In my post yesterday, I said nothing about the substance of Phil Robertson’s comments to GQ Magazine. I said only that I did not think his comments about gays were bad enough to deserve suspension (I actually think his comments on race are more disturbing, though as far as I know A&E didn’t make an issue of these comments in announcing his suspension).
I deliberately did not address the substance of his comments, because I didn’t want to seem to be joining the people piling on and calling for his head. However, I then spent a lot of time yesterday moderating comments here and at First Things, and became convinced that I needed to say something more about the substance of Robertson’s remarks.
I have no objection to Robertson paraphrasing 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; I’ve quoted those verses on various occasions myself. However, there is a glaring problem in his comments that none of his defenders seem to see.
In pointing this out, I want to be clear that I am responding to his comments in the GQ interview. I do not watch his show, and I do not know him personally. However, since the interview is the source of controversy, and the interview is what many Christians are defending, I think it worthwhile pointing out that at least part of what he said in the interview should have attracted much more objection from Christians than it has. A blanket defense of Robertson’s words is, from a Christian perspective, indefensible.
Here is the worst part of the interview:
It seems like, to me, a vagina—as a man—would be more desirable than a man’s anus. That’s just me. I’m just thinking: There’s more there! She’s got more to offer. I mean, come on, dudes! You know what I’m saying?
I hesitate even to write the next sentence, because it is so offensive. However, if you are a married man, I want you to imagine how you would respond if someone talked about your wife in a way that presumed that your attraction to her was primarily a matter of what her vagina “has to offer.” Or just as a Christian, ask yourself how you would respond if marriage were portrayed, from a man’s perspective, as being primarily about vaginas, what’s “there,” and what they’ve got to “offer.”
This is the Playboy philosophy, pure and simple, which reduces a woman to a close-up of what she’s “got to offer” to men who see her only as an accessory for their own pleasure.
This is a profoundly demeaning view. I don’t mean to say that a man’s desire for his wife is not, at least in part, a desire for physical union with her, or that that desire for physical union does not involve some attraction to sex organs. But it needs to be much more. It cannot be reduced to that.
In Love and Responsibility, John Paul II clearly distinguished between attraction to the physical sexual characteristics of a woman, and attraction to her as a person. Christian marriage is, first and foremost, a union of persons, not just mutual use of bodies. Chaste attraction is, first and foremost, attraction to a person, not to their body parts.
In Christian teaching, there is a simple word for the kind of attraction Phil Robertson describes: it’s called lust.
A lot of Christians assume that if I say I’m attracted to another man, I’m automatically describing lustful desire, reducing him to his sexual body parts. (This is one reason that the term “same-sex attraction” is such an unhelpful and imprecise term: it lumps all attraction into a single category, when it’s vitally necessary to distinguish between a healthy attraction than can lead to spiritual friendship, and a temptation to lust.)
The assumption that attraction equals lust is not true. If I think a man is attractive, that could involve lust, but it need not (see also some of Aaron Taylor’s thoughts on this point). And even if the temptation to lust is present, I have some freedom about whether I give in to the temptation, and see him as a potential sexual object, or whether I resist the temptation and see him as a person created in the image of God.
As Wes pointed out yesterday, Robertson just doesn’t get the way gay, lesbian, and bisexual people experience attraction (on this point, see Preston Sprinkle’s excellent commentary). More importantly, howerver, his comments are inconsistent with the way Christians should experience attraction.
Regardless of who we are sexually attracted to, self-discipline and the education of desire is critical. An unmarried man who is attracted to an unmarried woman (or vice-versa) has the option of discerning whether this desire for the other person can lead to marriage. For most people, however, most instances of attraction to another person over the course of their lives will, if submitted to God, lead to friendship or to nothing at all.
As I said yesterday, I think A&E over-reacted. But I think Christians, in rushing to Robertson’s defense, are swallowing a camel they should not, indeed, must not, swallow. We should be very concerned with the way Robertson’s words reduce Christian teaching about marriage to desire for vaginas. This is as absurd as the claim that Pope John Paul II and Hugh Hefner are really talking about the same thing, and must be firmly and clearly rejected.
Update: See also Audrey Assad’s excellent “Personhood, Sexuality, and Phil Robertson.”