Duck Taping Our Mouths: free speech, Phil Robertson, Jesus, and gay sex

I watch Duck Dynasty. I know that it is painfully scripted, and my kids will have no part of it, but Vanessa and I will often turn it on for a couple of silly laughs. I find Duck Dynasty amusing.

I’m also amused by the people who take Duck Dynasty way too seriously.

You know who they are. They are the ones sporting the Duck Dynasty gear they picked up at Walmart. They are the ones who post on Facebook about how members of the Robertson clan should run for President. And they are the ones freaking out about the latest controversy over Phil’s comments in GQ.  


phil.001I have many thoughts about all of this. Here are a few of them.

My first reaction is “Ugh. Here we go again.” I think that the Chickfila controversy a year ago was emotionally and spiritually taxing for many of us. Out of nowhere, we were thrust into a delicate and complicated conversation. We were forced to navigate the tricky path that led to people sizing each other up and taking sides. The volume and vitriol was overwhelming. And it’s happening again.

Second, I can’t help but wonder why anyone is surprised or in an uproar about any of this. Did we not already know that Phil Robertson held traditional views about sexuality and marriage? Is it a surprise to anyone that a self-professed redneck from rural Louisiana would have an unsophisticated understanding of the African-American experience?

And what is A&E supposed to do? The suits in New York City had to know something like this was coming. They had to know that it would put them in a tough spot with some of their advertisers. And they also had to handle it like they did when Dog the Bounty Hunter dropped the n-word.

Part of me just wants to say, “Carry on. Nothing to see here.”

But that isn’t actually the case. There is much to see … and read. All of those Facebook statuses. All of those Tweets. All of those blog posts. And reactions. And news segments.


As I’ve tried to step back and observe it all over the past couple of days and reflected more on this controversy, there is one thought that has crystallized in my mind. Here it is.

Christians don’t have free speech.

Much of the reaction to Phil Roberston’s comments has been centered on his freedom of speech: Was it violated by A&E? Is there a double standard when it comes to free speech for conservatives and progressives? Why does it seem like anyone can say anything they want except a Christian espousing a traditional view of sexuality or marriage?

These are the kinds of reactions that are dominating my Facebook newsfeed.

This seems to me to be just the latest example of Christians in America putting political values ahead of the values of God’s kingdom. Many are bowing at the idol of free speech, thinking that it is some unquestionably important privilege.


And yet, in a twist of irony, the very same Christians who want to appeal to the Bible as the authority for how a culture ought to define sexual mores seem to be completely ignoring what the Bible has to say about what we say and how we say it.

As an American, I have free speech. As a Christian, I do not.

The Constitution might give me the right to say anything I want, anytime I want, any way I want. But God does not.

If I am going to follow Jesus and take the Bible seriously, I have got to relinquish my cultural expectations of privilege and freedom and begin to live differently.


Let me give you an example.

Phil Robertson and other “Bible-believing” Christians point to passages like 1 Corinthians 6 to condemn the homosexual behavior they believe to be sinful. When confronted with someone who disagrees, they will say things like “this is just what the Bible clearly teaches.”

But doesn’t the Bible also “clearly teach” that Christians should not even speak of the deeds done in darkness by disobedient people? That’s the clear teaching of Ephesians 5.12, isn’t it? So … when Phil Robertson talks crudely about his sexual preferences and cavalierly uses terms like “vagina” and “anus,” isn’t he disobeying the clear teaching of Ephesians 5.12?

If the Bible is what we have been told it is, the owner’s manual for life, why is Phil Robertson picking and choosing which verses to obey and which to ignore? And why are the Bible thumping Christians on Facebook giving him a pass in doing so while in the same breath condemning LGBT people?


Free speech may be an American value, but it is not a Christian value. The Bible does not teach that people can just go around saying anything they want, anytime they want, anyway they want. These are the kinds of things that Bible says about what we say, how we say it, and when we say it.

  • The lips of the righteous know what is fitting to say. Proverbs 10.31
  • A gentle answer turns away wrath but a harsh word stirs up anger. Proverbs 15.1
  • Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue. Proverbs 17.28
  • He who guards his mouth and his tongue keeps himself from calamity. Proverbs 21.23
  • Jesus said, “All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond that comes from the evil one. Matthew 5.37
  • Jesus said, “The things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them.” Matthew 15.18
  • Speak the truth in love. Ephesians 4.15
  • Let your conversation always be full of grace, seasoned with salt. Colossians 4.6
  • My dear friends, take note of this, everyone should be quick to listen and slow to speak. James 1.19

That doesn’t sound like free speech, does it?

Just because you think something, doesn’t mean you have to say it. Just because you’re asked a question, doesn’t mean you have to answer it. Just because you have an opinion, doesn’t mean you have to share it. Just because you feel a certain way, doesn’t mean your feelings have to determine your choice of words.

When Christians puff out their chests and demand that they can say anything they want, anytime they want, any way they want … and without consequences … and they base it on their Constitutional right to free speech, they may very well be missing the point of the gospel.

Maybe there is something more important going on in the world than the preservation of our American values. Maybe it’s the kingdom of God.


Here’s the thing. And this is important for those of us who are followers of Jesus to really grasp.

Jesus taught much more about what and how we communicate than he ever did about gay sex. I wish the same could be said of Phil Robertson.


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