Oh sure, Christmas on the Kansas farm this year involved opening presents in the living room where Mom’s beautifully decorated flocked tree provided just the right ambiance for the interlude between our prime rib dinner and our favorite cheesecake to follow after the gifts were unwrapped. But the Weddle celebration this year also included a pretty mean airsoft war: capture the flag taken to the next level. Each team bolstered by rifles and pistols with plenty of ammunition plotted and planned developing strategies to steal the other team’s flag and return safely to a home base without being shot. Casualties of the game included a couple of bruised cheeks (despite the instructions to avoid aiming at people’s heads) and an awareness that even among family members, competition sometimes fosters dishonesty, the determination to win often stronger than the desire to be fair.
Still, it was all in good fun and I admit to not only enjoying and supporting this family pastime—seen by some, I suppose, as endorsing a violent gun culture—, but also to being slightly addicted to the now controversial A&E blockbuster, Duck Dynasty.
I suppose part of my attraction to the Dynasty crowd—beyond Si’s hilarious one-liners—is that there are several parallels between the rural lifestyle of the Robertson clan and my own bucolic experience. Especially familiar is the feeling of an encroaching culture that appears to challenge the revered “old fashioned” existence of the Robertsons or the Weddles or many any other rural families.
So, I think I have some idea of why so many people have rushed to offer their support to Phil Robertson in the wake of his comments about homosexuals. Robertson voiced a sentiment many rural Americans share, especially those with Evangelical commitments. And when the broader culture reacted negatively to Robertson’s religious views, those who feel “at war” with American culture were quick to step into the fray, feeling themselves to be the target of an encroaching cultural view different from their own.
While Robertson and those who agree with him certainly are entitled to these opinions even as they are not entitled to having them endorsed by the government or even the broader American culture in which they are constructed, I am not convinced these views actually reflect the Biblical message Robertson and others claim. Especially in this season of Christmas and Epiphany, I think listening to the Bible stories might warrant revisiting these stark claims about what God may or may not think about various groups of people.
If we take seriously, for example, the story in Matthew’s gospel of Mary and Joseph fleeing to Egypt to protect their infant son from the cruel Herod’s decree, then we must understand how this baby Jesus—the refugee Jesus—calls us to consider the plight of those enduring political oppression. We need to think deeply about our role as Christians in America and as part of a web that uses power to oppress various groups of people. If the divine entered our world as a refugee does that somehow say something about our response to other refugees, our responsibility to them and/or to a government that may play a part in its own forms of oppression?
Too, I think about the baby Jesus representing the powerless. No infant is equipped to live without the help of others. Similarly, for God to meet us in the form of an infant, suggests to some degree our responsibility to care for and to embrace those who are without power in our current social context. To welcome the poor, to provide for the weak, to consider other people as more important than ourselves: these are some of the ideas that move us beyond simply seeing Jesus as a baby, meek and mild. To dismiss without thought the ways in which our government and our society have oppressed groups of people including our LGTBQ friends and a host of other minority groups, I think we have missed the message of a baby born in a manger.
The Bible is full of stories bringing to light how God is always on the side of the poor and the oppressed. When Christian culture argues—often very loudly as illustrated lately in the Duck Dynasty kerfuffle—that the broader culture needs to promote a certain worldview, I find this at odds with everything I read in the Bible and I have grave doubts that this is really what it means to be Christian.
I know Phil Robertson and those who agree with his perspective would say his words were intended to be loving and God-filled. But, when they are not experienced this way—and they certainly weren’t—then we need to step back and ask ourselves if there isn’t a better approach to share the love of Christ.
In a few days we will celebrate Epiphany, the story where wise people who have understood the world in a particular way take a very long journey where they discover an entirely different way of living. Perhaps this, too, can be our epiphany. Maybe this will be the year where we will learn from those who are immigrants and refugees, lesbians and transsexuals, ethnic minorities and women, that the infant Christ encourages us to see the world through another set of eyes and to consider how we can be hospitable, to truly welcome the stranger, and to be transformed by the experience.
I have heard Duck Dynasty is slated to continue with Phil at its helm and I will continue to watch the show, laughing at the many ways the Robertson’s illustrate a clash of cultures. But I will also remember that asserting one’s cultural supremacy has nothing to do the infant Christ, no matter who asserts that it does.