Duck Dynasty, defrockings, and free speech

mm-logoby Shane Raynor

schaeferduckThere are two big stories blowing up on social media right now, both related to homosexuality and same-sex marriage. The most widely discussed one involves the star of the popular A&E reality showDuck Dynasty, Phil Robertson. In aninterview with GQ, Phil made some controversial remarks about homosexuality and was suspended indefinitely by the network after complaints from GLAAD and related groups.

Frank Schaefer, a United Methodist pastor in Pennsylvania, was defrocked this morningby his conference Board of Ordained Ministry for performing a same sex marriage ceremony for his son. Schaefer was convicted in a church trial last month and had one month to decide whether he’d surrender his clergy credentials or agree to abide by United Methodist church law in its entirety. Schaeffer refused to do either one, so his credentials were stripped by the board.

Two guys are out of a job today for two totally different reasons. But it all comes back to the intense discussion around human sexuality in this country right now.

I’ve been watching the conversation on social media and on news websites since yesterday evening, and I’d like to offer a few observations:

  • Lots of people are defending Phil Robertson with the claim that his First Amendment right to free speech has been violated. That technically isn’t true. As far as we know, the government hasn’t censored him, and that’s what the First Amendment is all about: government suppression of free speech. We don’t know the details of Phil Robertson’s contract with A&E, but he’s considered a face of the network, and if A&E feels he’s damaging their brand with his public remarks, they’re probably within their rights to suspend or terminate him, however ill-advised that may be.
  • The essence of what Robertson said about homosexuality is not a fringe viewpoint within Christianity. It is mainstream. Many of us wouldn’t have chosen the words that Phil used, but his view that homosexual practice is unscriptural is not an archaic opinion from somewhere in right field. My own denomination, The United Methodist Church, hardly an ultra-conservative institution, officially teaches that homosexuality is “incompatible with Christian teaching” but it also acknowledges that “all persons are of sacred worth.” This is the position of many Christians, not just United Methodists.
  • Frank Schaefer performed a same sex marriage ceremony with the clear understanding that this is a chargeable offense in The United Methodist Church, and he knew he could be defrocked because of it. That’s a risk he took. I get that he was following his conscience, and I understand the rationale of those who disagree with the UMC’s position on this issue. But rightly or wrongly, when someone stands up for their beliefs or violates a law or rule in the spirit of civil disobedience, accepting the consequences is part of the package they sign up for. Schaefer could have been defrocked on the spot after the guilty verdict last month, but the jury generously offered him the opportunity to keep his credentials by agreeing not to violate the United Methodist Book of Discipline in the future. Schaefer refused, and now he is no longer an elder in full connection. No one should be outraged or surprised at this development.
  • As for Robertson, he had the right to say what he said, and the A&E Network had a right to suspend him for it. And the show’s viewers ultimately have the right to fire A&E if they want. That’s the way America works. It’s sad that so many special interest groups are using bullying tactics to silence opposing viewpoints, but ultimately the consumer decides whether or not to reward or punish companies and individuals who give in to such pressure. Unfortunately, our hypersensitive culture has created an atmosphere where many are afraid to speak freely about anything that might offend someone else. Essentially, the government hasn’t abridged our right to free speech—we have. Shame on us if we keep doing it.

Homosexuality will continue to be a controversial topic, especially within mainline Christianity. But if it’s going to be a real conversation, people who hold to the traditional Christian view of human sexuality are going to have get more involved in the discussion. Whether it’s from a fear of being perceived as mean and intolerant, or from a noble desire to avoid controversy and focus on positive things like spreading the Gospel, many of us have allowed one side of the debate to control the narrative. As a result, the dividing lines between personal identity and sexual practice have become largely nonexistent in many people’s minds.

If the church is going to say that something is wrong, we need to be ready to show people a better way. But if our words aren’t full of love and backed up by the power of God, we’re not offering hope to those who consider themselves part of the gay community, we’re offering condemnation and despair. And that’s not what the Gospel is about.

Shane Raynor is an editor at Ministry Matters and the series editor for Converge Bible Studies from Abingdon Press. He has also contributed to Circuit Rider, Good News, Outreach, The Daily Caller, and Red Letter Christians. He lives in Nashville, TN.

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  1. Umm, Mr. Phil also mentioned how happy blacks were to be oppressed. Let’s get the whole story out there. And I would argue that the UMC denomination is tilting to the right farther and farther, even if the western jurisdiction and our progressive views get the headlines. JUst look at the composition of the GC and you’ll see where the majority fall.

    • I believe the article said that the people he worked with were not unhappy. I feel his point was how he was side-by-side with people. “Oppression” wasn’t mentioned, just their sense of life.

      • Yes, black people were happy as larks in North Louisiana during Jim Crow. Especially when they weren’t being lynched. Especially if they weren’t one of the civil rights workers murdered or one of the little children killed in Birmingham. A nice carefree era. Who wouldn’t be happy. If those “outside agitators” had just kept their nose out of Louisiana’s business, the good old days would have continued.

