Joel Rainey leads the Engagement Team for Evangelism and Missions at the Mid-Atlantic Baptist Network. He is on the adjunct faculty of two seminaries,and the author of three books. He blogs at Themelios, where this was originally posted last week.
“Duck Dynasty star on Muslims: ‘Convert them or kill them,'” read the headline of Jonathan Merritt’s social media post last week. The post contained a link to a Religion News Service articledescribing Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson’s recent appearance with FOX News host Sean Hannity, in which the two discussed how the US and others should respond to the threat now posed to the world by the group known as ISIS.
While RNS deserves credit for a more accurate title than that given by Merritt, any intelligent person should really be asking why this is news. But more importantly, there are far more serious issues facing the world right now, and Merritt and RNS should recognize that such nonsense is the kind of thing only printed on a slow news day. And our world hasn’t seen one of those in quite some time.
Of course, this isn’t the first time Phil Robertson has been at the center of controversy. The plain-spoken and sometimes graphically offensive founder of a multi-million dollar duck-call company can always be counted on to speak his mind, even if what’s on it makes some people wretch. I’ve winced myself a few times after hearing him speak, knowing that a more winsome and engaging approach might be more profitable. But after four seasons on TV, anyone expecting this guy to be erudite just isn’t living in the real world.
Phil Robertson is rough around the edges. If that statement strikes you as “breaking news,” journalism probably shouldn’t be your chosen profession.
But once you get past the rough exterior to the substance of what the man actually said on the show, there is nothing any good Christian, Muslim, or anyone else of goodwill would take exception to. For one, the subject of the segment was ISIS (a group that has brutally murdered many Muslims in addition to Christians, Yazidis, et al), not Muslims in general. Speaking of that group, Robertson clearly stated that his preference would be to open a Bible and share the love of Jesus with them. I agree. He also stated that if they continue with their violence they should be eliminated. I agree with that too, and so do many of my friends who also happen to be Muslim.
Anyone who has followed my ministry over the past four years is aware that I’ve developed some dear friendships with Muslims in this area, and other places around the world. I’ve also taken quite a bit of heat from a few in my own tribe for those friendships, so it should go without saying that I’m sensitive toward anything that might misrepresent my friends. I don’t believe their faith leads to eternal life, but stereotyping people you don’t agree with and making them look as bad as possible is not an effective way to be friends or share your faith. So you can bet if Phil Robertson had said what Jonathan Merritt claimed he said, I would have been the first to condemn the remarks.
Problem is, that’s not what he said at all. Could he have worded his statements better? Of course. But the man was simply expressing the sentiment that while he’d rather make peace and share his faith, he was also ready to defend himself and his family. Unless you are a pacifist who thinks it is morally superior to watch your wife and children brutalized while you do nothing to stop the perpetrators, you shouldn’t have a problem with this either.
What we should have a problem with are religion reporters who morally equivocate between a man who should have chosen his words more carefully and a gang of mostly British punks who are cutting off the heads of women and children–and making such an equivocation in an apparent effort to create something “newsworthy.” The result is to paint a false picture of “Christian vs. Muslim” toward which you feign opposition, when in reality, your misrepresentation of another stirs waters that were still before you stepped into them.
This is the point where the adolescent behavior of some in today’s media becomes clear. Our world is currently filled with violence and unrest that we should take with deadly seriousness. The ebb and flow of the Israel/Gaza conflict, the war at the Ukranian border, a civil war in Syria, the rise of the Islamic State, and the various responses to all of the above by various European players should be enough to grab anyone’s attention. Throw in the very real possibility of another terrorist attack on American soil connected to any one or combination of these issues, and a world war scenario becomes a very real possibility. History demonstrates that prior global conflicts have erupted from far cooler environments than the one in which we now find ourselves.
In times like these, followers of Jesus should be doing all we can to make peace. And we should be praying for our leaders, and urging them to act in accordance with Biblical principles of justice. Where ISIS is concerned, we are beyond the question of whether the use of deadly force is necessary to turn back their evil. But the question of who should dispense that force, how it should be done, and with whom they should cooperate are far more complex questions, and those who govern followers of Jesus deserve more than “click bait” from religious media. In this context, we need our media outlets and columnists talking to us and our leaders in a way that expounds on a long and faithful history of just war concepts. Some politicians in recent years have so twisted the concept that virtually no one in American Christianity knows what it means anymore. And this is a horrible context for that sort of ignorance to be so prevalent.
In other words, we have real problems to discuss. We don’t have time for the cosmetic ones. So perhaps those who claim to write on behalf of Christ-followers should be less concerned with parsing the cumbersome words of a Louisiana duck hunter, and spend a little more time examining those left to us by Augustine and Thomas Aquinas.
Such is what we call “adult conversation.” And with the condition our world is in, we need that now more than ever.