In a society in which tolerance is increasingly defined as the willingness to substitute “happy holidays” for “merry Christmas,” perhaps it was in inevitable that a TV show host is suspended for expressing his religious beliefs about homosexual behavior just days after the leader of a church holding that very doctrine is named Time magazine's “person of the year.”
But the seemingly disparate treatment of “Duck Dynasty” star Phil Robertson and Pope Francis is neither as inconsistent as it seems nor, as some conservatives have claimed, just the latest example of how orthodox Christians are losing their constitutionally protected freedoms of speech and religion.
It is, however, another indication of something just as serious: the degree to which yet another topic that should be respectfully debated is instead being subjected to the fascism of conformity and silence.
Just as serious discussion of racial issues and even President Obama's job performance is too often avoided for fear of being labeled a bigot, there is increasingly only one socially acceptable view of homosexuality and its corollary, same-sex marriage.
To be clear: Robertson expressed his viewpoint in an especially unfortunate and inflammatory way to GQ magazine. But the reaction to what Robertson said had less to do with his verbiage than with his belief that the Bible considers homosexual behavior one of many forms of sin.
“Hateful . . . discrimination” responded the gay and lesbian media advocacy group GLADD.
The First Amendment “shouldn't protect vile bigots” like Robertson, added Cable News Network's Piers Morgan.
But the right to say something should not be confused with the right to say it in somebody else's venue. If the A&E network no longer wants to show “Duck Dynasty” because of what Robertson said, it has every right to pull the plug despite the hypocrisy of having hired Robertson after his beliefs were well known and for continuing to air (and profit from) the show even after suspending him.
But that does not mean Robertson is not entitled to hold and state his personal beliefs – a reality lost on those who would silence him by caricaturing his beliefs as something they clearly are not.
Fortunately, that realization is beginning to dawn on gay-rights advocates who understand that minds are changed through honest conversation, not coercion.
“Utterly fascist, utterly Stalinist,” is how Lesbian feminist author Camile Paglia described efforts to silence Robertson. “This is not the mark of a true intellectual life. It's not just this monologue coming from fanatics who have displaced the religious beliefs of their parents into political movement. That is what happened to feminism, and that is what happened to gay activism.”
Added TMZ's gay editor Harvey Levin: “(What Robertson said) is not hate-based. It's religious. Misdirected, But it's his right.”
Exactly right. Christianity, at its root, is all about sin. What is Christmas all about, after all, but the birth of the savior sent to redeem a fallen world?
There are, obviously, some Christians who disagree with Robertson about homosexual behavior. But as Levin said, that hardly makes those who do agree “haters.” As Robertson himself pointed out, there are many forms of sin, and Scripture ultimately condemns us all. I know my wife and son are sinners, and so are all my friends. I love them all. I know my own sins most of all, many of them induced by heterosexuality, but I am not filled with self-loathing. That's the product of love, faith and forgiveness. No wonder so many people want to deny the true meaning of Christmas.
Pope Francis is no “hater,” either, and no doubt he was honored at least in part because of his clear commitment to the poor and the fact that some have construed his conciliatory “who am I to judge?” statements toward gays as a shift in church doctrine. It is not, and some of the same people praising him now no doubt will criticize him later when they discover that this pope, too, really is Catholic.
But the very different reactions to the pope and Robertson indicate the value of discretion and civility when discussing difficult topics. That willingness to disagree respectfully is necessary, because gays, the First Amendment and the Bible are not going away.
As all of this was happening, President Obama announced his intention to send two openly gay athletes to the forthcoming Olympics in Russia, apparently to challenge that country's ban on “gay propaganda.” It was hailed as a bold move but, for some reason, gay activists don't seem to be lining up to convert Muslim countries.
Maybe that's because Christians are still willing to turn the other cheek.