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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  • Joseph Yunik

    I am a Christian, and have been since 1968. I will agree with the article, we are to be careful with our speech. I am opposed to the homosexual lifestyle, but I love homosexuals as fellow human beings. All Phil had to do was answer the question he was asked, there was no need for vulgar language. The Bible is clear on how God ordained the man and woman relationship.

  • ChristiMadrid

    You made me think. Thanks! I’m going to share it on FB in hopes of starting a different thread of conversation that what is currently trending 🙂

  • Threedonia

    Under Grace we do have free speech. What we shouldn’t do is abuse the license. Whether Robertson did that or not is arguable.

    I also would reject the notion that “the truth in love” is always a gentle word. Jesus had some pretty harsh words at times; as did Paul, Nathan, and many others of His servants. As to your last part… Jesus also had a lot more to say about communication than He did murder or auto theft or any of a whole host of sins. And? That says nothing.

    Christians did not start this brouhaha — GLAAD did. Sure Robertson maybe should watch his words… though last time I checked “anus” and “vagina” are the clinical terms and not considered vulgar. The vulgar terms are heard or bleeped on a raft of other shows all across the dial — with nary a peep. No, when some speech is suppressed — whether by government or by boycott there is not free speech. Freedom of speech (or in this case too freedom of religion) is a byproduct of Judeo-Christian theology and worldview.

  • Truly well said. (No pun intended).

  • Sally Atwater

    Sorry but you just can’t go around bashing people. Predjudice is not acceptable and I for one am thrilled that people are standing up to say so. Who are you to say what is right or wrong? You don’t know anything more than anyone else. Faith is for everyone. Not just those that do or believe what you believe.

  • Robin Rues

    Threedonia, I think it has been pretty well proven that ‘Speaking truth in love’ without the context of a meaningful relationship is harmful. I believe, as Robb and others have preached, that hard truths do need to be spoken… within the context of meaningful relationship. In my opinion, this is one of the reasons Jesus talked so frequently about realationships. They are essential for accountability.

    Talking about ‘who started it’ is both childish and counterproductive. The facts are rather simple. Phil Robertson was not fired for being a Christan. He prayed to Jesus on every episode, for goodness’ sake. He was not even fired because he insinuated that homosexuality evolves into bestiality, and that black people were better off in the Jim Crow South.

    He was fired because he made public statements that made his employers look bad. This happens all the time. Look at Charlie Sheen.

    But ultimately, I think by debating the minutae of this issue, we are missing Robb’s point. If you know a gay person, and you have a deep and meaningful relationship with them, to the point that they trust and respect you, then by all means speak your heart to them. Otherwise, it will almost certainly come off as judgemental if not outright hateful. I think the passages that Robb posts here are intended to help us with this fundamental truth. The Bible tells us to be careful with our words.

    Not asks us. Tells us. Should not Phil follow that part of the Bible also?

    • Brandy Taylor

      If I could up vote this comment a hundred times I would.

  • Karen

    So sad that you obvioiusly dont know that as you have previously read, anus is a body part, not a bad word, now if we call it the slang, it would be profanity. Until the kardashians started to public yell VAJAYJAY and such people Did not speak of Vagina as a body part, no harm done. Would you rather he said the profanity word when asked in an interview, so be it. It is what it is. I side with Robertsons young and old. What have you contributed to the betterment of mankind. They project LOVE, Caring for one another, survival without breaking the bank( hunting) some day the politicians might issue another one of these breaking the economy and we who waste so much will be hungry and that family will have plenty. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Not a good idea to spread ugliness and be unkind. Go Phil.

  • Wesley Topping

    Just to be clear, freedom of speech only protects you from the Government punishing you for words you say. Not companies like A&E which have freedom of speech and are represented by their shows and the actors on those shows.
    As a christian you should also know you are asked to spread the word of Christ, as well as to decide when to be silent and when to speak. You are expected to partake in debates, and be open handed with your personal wealth living on as little as possible while giving as much as possible to those around you.


    Mr. Ryerse, your comments might suggest Christians speak quietly if at all. But if you apply your list of verses to Jesus Himself, you would notice that He violated your verses too by your standard. Consider these: the woman at the well where Jesus confronts her attempts at deception (John 4:17-18), or the Pharisees who promote their own “godliness” in John 8:43-47. You might have quoted Matthew 12:34 where Jesus points out that it’s what comes out
    of a man’s mouth that defiles him right after He tells them that they are evil and calls them “snakes.” You might like to see the followers of Jesus soften or even silence their voices, but even if they were to be silent, God would still speak, “And some of the Pharisees in the multitude said to Him, “Teacher, rebuke Your disciples.” {40} And He answered and said, “I tell you, if these become silent, the stones will cry out!”” (Luke 19:39-40). And, by His Word every man and woman will be judged. I’d rather sit under that judgment than yours or anyone else who might like to silence the truth. All humankind are sinners—you, me, Phil, all of us–some repentant, some not, some holy, some not. Jesus says to all, “I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. ….{5} “I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”” (Luke 13:4-5).

    Finally, you failed to include the entire thought in Ephesians 5. Here it is; “And do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, BUT INSTEAD EVEN EXPOSE THEM; {12} for it is a disgraceful even to speak of the things which are done by them in secret. {13} But all things become visible when they are exposed by the light, for everything that becomes visible is light.” Ephesians 5:11-13.

    • rryerse

      Thanks for sharing your perspective, Mike. I am curious about one thing – are you suggesting that there is a contradiction between Ephesians 5.11 and Ephesians 5.12?

      • MIKE LCSW

        The short answer is that shameful things must be confronted. But those who have to deal with them feel the shame of the behavior that is being exposed. For example, the courts often have to prosecute shameful behavior and those who are winesses will testify about the details. It’s shameful to have to go through the process but it is necessary to the prosecution of criminals, and in the process, the testimony justifies the sentences the court hands down. The longer answer is illustrated in 1 Corinthians 5 where a shameful sexual relationship was identified and exposed. the matter eventuated in the expulsion from the church of those involved. Paul even chastises the people in the church for priding themselves on their tolerance of the matter and laid out in no uncertain terms what their obligations to deal with the matter were—albeit shameful. Just because something is shameful to talk about does not mean it should not be addressed. Of course gossiping about it is an altogether different problem, and would be prohibited.

  • Sara

    First, I like coming to your blog and reading your thoughts on the controversial issues that arise in the media. You always make good points on both ends.

    I think though its sad that grace and tolerance seem to be only one directional in today’s society. If anyone that isn’t a politician speaks up against homosexuality in the media they are immediately fired, boycotted, called a bigot, and ignorant. However, homosexuality IS often gravely misunderstood by those that speak out against it. Those that speak out against homosexuality may find that speaking out against pride and self indulgence may actually be a better cause to fight in our society.

    It also makes me sad though that a few ill chosen words can apparently undo any good words, or good deeds in a persons life.He will always be branded by media as “the man that said…”

    I think the Christians that bank on the “freedom of speech” issue really are just more frustrated with the fact that society tolerates a lot of things but it doesn’t tolerate a Christian that publicly thinks that homosexuality is wrong. I read a great article by a homosexual man that talked about the very thing. He said the homosexual community demands grace and tolerance from those that disagree with them but often won’t give the same grace and tolerance to those very same people.

    It isn’t fair but God never told us believers that life would be fair we must give grace and tolerance to others and at the same time not expect any in return.

  • I like the way Jesus handled the wicked, “Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?” …Matthew 23:33