[Editor's note: The following piece specifically addresses remarks made by Phil Robertson about homosexuality and marriage. Any positive remarks about those statements should not in any way be construed as an endorsement of Robertson's views on other matters, especially those not addressed at all in Mr. Maguire's essay.)
weeks ago, on the Second Sunday of Advent, John the Baptist was
identified in the Gospel reading as, “the voice of one crying in the
wilderness” (Mt 3:3).
This week we heard another voice “crying in
the wilderness”except this time his name is Phil Robertson, and the
wilderness he’s crying from is the backwoods of West Monroe, Louisiana.
can we account, though, for the vitriol leveled against Robertson by
our cultural elites, the mainstream media and LGBT interest groups?
Perhaps in the same way we understand the contempt with which the
reigning powers of his day responded to John the Baptist: namely, they
wanted to rationalize their sin and “call evil good and good evil” (Isa
The prophetic message of John the Baptist was as blunt as
it was clear: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Mt 5:2).
And the language he used may very well sound as coarse and offensive to
modern ears as the words of the Duck Dynasty patriarch:
brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? . . .
[Jesus’] winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing
floor and gather his wheat into the granary, but the chaff he will burn
with unquenchable fire (Mt 3:7-12).
John the Baptist was certainly
unafraid to speak truth to powereven if that meant speaking the truth
about sexual morality. And for this, he was beheaded (Mt 14:1-12).
cultural elites aren’t threatening Phil Robertson with beheading, but
they are threatening to remove his voice from the public sphere as best
In fact, A&E network officials suspended Phil “from filming indefinitely” only a day after GQ published his remarks concerning homosexualityremarks which his family readily acknowledged as coarse.
This punitive action came in the wake of pressure exerted by LGBT interest groups like GLAAD, who were only too glad to exact their pound of flesh:
and his family claim to be Christian, but Phil’s lies about an entire
community fly in the face of what true Christians believe. . . . Phil’s
decision to push vile and extreme stereotypes is a stain on A&E and
his sponsors who now need to reexamine their ties to someone with such
public disdain for LGBT people and families.
It comes as no real
surprise that many of our culture’s reigning elite find Robertson’s
comments so deeply offensive, even “vile” and “extreme.” What does come
as a surprise, however, is that they should on one hand revile
Robertson, but on the other laud Pope Francisindeed, going so far as to
name him Person of the Year (The Advocate and Time Magazine).
for all this, Pope Francis and Phil Robertson are not really so far
apart in their assessment of the sinfulness of homosexual behavior and
the appropriate Christian response to homosexual persons. Indeed, Pope
Francis has more in common with Robertson than with Robertson’s critics:
who claim it is vile to call homosexual behavior a sin and bigoted to
oppose redefining marriage.
On the push to redefine marriage and blur the distinction between good and evil:
Abp. Jorge Mario Bergoglio
(in 2010): “It is not a simple political fight; but rather an attempt
to destroy the plan of God. It is not about a mere legislative project .
. . but, rather, it is a ‘move’ by the father of lies [i.e., Satan],
who intends to confuse and trick the children of God.”
“Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. . . .
Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male
prostitutes, the homosexual offenders . . . ; they won’t inherit the
kingdom of God [paraphrasing 1 Cor 6:9-10]. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s
On not judging homosexual persons:
“If a homosexual person is of good will and is in search of God, I am
no one to judge. . . . A person once asked me, in a provocative manner,
if I approved of homosexuality. I replied with another question: ‘Tell
me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of
this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?’ In life, God
accompanies persons, and we must accompany them . . . with mercy.”
“We never, ever judge someone on who’s going to heaven, hell. That’s
the Almighty’s job. We just love ‘em, give ‘em the good news about
Jesuswhether they’re homosexuals, drunks, terrorists. We let God sort
‘em out later, you see what I’m saying?”
As a Catholic, I cannot fully endorse Robertson’s comments. For example, he seems to think
the homosexual inclination is itself sinful and is freely chosen. The
Church, however, offers a more accurate teaching on these issues.
