A Persecution Primer

The recent Phil Robertson controversy surely qualifies as a classic, textbook study on persecution. As the patriarch of the hit Reality-TV series Duck Dynasty, Phil heads a Christian family that gathers to pray “in Jesus’ name” at the end of each show, often sprinkling Bible quotes in riotous, Louisiana-twanged dialogue (“Y’all see what ahm sayin’ now?”). It is a phenomenon, as GQ Magazine put it: “How in the world did a family of squirrel-eating, Bible-thumping, catchphrase-spouting duck hunters become the biggest TV stars in America?” The show “has become the biggest reality-TV hit in the history of cable television,” GQ says, with “14 million Americans who Nielsen says tune in to Duck Dynasty every week—over 2 million more than the audience for the Breaking Bad finale.”

The “Bible-thumper” touched off a scandal that was so widely-reported and well-documented, it became a national showcase (for those who care) of how spiritual persecution unfolds, how to react, and especially how it should be met with joy, as James puts it:

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. James 1:2-3

Or as Peter says, with the authority of a life of persecution:

There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you have to endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine.
1 Peter 1:6

If “trials will show that your faith is genuine,” then Robertson’s faith is apparently quite genuine. Despite widespread headlines howling pejoratives at him, Phil never wavered in his convictions (yet he acknowledged his comments were not eloquently-phrased). Even the GQ writer—who did his best to disgrace Robertson’s faith—still had to admire him: “That refusal to betray their faith or one another has been a staple of every media article about the Robertson family.”

Twisted Gigolo’s Quarterly

carousel-currentIssueWhy Phil ever let a GQ reporter inside his family home is mystifying. I presume Phil was beguiled by the misnomer “Gentleman’s Quarterly”, which should be “Gigolo’s Quarterly,” if you know what I mean (as Phil says). Phil is not culturally-savvy.

Drew Magary, the GQ reporter, threw some pretentious historical expertise into the article, declaring that Jesus launched a religious movement with “centuries upon centuries of war, bloodshed, and human enslavement committed in the name of Christ.” Obviously the reporter was less-than-objective, and GQ is less-than-friendly towards Jesus People to stick JC with such a brain-dead rap.

Apparently Magary or anyone at GQ never read what JC actually taught, because I’m pretty sure he said to “love your enemies,” which is truly not conducive to “war, bloodshed and human enslavement.” Magary is politically naïve enough to be unaware how politicians lie and often hijack popular movements for their own greed. Rather than condemn the hijackers twisting JC’s record, he cooperates with the bloodthirsty history of European monarchs by tying JC to their greedy agendas. Thanks, Drew. Glad you cleared that up for us!

It isn’t strictly GQ’s or Magary’s fault, because it is popular to slander Jesus these days by drowning his Word in the bloody history of pretenders and hijackers.

One fact ignored by this popular myth is the relatively short duration of such hijacks, because it is impossible to suppress how JC taught the exact opposite of “war, bloodshed and human enslavement…” The plantation masters wielded that cross for maybe less than a century, and truly among a vast minority of listeners—few above the Mason-Dixon line were fooled—only those already predisposed towards any excuse for slavery.

Evil popes killed and massacred by the cross, but soon lost their European following. The truth prevailed—JC taught against their tyranny. (See the PBS special, “Battle for the Bible” for the true history of how the Bible released people from European tyranny.)

It should be noted that nobody nowhere today uses JC as an excuse for “war, bloodshed and enslavement,” simply because the Bible undermines those obscene claims.

“Oh, but you can twist the Bible to mean anything you want!” claims the Christian myth. If so, why are those bloody, preposterous claims that JC supports bloodshed and slavery so difficult to sustain? Where are the Christian “holy wars” and slaves in the world today?

According to Jesus, “The Spirit of the LORD is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free.” (Luke 4:18) It is not an obscure fact that JC was willingly crucified, saying, “Father, forgive them,” which seems highly incompatible with a war-monger’s crusade.

The first phase of spiritual persecution is always deception and distortion, like the twisted historical survey published in GQ magazine. At the beginning of Christian persecution, Rome claimed Christians practiced incest, cannibalism, and they torched the capitol city—and we at NeoXenos saw the same nonsense hurled at us in 2010 by an Akron reporter who was manipulated into writing about our midnight graveyard ceremonies, replete with animal sacrifice!

An objective report in GQ would not ignore the overwhelming presence of orphanages, hospitals, and large-scale charities in Christian history in favor of a few blood-thirsty crazies hijacking the Christian name.

Mass Hysteria

The GQ reporter’s willingness to distort the Jesus story casts a shadow over his report, especially where he seems confused. Phil hates homosexuals, as everyone knows since all hell broke loose after its publication, when A&E suspended Phil and a mob of mass media giants roasted Phil’s homophobia—headline news from East to West coast, spanning TV, radio and print publications.

But the GQ story also quotes Phil as saying, “We never, ever judge someone on who’s going to heaven, hell. That’s the Almighty’s job. We just love ’em, give ’em the good news about Jesus—whether they’re homosexuals, drunks, terrorists. We let God sort ’em out later, you see what I’m saying?”

A good reporter would surely ask why the apparent contradiction—does Phil “hate them there homos” or “just love ‘em”? Did the reporter report or distort?

