Phil Robertson, the Blindfold, and the Abyss

The duck-man has quickly become an eagle in the eyes of many, including even some homosexuals whose lifestyle Phil Robertson characterized as sin, citing the Bible he reveres as God's Word.

Meanwhile, Hillsong-New York Pastor Carl Lentz tells Katie Couric and her viewers that he isn't going to use his pulpit to speak against homosexuality and related issues "because we try to be like Jesus."

Robertson uses his pulpit (his fame) to speak his beliefs about homosexuality and the Chaldeans who run the A&E network try to banish him. (See Daniel 1, et al.)

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Is Robertson, then, being less "like Jesus" than Lentz?

Even some homosexuals have supported Robertson – if not his view, at least his right to express it. This is because Robertson's visage on millions of TV screens has revealed his heart. His eyes, after all, are visible through that hurricane of hair, and they are the "windows of the soul," in the words of an old proverb. People don't see a mean man, but a man of faith, even if they don't agree with his interpretation.

Besides, millions have been in his home, dined at his table, gone into the wilderness with him, watched him interact with his family, and enjoyed the laughter he's stirred in them midst this grim hand-wringing age.

Phil Robertson is able to speak what many would see as prophetic truth and win a hearing because he stands in the balance between the church-of-anything goes and the church-of-meanness.

The Robertson furor brings to mind a haunting image.

A man hiking over a vast desert is struck by a sandstorm. His eyes sting from the eyelid-penetrating grains. He jerks his bandana from around his neck, and ties it over his eyes. He leaves one tiny sliver open at the bottom so he can see at least the ground he's walking upon.

The wind howls nonstop. He trudges on like this for hours. His limited view makes him ignorant of the fact he's been slowly ascending a mountain, and is approaching a cliff-edge at the bottom of which is an abyss.

The flat ground near the rim is occupied by two religious parties. As the blindfolded man approaches they spy him through the whirling tempest of sand and began doing what religious parties tend to do: debate.

One side hesitates to correct the man, or to warn him he's still blindfolded and can't see the abyss he nears. "Let him walk in the direction he has chosen. It is his path. If we rip off the blindfold we will be judgmental, implying it's wrong for a man to cover his eyes in a sandstorm. If we cry out that he is a blindfolded man approaching a cliff we might damage his self-esteem, since there are hate-mongers who think a man who would come near the precipice of a mountain wearing a blindfold is stupid. We must love him, not correct him."

The other party sees the blindfolded man, concludes he's a wicked fool, that he has willfully chosen the path of death and deserves to go over the edge. "Die, you wretch!" they scream.

The man cannot hear because the wind howls. The coddlers care so much they let him go over the edge, fearing offending the man and wounding his self-esteem more than rescuing him. The cursers rejoice as the foolish scoundrel plummets into the abyss. Later they picket his funeral.

Actually Phil Robertson was fulfilling an important prophetic function. Popular culture quickly draws two conclusions when the word "prophet" comes up: wild and crazy people who believe they can predict the future and/or grumpy old meanies who promote hate.

The real prophet – especially in the New Testament sense – is, as a rule, neither (they do "understand the times" and, if there is no change of direction, see future outcomes). Rather, as God told Ezekiel, the true prophet operates as a "watchman". Ezekiel says that

After seven days the Lord gave me a message. He said, "Son of man, I have appointed you as a watchman for Israel. Whenever you receive a message from me, warn people immediately. If I warn the wicked, saying, 'You are under the penalty of death,' but you fail to deliver the warning, they will die in their sins. And I will hold you responsible for their deaths. If you warn them and they refuse to repent and keep on sinning, they will die in their sins. But you will have saved yourself because you obeyed me." (Ezekiel 3:16-19 NLT)

True prophets instinctively grasp their "watchman" assignment, and care enough to speak out, though it may cause them to be ostracized, stoned, or even banished from A&E.

Meanwhile, a culture bent on going off the cliff will try to silence the watchman's voice. Woe to the prophetless culture. Without the prophets there's no one to warn us when we are nearing the abyss, and no one to yank off our blindfolds and guide us back to truth and safety.

As for prophetic meanness: the true prophetic word emerges from a heart of compassion, is uttered in the balance of truth and grace, and therefore always leads ultimately to well-being, safety, and hope.

It is often those who believe there is a dichotomy between affirming us and correcting us who are the cruelest of all. They let us go over the cliff, enhancing our self-esteem by complimenting the gracefulness of our flailing all the way down.

So thank God for Phil Robertson, and for those important and courageous voices in the homosexual community who have come to his defense because of their belief in free thought and speech, as well as all others who admire someone in this age of compromise and political correctness who will stand by his faith.

That looks "like Jesus" to me.

Wallace Henley, a former Birmingham News staff writer, was an aide in the Nixon White House, and congressional chief of staff. He is a teaching pastor at Second Baptist Church, Houston, Texas. He is a regular contributor to The Christian Post.

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