Theological acuity and Duck Dynasty

Monday, May 13, 2013
Ray Rooney, Jr. - Guest Columnist

Recently, I heard the Duck Dynasty patriarch (Phil Robertson) give an interview about the role of faith in his life.  When it came to evangelism, Phil said: "To go forth, you have to love 'em more than you fear 'em."

What a simple but powerful way to explain why Christians have to get involved in the affairs of the world and culture.  I believe Phil's statement is spot on and helps explain why so few Christians are willing to take their faith and beliefs beyond the church walls on Sunday.

Fear has supplanted love as the dominant spirit in much of Christianity today.  From the pulpit it is fear of rejection by the academic community.  College and graduate degrees have become mandatory by many denominations for fulfilling ordination requirements.  Even though the majority of those degrees come from Bible colleges and seminaries, the liberal agenda has found acceptance and a place to dwell within those settings.  That means that many of our ministers have found a measure of hostility toward their evangelical Christian beliefs by those who are preparing them for ministry.  It is hard to get that degree if you are constantly at odds with the institution and the professors.  Thus, many educated clergy are sent forth into their parishes with liberal views and opinions on things like evolution, abortion, sexuality, the inherent goodness of humanity, and the separation of church and state.  They become afraid to preach sermons on creation, the sanctity of life, sexual purity, original sin, and evangelism because they fear their peers, superiors, and college-educated congregants will consider them backwards fundamentalists demanding a more accommodating style of preaching and leadership.

From the pew, it is fear of finding out our duty and obligation both to God and our neighbor.  Experience has taught me that you will hear far more complaints about what the thermostat is set on in the sanctuary than you will hear people complain about the pastor's sermon touching a nerve.  Many more people attend church to feel better about themselves than those who earnestly desire to discover God's will and plan for their life.  Too many people in the pew expect affirmation from the pulpit rather than guidance.  They fear being led out of their comfort zones.  They don't want to make waves or buck whatever the current trend happens to be.  They certainly don't want to hear that there is a divine expectation that they share their faith publicly or privately.  The fear of being confronted with a truth we did not recognize as being relevant to our daily living is stifling the Holy Spirit in many churches today.  The fear of being misunderstood or rejected outright has put a damper on evangelism. Fear breeds suspicion and hostility -- and that means circling the wagons and looking out for number one. 

The end result is that when fear of the possible consequences of failure takes priority over love for those struggling with the inner despair of their own lostness, we become the center of our own universe and everything we do has to directly benefit ourselves.  If it doesn't, we ignore it or attack it.  We become like the man who was given one bag of money by the man going on a long journey (commonly referred to as the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25:14-30).  His fear of failure drove him to bury it in the ground rather than take the risk of losing some or all of it through investments.  He thought he would be rewarded for his act of self-preservation -- but he was sadly mistaken.

If Christians are to honor the very clear admonition of God to "Go," we are going to have to go forth, knowing that love for others may put us in some very awkward and uncomfortable situations.  Obeying God by proclaiming the truth may draw exasperated looks, unkind comments, and even attacks on our credibility, intelligence, or person.  Whether we decide to go forward risking all that trouble depends on whether we love them or fear them more. 

Thank you, Phil Robertson.  You are not the first bearded man to say something with profound implications.

Rev. Ray Rooney, Jr., a regular contributor, pastors a United Methodist Church in Mississippi.

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