As most of the Internet-having world surely knows at this point, Phil Robertson, a star on A&E's reality show Duck Dynasty , was suspended from the show due to homophobic comments he made in an interview with GQ. The comments connected homosexuality with bestiality and referred to homosexuality as a "sin." And so there has been an unsurprising surge of outrage from Christians and conservatives saying that Robertson is being persecuted for his religious beliefs and for espousing "Christian values." Laying aside the fact that the First Amendment doesn't mention anyone's right to star on a television show, it's also worth mentioning that homophobia is not actually a Christian value.
Now, it's true there is a Biblical basis for Christians to oppose homosexuality, but is far from absolute. Jesus never once mentions homosexuality, and in general isn't overly concerned with sexual relationships. Homosexuality is referenced in some of the letters of Paul, more as part of a broader critique of pagan societies rather than as an issue that needs to be addressed on its own. And, of course, there's that overly quoted passage from Leviticus. And from these passages, Christians can certainly interpret the Bible as saying that God doesn't want people to be gay. But like most things involving the Bible, there are other perfectly valid interpretations.
Just think about it. The Catholic Church was once able to justify Christians owning property because Jesus owned his sandals. Is it really so hard to see Paul's message as a contemporary social critique instead of a moral absolute? Or to remember that the Book of Leviticus is a collection of laws no one follows anymore anyway? Unless maybe you want to go to hell for wearing a cotton-polyester blend (Leviticus 19:19). If we all followed the Bible to the letter, all women would cover their heads (1 Corinthians 11:7). Tattoos would be illegal and so would gold jewelry and expensive clothes (Levitiucs 19:28 and 1 Timothy 2:9). So that would mean a lot of people with Jesus tattoos and gold crosses aren't getting into heaven. Also if we're going to take a strict view of the whole Bible, Christians should probably be keeping Kosher. Just saying. Being opposed to gay people is about as Christian as being opposed to footballs because they're made from pigskin (Leviticus 11:8). You can interpret things that way, but you don't have to.
The truth is that homophobia, while it is engaged in by a large number of Christians who support it with Christian texts, is not a Christian value, not in a broad sense or in an absolute one. And this is evidenced by the fact that there are plenty of churches that don't see it this way.
So when it comes to Phil Robertson, it isn't just that freedom of speech doesn't give you the right to be on television. It's that being Christian doesn't give you a pass on bigoted behavior. Christians who believe homosexuality is a sin don't do so because they are Christian; they do so because that is their interpretation of Christianity. And the distinction is important. Because even though they have every right to believe these things, society's increasing rejection of those ideals doesn't signal a rejection of Christianity. It signals that a type of Christianity is growing more and more out of step with mainstream culture. Because even though it's a value to many Christians, homophobia is not and will never be a Christian value.
Image: Jeff Reidel/GQ