    • Tom Shepherd says:

      Let’s be clear on that. He was talking from his own context of being “white trash” (sic) in the 1950’s South and his experience of it. I do se the “larger picture” that certainly oppression is not a joyful experience, but at the same time, I can accept someone’s personal narriative with out rushing in to enforce my point of view. IMO, this is part of the basic problem in this ever widing rift…

  2. Gary Bebop says:

    “But if it’s going to be a real conversation, people who hold to the traditional Christian view of human sexuality are going to have get more involved in the discussion. ”

    Shane expresses my thoughts exactly. “Real conversation” is what we are not having. Some fine theological minds are sitting this one out, perhaps due to CRAVEN FEAR OF INTIMIDATION WITHIN THE UMC. One has to wonder. The church is imperiled. Why is this struggle being left to be worked out in the confidential toil of church trial processes? Our best representatives of the biblical tradition need to speak into this one-sided public conversation.

  3. I agree.
    We as a body are going to have to become better apologists for our faith.
    We have an obligation to study and express why we stand where we stand.
    The UMC’s official position on homosexuality is the right position to hold and should be defended, upheld, taught and enforced.
    We should not be ashamed of the positions we hold when they are based on sound biblical teaching.

    Robertson is a perfect example of “How not to defend the faith”.
    Former Pastor Frank Schaefer’s explanation as to why he holds the views he holds( expressed on CNN) was a pathetic use of biblical text. Anyone trained in the faith could have a field day discrediting his comments with little effort.

    It’s true this issue is not going to go away.
    Marriage, who should and should not be permitted to marry, promiscuity, polygamy and any and all issues related to sin are now on the table for discussion. They are in the news. Traditional positions are being challenged and the church must be prepared to answer the why’s of our beliefs and practices. The church should be able to explain the historical record related to marriage and the profound effect tampering with marriage laws have on society.
    The church needs to study and learn more about the homosexual community and what they are promoting and practicing. The things they do not want to talk about.

    I don’t think the Christian Church will die.
    The Roman Catholic Church has held, taught and practiced the same traditions for centuries and they are still around and still the largest body of Christians world wide. They have been teaching the same thing for centuries and they do not bend to secular demand.
    Protestant Churches can learn from their example.

    Ministry really does Matter and what we practice and do really has far reaching, long term consequence. Ministry Matters.

  4. I am now an “ex-United Methodist” since I have just resigned my membership because of the denomination’s position on homosexuality and its persecution of Reverend Shaefer. Although my own congregation has been exemplary in its acceptance of gay people–explicitly denouncing the claim in the BoD that homosexuality is incompatible with Christianity and performing blessings for same-sex couples and, in the near future, two same-sex wedding, I can no long be a member of a denomination that is guided by a belief system akin to that of an ignorant, backwater, North Louisiana hillbilly. As Shane Raynor points out, the UMC believes the very same thing that Phil Robertson does. Nice company we keep.

    • ” I can no long be a member of a denomination that is guided by a belief system akin to that of an ignorant, backwater, North Louisiana hillbilly”

      And here we see the “loving” “tolerance” of the left.

  5. The church leaders have failed the human race by not keeping up with science. Its a fact that D.N.A decides what a person is going to be ie.,Boy or Girl,or girl in boy body,boy in girl body. The majority of educated humans are aware of this fact. Its a shame we have to live in a world of idiots . Like the president of Russia.

    • “The church leaders have failed the human race by not keeping up with science. Its a fact that D.N.A decides what a person is going to be”

      Then you’ll have no problem linking to the appropriate peer-reviewed paper that identifies the “gay gene.”

      I’ll be waiting.

  6. MethodistPie says:

    Running for the highest office in the land, just five years ago, both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton voiced opinions essentially identical to the current United Methodist position on homosexuality.

    • This is not true. Neither Hillary Clinton nor Barack Obama said that homosexuality is incompatible with Christianity, an absurd idea.

      • MethodistPie says:

        Neither Democratic candidate supported same-sex marriage.

        • And both now do. Your point? In 1860, a Republican candidate for President was opposed to slavery and a Democratic candidate was opposed to the abolition of slavery. What was the Methodist position?

          • MethodistPie says:

            My point is this: If you weren’t calling Obama and Clinton homophobic bigots then (and I don’t remember that many were), perhaps its not fair to characterize others who have not “evolved” over the past five years in such terms.

  7. This DuckDynasty patriarch is a freak show, but a dangerous one, a Fred Phelps with a national television show. I just viewed a YouTube video from 2010 in which Robertson says gay people are evil murderers. He speaks of gay men and lesbians the way Jews were spoken of in 1930s Germany. I originally thought the man was just an ignorant hillbilly, but now I think in addition to being ignorant, he is dangerous. The video may be found here:

    Is this really the person the UMC wants to be identified with? Is the kind of love and tolerance the right embraces? Is this the kind of “free speech” the right wants to endorse? If so, I am glad to no longer be associated with this denomination.

  8. Nolen Holcomb says:

    From a life time of struggling for social justice gleaned from the New Testament, I have found it difficult-to-impossible to have a rational conversation with people who’s condemnatory language and rejection of my personhood controls their point of discussion.

Your thoughts?

The United Methodist Reporter wants to encourage lively conversation about The United Methodist Church and our articles in the belief that Christian conversation (what Wesley would call conferencing) is a means of grace. While we support passionate debate, we cannot allow language that demeans or demonizes others, and we reserve the right to delete any comment we believe to be harmful or inappropriate. We encourage all to remember that we are all broken and in need of Christ's grace, and that we all see through the glass darkly until that time we when reach full perfection in love. May your speech here be tempered with love, and reflection of the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. After all, "There is no law against things like this." (Galatians 5:22-23)


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