The most important thing I’ve learned from the controversy surrounding Phil Robertson’s comments about homosexuality is that there is a cultural divide in the church between the urban and the rural. I think that this divide explains the criticism coming from Christians, even more so than disagreements over what he said.
The most common objection is that Phil’s confrontational style was offensive and not Christ-like. It runs afoul of the hipster approach to evangelism that sees unbelievers as people who are suffering because they don’t know that God loves them. For Christians to judge their lifestyle as sinful, in their view, brings condemnation down on their heads and pushes them away from God when we need to attract people to Him.
This relates to another complaint from Christians that this controversy is a distraction. They tell us that we need to focus on meeting the physical needs of the poor and those who are in need. For the hipster, evangelism is about sponsoring children in sub-Saharan Africa or handing out soup and sandwiches to homeless people downtown. Stirring up controversy is counterproductive to sharing the gospel.
We can easily answer these objections but the telling observation is that the Christian critics are simply embarrassed by Phil. The hipster Christian lives a very modern lifestyle, socially-conscious, passionate, and ambitious. He buys fair-trade coffee and the rest of his paleo-diet groceries at Trader Joe’s. Phil is far from that: crass, country, redneck, and patriarchal.
In the church there is an infatuation with urban culture and ministry. Urban is genuine and real whereas suburban and rural is fake. Urban ministry is where the real work of evangelism is taking place. It’s the wave of the future. Phil Robertson is history.
So like so many other fads, this fascination with urban culture will also pass. Too many Christians forget, or don’t understand, that we are in the midst of a spiritual war. They miss that in their frustration with all the attention the issue attracts. Jesus did not come to set up soup kitchens. His message called us to repentance at the arrival of the kingdom of heaven. It is about the reconciliation between God and man and the liberation from the bondage of sin.
To his credit, Phil is fighting the battle by speaking what the Bible says about sin when so many other Christians are doing nothing. What’s worse is that some Christians sit back and judge how he fights while they make no effort themselves, and that’s the real problem.