The A&E backtrack on Phil Robertson’s suspension from the hugely popular Duck Dynasty reality show may be an important watershed in the cultural and political battle for publicly visible Christianity in America.
If one were to spend most of one’s time in a public school and watching television, one would think America is an atheistic state. The push to suppress public expressions of Christianity has been moving forward aggressively for decades. We are left with what Richard John Neuhaus called a “naked public square,” a community life scrubbed of any embodiment of the Christian faith that characterizes, unites, and sustains many communities.
In 1962, Engel v. Vitale banned school-sanctioned prayer in public schools. The legal battle has continued since then to purge schools of all faithful recognition of Christian religion. Fearful administrators have even disciplined students for private prayer. Curriculum presents Christianity as either evil or strange. If professors at public universities want to keep their jobs, they must speak of the universe as though there were no God. Many have sued to remove Nativity scenes at Christmas and the public posting of the Ten Commandments from public property.
Christianity has long been unofficially banned from public presentation in dramatic productions, unless, of course, the depiction is unflattering or a distinctly ethnic practice of the faith, making it safely not an option for most people. When Christians step onto the public stage, they must be sure to wear their cultural burka. They can appear, but not as Christians per se. They must keep their faith private and disguised. A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965) could not be made today. The only reason ABC broadcasts it now is because it’s an old classic and it draws a big audience.
Even the Duck Dynasty folks have been extremely limited in what they can present to their approximately 12 million viewers. They had to fight to be able to mention Jesus … sometimes … in their dinnertime prayer at the end of each show. Church shows up on occasion, but it is not shown as central to their lives.
So when the homosexual advocacy group GLAAD got Phil Robertson indefinitely suspended from the show merely for expressing in an interview what the Bible teaches and what all orthodox Christians believe regarding the moral character and eternal consequences of unrepentant homosexual behavior, millions of people who enjoy the show and admire the family said no to this bullying. They recognized it as an attack on every Christian who might speak openly of anything scandalous in the message of the cross. As Eric Teetsel put it, “We are all Phil Robertsons.”
This colossal head-butting should alert Christians who simply let the Bible speak that these protestations of “hurt” and “offense” are tactical attempts of the darkness to overcome the light of Christ (John 1:5, 3:19). It should embolden Christians—in and out of the pulpit—to preach faithfully but winsomely not ourselves, but Jesus as Lord (2 Corinthians 4:4-6).