GQ also carefully depicts Phil as a hypocrite, calling for others to “just be repentant, turn to God, and let’s get on with it,” but unwilling to repent himself: “I didn’t dredge anything back up. I just put it behind me,” Phil said of his own dark past. No repentance necessary for Phil—it just doesn’t square with everything else Phil has publically said and written about himself.

The reporter never noticed he lost objectivity. He claims at the Robinson home there’s, “No cities. No buildings. No highways. Oh, and no sinners, too.” Yet he contaminates his own picture:

And they are remarkably honest both with one another and with the viewing audience: Phil’s old hell-raising, Si’s traumatic stint in Vietnam, the intervention that the family staged for Jep when he was boozing and doing drugs in college.

Are there no editors at GQ? How can a family with “no sinners” be so “remarkably honest” about their sinful lives? (Boozing? Drugs? Hell raising? Hello?) Surely someone at GQ is paid to catch these and other glaring errors in this report, like complaining how much “Phil proselytizes” after the reporter asks him, “What is sin? …What is repentance?” But it seems GQ was in a rush to pour out judgment—or print it.

Deceit and distortion is followed by energized hysteria in spiritual persecution, where objectivity is torched by inflamed fears, and rational minds become Jell-o, molded by invisible hands. Such was the rapid, brain-dead, media frenzy swirling around Phil once GQ declared judgment.

The Disney-owned A&E Network happily raked in millions through Duck Dynasty episodes until homophobic hysteria denounced the Robertsons for not sharing in the network’s strong support for Gay sex. Phil was put “on hiatus from filming indefinitely” because:

“His personal views in no way reflect those of A&E Networks, who have always been strong supporters and champions of the LGBT community,” a network spokesman said.

A&E Networks got bushwhacked by Louisiana rednecks? Hello? Even the GQ reporter had enough savvy to admit, “Okay, so perhaps it’s not exactly shocking that a deeply religious 67-year-old hunter from rural Louisiana would have, shall we say, enthusiastic ideas about what constitutes good Christian morality.”

No, this report was not newsworthy. Yet somehow it made top-billing at ABC News (also Disney-owned) for a week, where more slander was thrown at Phil. The story morphed into a tale about how Phil equates homosexuality with terrorism (untrue), and bestiality (also untrue), and then how he “revealed himself as bigoted ignoramus…see also his views on pre-Civil Rights Movement happy darkies” (at NPR—definitely not his words), and other slanderous stories.

ABC News showed Phil reading from Romans 1, attributing the words to his personal opinion, which Diane Sawyer claimed was tainted by his “anachronistic interpretation of the Bible.” Yet he merely read word-for-word from the Bible itself. (ABC News later got it right: see “All I Did Was Quote From the Scriptures”.)

Even Cracker Barrel joined the fray, dropping Duck Dynasty merchandise to punish Phil.

Righteous Response

Through all this maltreatment, Phil and the Robertson clan maintained their cool, apologizing where possible, and proclaiming the love and grace of Jesus Christ, according to the Daily Mail:

I love all men and women. I am a lover of humanity, not a hater. … I have been immoral, drunk, high. I ran with the wicked people for 28 years and I have run with the Jesus people since and the contrast is astounding.

Phil went on to be clear he was not on a self-righteous kick, saying, “I tell people, ‘You are a sinner, we all are.”

During the burn, the GQ reporter found himself drawn into something beautiful and sweet in the lives of those he was persecuting:

He is welcoming and gracious. He is a man who preaches the gospel of the outdoors and, to my great envy, practices what he preaches…Whatever you think of Phil’s beliefs, it’s hard not to gaze upon his cultivations and wonder if you’ve gotten life all wrong.

As the smoke cleared, it became evident that Phil was not the homophobic hater he was made out to be. Millions of supporters complained to A&E Networks, and boycotts of Disney Corp and A&E were getting organized on Change.org and Facebook.

NPR.org began questioning the wisdom of A&E Network, asking:

it seems vanishingly unlikely that A&E has filmed Phil for 50 episodes and didn’t know he felt this way…Is Phil’s punishment for what he thinks?

And the Atlantic Monthly came out with a criticism of the critics::

Cue the outrage by gay advocacy groups. Cue the announcement of an indefinite suspension by A&E, the network that produces Duck Dynasty. Cue conservative charges of anti-Christian intolerance. So predictable. But Robertson’s comments aren’t all that shocking. A broad swath of Americans—about 45 percent, according to Pew Research—agree with Robertson that homosexual behavior is “sin,” though they might not have expressed their beliefs in such a brash way.

Suddenly it all changed, and A&E rescinded its “hiatus” for Phil, and Cracker Barrel apologized to its clientele, acknowledging they also over-reacted. It was all driven by hysteria and unchecked misinformation. It works as Peter first observed:

Be careful to live properly among your unbelieving neighbors. Then even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will give honor to God when he judges the world. 1 Peter 2:12

So it ends with spiritual persecution: if Christians keep their cool, the mass hysteria and disinformation dissipates by its own flimsiness. In the end, the Christian Gospel gets told and retold, with considerable fanfare. Even the GQ reporter put in a plug for the Gospel, quoting Phil:

If you simply put your faith in Jesus coming down in flesh, through a human being, God becoming flesh living on the earth, dying on the cross for the sins of the world, being buried, and being raised from the dead—yours and mine and everybody else’s problems will be solved. And the next time we see you, we will say: ‘You are now a brother. Our brother.’ So then we look at you totally different then. See what I’m saying?

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