Yesterday A&E Network announced its decision to suspend Phil Robertson over his comments regarding homosexuality in the latest issue of GQ. His comments, the biblical basis for them, and A&E’s reasoning for their actions have been well chronicled elsewhere, so I will not review any of that here.
Instead, I want to focus on a line of thinking that I have begun to hear in the Christian blogosphere as this story is analyzed. Quite appropriately, many cultural commentators are questioning the wisdom of Robertson’s choice to submit to an interview in GQ or even to participate in a show aired on A&E. In his blog this morning, Albert Mohler said:
Similarly, Phil Robertson would have served himself and his mission far better by declining to cooperate with GQ for a major interview. GQ is a “lifestyle” magazine for men, a rather sophisticated and worldly platform for the kind of writing Drew Magary produced in this interview. GQ is not looking for Sunday School material. Given the publicity the interview has now attracted, the magazine must be thrilled. Phil Robertson is likely less thrilled.
So, what was Phil Robertson’s mistake? Some would be quick to say his principle mistake was diving into the realm of secular media or even the larger marketplace of ideas. Christians who embrace this notion will point to this current controversy as one more reason to run and hide in a monastic “fortress” of solitude.” To do that would miss the point entirely.
We cannot run and hide. Jesus was known as a “friend of sinners” because he didn’t isolate himself from people who were desperately lost in sin. In John 17:15-21, He prayed that we wouldn’t be either when He said:
I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth. “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.
Phil Robertson’s mistake is relying on a medium that presents an illusion as reality. Clearly, he has never shared values with A&E. The marriage between the Robertson’s and A&E has surely been an uneasy peace predicated on mutual benefit, but the show’s producers (and ultimately A&E) have controlled what we have come to know about the Robertsons, and what we have come to know is clearly not real. It is the product of editing, staging, and marketing.
I have studied media literacy and commented on the influence of media on young people for more than 15 years, and what I can say for certain is this is just one more example of the unreality of reality television. In the past, Robertson has spoken in interviews about the struggle to keep prayers in the shows and to represent his faith accurately on the show. Ultimately, this is because reality television is designed to take recorded moments of someone’s real life and to arrange them in a way that tells a story that reflects the show’s creators purposes (profit, popularity, personal biases, perspective, etc.)
At this point, our mistake would be to blur the line between fantasy and reality. Ultimately, the people that we see on television really aren’t the Robertsons, and we would do well to remember that as we are entertained by their show and as we react to this event.
I have appreciated the way the Robertson family has used their platform for Christ. I pray that they will use this opportunity equally well.
But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic[b] either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them. – Luke 6:27-31
What do you think? Keep the conversation going by commenting here or by replying @rick_morton