The recent conflict between Phil Robertson, the patriarch of the TV show “Duck Dynasty”, the Arts and Entertainment TV channel, and GLAAD (known until 2013 as the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) shines a light on what “tolerance” is and isn’t.
“Seek to understand before you are understood” is a good place to begin. Does GLAAD really understand what Phil Robertson meant? He is quoted in a GQ magazine interview lamenting that when “everything is blurred on what’s right and what’s wrong … sin becomes fine.” So just what qualifies as sin in his book? “Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there — bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men,” he declared.
GLAAD not only cried foul but demanded A&E remove Phil from the TV show because of his intolerance toward the LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning) community. He was quoted as comparing homosexuality to bestiality and grouping gay people with “drunks” and “terrorists”.
In truth, Phil did not make a comparison. He included homosexuality in a pretty broad list of sins found in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 NLT “Don’t you realize that those who do wrong will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Don’t fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people—none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God.” Phil did not base his remarks about homosexuality in his opinion. He quoted God saying it is wrong.
Despite Phil’s strong words, however, he insists he’s a Christian who doesn’t condemn others — even if they are “sinners” in his mind. “We never, ever judge someone on who’s going to heaven, hell. That’s the Almighty’s job,” he told the magazine. “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?”
Phil is saying he is being tolerant, not judgmental. GLAAD interpreted his comments in an entirely different way; judgmental and intolerant.
Does Phil Robertson really understand what GLAAD meant? GLAAD indicates Phil’s words are both hurtful and harmful to a large segment of society. Such words are often seen as a springboard from which the religious right seeks to deny those in the LGBTQ community the same legal and relational rights enjoyed by the straight community.
Rob Renfroe, a United Methodist pastor in Texas asks, “Do we really ‘do harm’ by stating that the Bible does not affirm same sex relations? Does it truly follow that you cannot speak against a practice without demeaning a person’s worth? If so, we would never be able to teach that the Scriptures condemn pride, greed, or adultery.”
Josh McDowell observes how in the past 10 or 20 years, the meaning of tolerance has changed drastically. The traditional dictionary definition was “to recognize and respect others’ beliefs, practices, etc. without necessarily agreeing or sympathizing” with them. In other words, everyone has a right to his opinion. Today’s tolerance means to consider every individual’s beliefs, values, lifestyles, and truth‑claims as equally valid. All values are equal. All lifestyles are equal. All truth‑claims are equal. The new tolerance goes beyond respecting a person’s rights. It demands praise and endorsement of that person’s beliefs, values, and lifestyle. Those who refuse to be reeducated are labeled bigots, i.e. “stubborn and complete intolerance of any creed, belief, or opinion that differs from one’s own”. Phil’s comments about GLBTQ reflect the traditional understanding of tolerance whereas GLAAD’s comments about Phil Robertson represent the new interpretation.
Bless Phil Robertson, A&E, and GLAAD. Together they gave the country another opportunity to decide what tolerance is and should be. They have encouraged thoughtful caring people to contemplate what really constitutes a rich and satisfying life across the span of years. The conclusion society makes today will impact generations. It is wise to include the words of God and the teaching of those saints who lived before us in our deliberations. May we love enough to seek to understand before trying to be understood.