Phil Robertson's Racial Remarks Overlooked, Says Reformed African-American Network Head

Phil Robertson
Phil and Miss Kay Robertson make an appearance on the "700 Club" to talk about duck calls, their nearly 50-year marriage, and how Phil came to know Jesus and raise his family in a Christ-centered household. May 15, 2013. |

When Jemar Tisby published his thoughts on Phil Robertson's GQ interview, he wanted to address what he saw as an oversight in the existing blog and social media "Duck Dynasty" Christian conversation.

"A big part of why I wrote the piece was because at the time this stuff was going on, I hadn't seen anybody from the Evangelical Christian perspective talk about his comments regarding African-Americans," Tisby, president of the Reformed African-American Network, told The Christian Post.

Tisby, who lives in Jackson, Ala., said that he personally found Robertson's comments frustrating, because of the disparity between his remarks and his wife's grandmother's experience growing up in the same time and place where the "Duck Dynasty" patriarch lived. Robertson told GQ magazine that while growing up in Louisiana before the Civil Rights Movement, he never saw the mistreatment of a black person.

Tisby interviewed his grandmother-in-law to learn how find how she had felt toward her white bosses growing up as a sharecropper in Louisiana, clarifying that her animosity toward whites eventually subsided because of her "faith in Christ."

"Oh, I hated [the boss man and white people.] I really, really did," she told him. "I was mad at what they did to us. I had to walk eight miles to school each way. Rain, cold, hot, whatever. The school bus used to pass us by. We couldn't ride it because we were black. Sometimes there'd be this big 'ol bus and only two white children riding it. The bus would pass by close enough to splash water on us, but they wouldn't pick us up."

On his blog, Tisby juxtaposed this account with Robertson's own perceptions of African Americans in the south.

"I never, with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person. Not once. Where we lived was all farmers. The blacks worked for the farmers. I hoed cotton with them. I'm with the blacks, because we're white trash. We're going across the field … They're singing and happy. I never heard one of them, one black person, say, 'I tell you what: These doggone white people'—not a word! … Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues," Robertson said in the interview.

Tisby attributed the differences in interpretation to the impact of centuries of segregation.

"[Segregation] makes it that much harder for us to see life from the other person's point of view and that is even more complicated when you're talking about the dominant or majority culture, trying to see from minority or subdominant culture," he said.

While Tisby did not want to speculate on the reasons why Robertson's comments about race had received such little coverage compared to his comments about homosexuality, he challenged Christians to take the sin of racial injustice with just as much conviction as they treated the former issue.

"I'm trying to say this in a measured and nuanced way. Evangelical Christians often see issues of human sexuality in bold, bright stark letters but when it comes to issues of race, ethnicity, culture, they're in more muted tones," said Tisby. "What I hope is that we as Christians begin to see the brokenness in all of our human systems whether it's regard[ing] sexuality, race, marriage and give adequate air time, especially in social media and the blogosphere to these different aspects."

Robertson drew fire from the LGBT community when he told GQ magazine, "Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers – they won't inherit the kingdom of God. Don't deceive yourself. It's not right. ... 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 Jesus – whether they're homosexuals, drunks, terrorists. We let God sort 'em out later, you see what I'm saying?"

The "Duck Dynasty" star added, "It seems like, to me, a vagina – as a man – would be more desirable than a man's anus."

Following his remarks, gay rights groups called on A&E to end the popular reality show. Robertson was then suspended indefinitely from the show. Tens of thousands of Americans and Christians expressed their outrage over the suspension, arguing that the network was violating the star's free speech and punishing him for simply expressing his beliefs.

While online petitions were started to get Robertson back on the show and much debate was stirred around his homosexuality remarks, little was mentioned about his comments on the pre-Civil Rights era.

The head of RAAN said that he believes instances such as these remind Christians why they are called to live in community.

"When I read the GQ article interviewing Phil Robertson, what jumps out at me is the racial comments, so I wanted to bring that to light. But I'm also grateful for my brothers and sisters who read that and the homosexual comments jumped out. We need each other to get as robust picture of our culture as we can and then together with the tools of the Gospel and the power of the Holy Spirit, address it in a Christ-like manner," Tisby said.

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