is true that Jesus spoke about fire and brimstone, but most of the times that he spoke fire and brimstone there was a context of the Pharisees and self-righteousness. In other words, fire and brimstone was almost always addressed to those supposedly within Israel while love was addressed to those who were not self-righteous. Sometimes they were grievous sinners, but sometimes they were believers who needed affirmation.
And I learned something from this exchange that was engineered by those who simply wanted to increase viewership of the program to which I was listening. There is a way to communicate God’s love that is different from the way it is supposedly being communicated by most of the Christian world. There is a way to faithfully hold on to Christian truth without also appearing to say that we tolerate untruth. Pope Francis is teaching me how to speak “the truth in love,” (Ephesians 4:15). And here is what I learned. I am one of those who needs to learn to communicate God’s love in such a way that it opens the door and encourages people to come in. In fact, I realized that I am sometimes more like Phil Robertson than I am like Pope Francis. And, I want to be more like Pope Francis.