Phil Robertson has spoken out for the first time since his homophobic comments in a magazine interview went public and refused to go back on his controversial remarks, saying: ‘I will not give or back off from my path.’…

‘I love all men and women. I am a lover of humanity, not a hater,’ he added…

Then reading from the Bible he said, ‘The acts of the sinful nature are obvious. Sexual immorality, is number one on the list. How many ways can we sin sexually? My goodness. You open up that can of worms and people will be mad at you over it.

‘I am just reading what was written over 2000 years ago. Those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom. All I did was quote from the scriptures, but they just didn’t know it. Whether I said it, or they read it, what’s the difference? The sins are the same, humans haven’t changed.

***

There are obvious levels of sinfulness; the smallest white lie is not the same as a rape, and committing one does not mean committing them all. But you can hear the rhythms of the terrified fundamentalist psyche behind all these words. It is not enough for sins to occur (because that would make our time no different than any other); it is always the case that we are confronting a crisis of sinfulness, and that crisis is always spinning out of control into apocalyptic scenarios. So you give in to the gays, you give in to everything evil, because “if you break one sin you may as well break them all.” And if you break them all, America ceases to exist.

To recap: fundamentalism is not the same as Christianity. It has certain psychological tropes. The first is to see sexual sin as far the worst of them and the root of all of them. The second is to see gays – whose very being represents sexual sin – as an enemy class within a society bringing about its destruction if they are not stopped or converted (see: Jews, Europe, circa 1300 – 1945). The third is to see these gays as opening the door to every other sin and evil. The fourth is to “lose our country.”

***

Too many people are worshiping the Jesus they created, not the Jesus who is. Christ said to love, but he also said to go and sin no more. To love someone and not share the gospel — which includes a call for a penitent heart — is not truly love. It is this world’s definition of love, which, like the orcs or Mordor, is a perversion of the real thing God created.

That is something Tolkien got so spot on with Middle Earth. The evil things are corrupted or perverted things made to mimic the light and the good. Mordor has its own yard stick by which things can be measured, but its metrics are all based on evil.

Phil Robertson did nothing wrong. He just did not shy away from the parts of accepting Christ that make people uncomfortable. He loves people so much, he is not willing to give people the fast pass to Hell by telling them they are not sinners.

He did not judge. He just held up the yard stick and a whole lot of people did not like seeing it and realizing they’ve fallen short. In Mordor, after all, falling short is measuring up and measuring up is being a hater, homophobe, and judging.

***

Yet when even the pope wonders aloud as to whether it’s appropriate for him to judge, you begin to see the difficulty of deciding what “true Christians” ought to believe. This raises the question of whether the religiously based principles are merely cultural artifacts that we bend to our own immediate purposes.

The answer lies in embracing a humility about how imperfectly human beings understand the divine, which is quite different from rejecting God or faith. This humility defines the chasm between a living religious tradition and a dead traditionalism. We need to admit how tempted we are to deify whatever commitments we have at a given moment. And those of us who are Christian need to acknowledge that over the history of the faith, there have been occasions when “a supposedly changeless truth has changed,” as the great church historian and theologian Jaroslav Pelikan put it.

What distinguishes this view from pure relativism is the insistence that truth itself exists. The Christian’s obligation is to engage in an ongoing quest for a clearer understanding of what it is. Robertson would disagree with me, but I’d say that we are going through precisely such an effort when it comes to how we think about homosexuality, much as Christians have done before on such matters as slavery, the role of women and the Earth’s place in the universe.

***

Missing in the controversy over A&E’s handling of its golden goose—or duck, rather—is the fact that the real conflict here is not between Robertson and A&E; it is between gay activists and a solid majority of Christians who believe homosexual acts are wrong. Again, Robertson’s views are hardly anomalous. Christians may disagree on the details, but the Bible strongly condemns homosexuality in both the Old and New Testaments; the marriage model of one man and one woman is first given by God in Genesis 2 and reiterated by Jesus in Matthew 19; and in Romans 1 the Apostle Paul denounces homosexuality as a hallmark of a degenerate culture. The point here isn’t that you have to believe any of this, but many Christians do believe it and feel morally bound to believe it.

Instead of acknowledging this tension, however, A&E, GLAAD, and their supporters have responded with disingenuous expressions of shock and horror. And it matters that it’s disingenuous, because if they actually acknowledged that there is a genuine conflict between orthodox Christianity and homosexual sex (along with several forms of heterosexual sex) they would have to confront head-on the fact that calling for a boycott or pressuring for Robertson’s suspension tells orthodox Christians that their religion is no longer acceptable, and that’s not a very politically correct thing to do. Right now, they are trying to weasel out of it by characterizing Robertson as a backwoods bigot who takes his moral cues from Deliverance rather than from a straightforward reading of the Bible and the historic teachings of the Christian religion…

The message A&E’s decision sends is that the network will not tolerate someone who conscientiously objects to homosexuality on religious grounds. The implication of that message is that 45 percent of Americans should, in principle, be prepared either to sacrifice their jobs or recant their beliefs and endorse a lifestyle to which they are opposed, conscience be damned. To the extent that we embrace that implication, in television and in other American industries, we’re also embracing an identity as a nation that forces conformity while calling it tolerance.

***

Noel Sheppard of Newsbusters mentioned in an interview that the producer and lead animator for A Charlie Brown Christmas were “were very concerned about mixing religion into the program” and even “met with Peanuts creator Charles Schulz to try to talk him into deleting that scene.” When the lead animator told Schulz, “It’s very dangerous for us to start talking about religion now,” Schulz replied by saying, “Bill, if we don’t, who will?”

Palin said was “thankful for people who stick to their guns.”

“We’ve seen just recently that traditional Biblical values are being forced out of the mainstream,” she said. “Would A&E, which tried to silence Phil Robertson’s Biblical beliefs, tolerate a cartoon character reading the Bible? I doubt it.”

***

***