I’ve never watched Duck Dynasty. I didn’t really know about Phil Robertson until he uttered his beliefs on homosexuality and race. It’s no surprise that I don’t agree with either of those views. But there is a question that keeps rumbling in my mind. It’s not directed at Robertson, it’s directed to my fellow Christians in mainline/liberal Christianity: would we welcome Phil Robertson into our churches?
I tend to believe that the answer, the true answer, is no. We won’t say that out loud of course. We will look at Robertson and hear his views and will promptly write him off. We won’t bar the doors to our churches, but we just won’t extend the right hand of welcome. Because he and his kind are rednecks and have outdated and hurtful views of gays and blacks we will use words like ‘bigot’ as an excuse to not reach out to them.
About two years ago, I wrote a post called “Learning to Love Bubba.” In that post, I said that mainline churches tend to not reach out to the white working class even as they face some tough economic challenges:
The white working class is getting some more attention because of the release of Charles Murray’s book “Falling Apart.” As I read this article, I started to wonder about mainline churches and how welcoming they would be to the white working class. My guess is that most of these folks wouldn’t feel that welcome in mainline churches. In fact, these folks are more and more dropping out of churches as well.The thing is, I don’t think the people who make up most mainline churches, who tend to be from a more professional background don’t like these folks very much. I know this, because I hear how pastors talk about working class whites in meetings with other pastors, and I can tell you they aren’t looking at them as some kind of salt of the earth figure. I’ve also heard it from people in the pews of mainline churches as well: this kind of contempt for them.We look down at them because we see them as racist, homophobic, sexist and any other -ist and -ism that you can think of them. The thing is that working class whites can be all these things, but they are more than that as well. As Packer notes in his essay, these are people who see very little hope and take it out on everyone for their lot in life.When we talk about planting new churches to reach young adults, we mostly mean reaching people of the same socio-economic class that we are a part of. As much as we want to talk about caring about the poor and the workers, I sometimes wonder how accepting we are of those that actually fit this description. How willing would folks be to accepting a man or woman that you can tell has lived a hard life and whose moral life is kind of a mess?
You probably are wondering why a black, gay guy is so interested in white working class people. It’s a good question of which I have no good answer. Maybe it’s because I grew up working class and there was always an uneasy tension between working class blacks and working class whites. Maybe it’s that coming from Michigan, which has gone through so much as the economy change, you are more sensitive of those who lose good paying jobs and are trying pick up the pieces after the auto plant closed.
A friar once told me: “Sitting down to a meal with someone is the most authentic and vulnerable action someone can do because we are eating in front of another person. Every time we place a piece of food in our mouths we are saying to the person across the table: ‘I am hungry. I thirst. I have needs. I am vulnerable. I am dependent. I am feeble. I am not indestructible.’” How much more appropriate it would be for us, then, to respond to theological disagreement (or disagreement of any kind for that matter) by coming to the table of Christ’s Body and Blood? In light of recent public debate, I have no desire to change Phil Robertson’s mind on any topic. My desire is to sit down and eat a meal with him. It is in that moment we can both realize the big issue–we’re both utterly lost and in need of a Savior.
I love your phrase – “be hospitable and live in the tension”. I think perhaps maybe we all want to, but we’re so sure that we can’t or that we’ll be pounced on for our beliefs that we don’t. And the tendency to pounce becomes greater because the tension grows too much, too fast. Sigh.