The recent suspension of “Duck Dynasty” star Phil Robertson is the latest high profile instance of the ironic phenomenon of left wing fundamentalism in the guise of tolerance.
So-called fundamentalist Christians have long been the object of scorn for their narrow minded attitudes and self-righteous treatment of those with whom they disagree. It is the deepest of ironies that those on the left who detest fundamentalists mimic them so exactly when they have the power to do so.
Robertson was suspended for expressing in an interview with GQ his view that homosexual behavior is sinful and is the sort of thing that will keep you out of the Kingdom of God. Robertson, of course, was merely paraphrasing what St Paul said in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 when he stated: “Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers—they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right.”
Granted, Robertson is not the most theologically or intellectually sophisticated spokesman for conservative Christianity. He did not nuance his views in the interview the way a theologian or philosopher might. Still, the fact remains that it is a common view among orthodox Christians and other traditional theistic religions that homosexual behavior is sinful, and like any sin, if not repented of, will keep us out of the Kingdom of God.
Now here is one layer of the irony. In their statement about Robertson, A+E said the following: “His personal views in no way reflect those of A+E Networks, who have always been strong supporters and champions of the LGBT community.”
So notice: it is perfectly fine to be a “strong supporter” of a behavior that traditional religious believers have held to be sinful for millennia. One can express this view forthrightly and with conviction, with no fear of reprisal or negative consequences. But if you affirm traditional Christian morality, you will be silenced, suspended, forced to apologize and perhaps lose your job.
That’s liberal tolerance in power.
But there is more than irony here. There is something bordering on incoherence. There is an absolute sort of intolerance for anyone who does not subscribe to the liberal view of tolerance. No place is allowed for dissent or agreeing to disagree. No place is allowed to let Robertson express his convictions and let viewers of his show decide if they want to continue to watch it. No, the fundamentalists in power will not tolerate that. They have decided that his convictions amount to “gay bashing” and their convictions are absolute.
So it is fine for liberal fundamentalists to make strong moral judgments against the strong moral judgments of others. Sadly, they seem not even to notice the glaring inconsistency since they are in power and have the authority to execute their convictions.
One might think we are at least owed an explanation of the rationale for issuing the strong moral judgments they do while denying others the right to express their moral judgments. They might at least produce the credentials for the moral judgments they issue with such authority.
Traditional religious believers can appeal to the fact that the behaviors they view as sinful have been believed to be so by the vast majority of people in our cultural history for millennia on the grounds of what has been taken to be divine revelation. Contemporary fundamentalists of the left might at least offer us a rationale for their strong moral judgments they level against those who affirm more traditional moral judgments.
This leads us to an even more troubling aspect of this episode. Gay and lesbian rights organization GLAAD spokesman Wilson Cruz made this claim: “Phil and his family claim to be Christian, but Phil’s lies about an entire community fly in the face of what true Christians believe.”
Now it is one thing to exercise intolerance in the name of tolerance. It is another matter when you even presume to tell those with whom you disagree what they truly believe. It is one thing for fundamentalists of the left to dispute orthodox Christian teaching about sexuality, but it is another level of arrogance and presumption for them to re-define Christianity in terms they find acceptable and then to lecture Christians about “what true Christians believe.”
I saw this same phenomenon on a news show where a gay Jewish news analyst was condemning Robertson, and repeatedly suggesting he was not truly a Christian, since Christianity is really about tolerance, accepting other people and so on.
This is telling indeed. Perhaps sensing the arbitrary nature of their own moral judgments, fundamentalists of the left resort to appealing to their own version of Christianity in order to bolster the authority of those judgments.
To be sure, Christians can, and should, be challenged to be true to the convictions they claim to hold. Indeed, it is worth noting that Robertson also said the following to clarify his views: “However, I would never treat anyone with disrespect just because they are different from me. We are all created by the Almighty and like Him, I love all of humanity. We would all be better off if we loved God and loved each other.”
Christians are clearly required by their own faith to love and respect those with whom they disagree. Those who do not share their faith have every right to appeal to what Christians themselves claim as their commitments and to challenge them to be consistent with their convictions. But Christians have never believed that loving and respecting another person requires us to affirm all of his choices, or to deny that those choices may be sinful and can even lead to damnation.
So the issues at stake in the Duck Dynasty episode are at the heart of our current cultural conflict and confusion. Shall those who hold the worldview that has been held by the vast majority of Americans throughout its history continue to have the freedom not only to believe that worldview, but also to articulate and defend it in the public square? Indeed, shall they have the freedom to define their own beliefs in keeping with historic biblical and confessional standards?
Or shall traditional morality become a taboo subject in the public arena? And shall the Christian faith itself be given over for redefinition to those who do not share its commitments and convictions to promote their own moral and political agenda? All in the name of tolerance.