On the proper moral evaluation of homosexuality:
"An overly benign interpretation [has been] given to the homosexual
condition itself, some going so far as to call it neutral, or even good.
Although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a
sin, it is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic
moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective
disorder." (Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons, 3)
On whether the homosexual inclination is freely chosen:
“Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. . . . The
number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is
not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered,
constitutes for most of them a trial." (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1257-58)
would be wrong-headed to be overly critical of Robertson’s statements,
though. After all, while he enjoys the benefit of Scripture, as a
non-Catholic he doesn’t enjoy the benefit of the Magisterium to properly
This makes it all the more surprising that
Robertson makes an observation that is strikingly similar to an
observation made by Pope Pius XIIone that both John Paul II and Benedict XVI were fond of citing.
Phil Robertson: “Everything is blurred on what’s right and what’s wrong. . . . Sin becomes fine.”
Pope Pius XII: “The greatest sin in the world today is that men have begun to lose the sense of sin.”
We have perhaps now touched on the neuralgic issue in the Duck Dynasty controversy. Robertson’s critics do not so much object to his remarks about homosexuality, but more precisely they object to God’s remarks about homosexuality as found in his Word, that is, in Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition.
if not most, of our cultural elites have rejected Isaiah’s warning:
“Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for
light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for
bitter!” (Is 5:20).
And it is here we discover the tragic
consequences that necessarily flow from accepting the invitation to
adopt a false compassiona perverted form of compassion that would
require us to condone homosexual behavior and the redefinition of
marriage. To accept this invitation is, however, to accept the
invitation to blaspheme against the Holy Spirit, the only sin Jesus
identifies as unforgivable (cf. Lk 12:10).
John Paul II’s teaching on the “unforgivable sin” is worth quoting at some length:
Jesus says that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit cannot be forgiven
either in this life or in the next, it is because this ‘non-forgiveness’
is linked, as to its cause, to ‘non-repentance,’ in other words to the
radical refusal to be converted.
against the Holy Spirit, then, is the sin committed by the person who
claims to have a ‘right’ to persist in evilin any sin at alland who
thus rejects Redemption. One closes oneself up in sin, thus making
impossible one's conversion, and consequently the remission of sins. . .
. This is a state of spiritual ruin, because blasphemy against the Holy
Spirit does not allow one to escape from one's self-imposed
imprisonment and open oneself to the divine sources of the purification
of consciences and of the remission of sins. (Dominum et Vivificantem, 46)
is why the Holy Spirit’s mission to “convince the world concerning sin”
(Jn 16:9) is the highest expression of genuine compassion and mercy.
The Holy Spirit’s mission does not have as its purpose a negative,
heavy-handed condemnation of the world. Rather, this convincing the
world concerning sin has the purpose of restoring the human person’s
dignity by restoring our relationship with the Father.
It is only
when we realize the true evil of sinwhen we recognize the damage sin
does to us and to our relationship with the Fatherthat we can turn back
to him in a spirit of repentance. We cannot do this, however, if we
continue to rationalize our sins and refuse to call sin by its proper
The Holy Spirit's mission to “convince the world concerning
sin” is thus a positive mission; one that invites us back home. When we
are convinced of sin, like the Prodigal Son, we will accept this
invitation and experience the embrace of a loving Father who restores
our dignity by restoring our sonship. And, it is only when our dignity
and our sonship has been restored that we can experience the true
freedom and liberation that comes as a fruit of our filial relationship
As the reaction to Robertson’s comments on homosexuality
demonstrates, our present cultural powers that be would have us not
only rationalize sin, but go the further step of giving sin a different
name: calling “evil good and good evil.” This would, however, block us
from seeking forgiveness and reconciliation.
We must, therefore,
turn away from these powers and towards the Holy Spirit’s powereven
when his message concerning sin is communicated through the “coarse”
words of a self-described backwoods white trash Louisiana redneck. There is nothing less at stake, ultimately, than the salvation of the world.