Kill Them or Convert Them: Duck Dynasty Styled Evangelism
There are reasons to respect Phil Robertson, the patriarch of the family at the center of AMC’s blockbuster hit Duck Dynasty. He was a good enough athlete to start over 4-time Super Bowl champion Terry Bradshaw while in college even though he didn’t think much about practice. He was, by his own admission, a borderline alcoholic and druggie until he was miraculously saved in his late twenties. He’s a self-made man who went from the backwoods of Louisiana to become a TV star and a multi-millionaire on the basis of a business that sells duck calls. He is articulate and uncompromising in expressing his testimony.
However, he has also from time to time gotten himself into a bit of trouble. He once claimed that in the pre-Civil Rights era he never saw blacks mistreated, that they were happy, and that they never sang the blues. Someone probably needs to tell him where the blues originated (hint: black people in the pre-Civil Rights era) and beyond that silliness, for a man who grew up in the Jim Crow south to claim that he never saw blacks be mistreated is (at best) ignorant or (at worst) racist. He also compared homosexuality to bestiality and made comparisons about the worth of sexual preference based on the contours of human anatomy. Probably not very helpful.
Most recently, in speaking about either ISIS or Islam in general, Mr. Robertson made the comment, “I think you have to either convert them, which seems next to impossible….or kill them.” Before the comment, he was originally talking about “this ISIS thing” but then also mentioned how they (ostensible Muslims) “love death” referencing a passage from Proverbs. He used the uprisings in Libya, Egypt, and Syria as evidence.
Could Mr. Robertson possibly have been serious? Kill them or convert them? Perhaps not; he obviously is a public persona and derives a significant amount of income from entertainment source based on that persona, and I have a sneaking suspicion that he doesn’t personally believe that statement. But still, it was said, and many people on social media have responded as if it were true, both negatively and positively. How should we think about that statement? Should our view of militant Islam be that we either convert them or kill them? Get them to Heaven eventually or send them to Hell now?
Taken by itself, the easy answer is, “Of course not.” One of the problems with militant Islam is that they themselves sometimes take such a binary approach. The same Christians cheering Phil Robertson’s statements often post (usually fake) news stories on social media of ISIS making the same demands of Middle Eastern Christians and Jews – convert to Islam or we will behead/crucify/burn you. The world has responded with outrage. To say that the proper response is to issue the same ultimatum is nonsensical, and that’s without pointing out that the U.S. military couldn’t possibly be expected to preach the Gospel and individual Christians couldn’t possibly be expected to go take personal vengeance against ISIS (I suppose the scariest notion is that Mr. Robertson believes that either one of those is perfectly possible). The U.S. military can’t be expected to turn the other cheek and Christians aren’t permitted to cut off the ears of the ones crucifying Jesus, let alone take the role of both judge and executioner.
But let’s leave that silliness aside for a second and leave ISIS out of it. There’s a style of evangelism that “kill them or convert them” serves as a metaphor. It’s the style of publicly comparing homosexuality to bestiality, of open-air preaching that focuses more on where our sin leads us rather than where our sin led Jesus. When I was in college, a couple of my friends and I as sort of a joke went and tried out for American Idol. Michael Jackson had just recently died. There was a man who was open-air preaching at those who were coming to stand in line; his basic thesis was that Michael Jackson was currently burning in hell, and that all those trying out for American Idol were only doing so because they “idolized” (he was very clever) fame and fortune like MJ did, which means they were headed straight to Hell as well, unless they repented of their idolatry. Regardless of whether what he said was true (we can’t possibly know whether MJ is in Hell or not, and I don’t think me or my friends, at least, are going to Hell), is such an approach wise? Is it biblical?
On the opposite end of the spectrum, there are those who have the “preach the Gospel always, use words if necessary” approach. Although there is a certain level of appeal to that bumper-sticker, it’s probably not enough, since a significant portion of people who love that mantra often functionally live a “preach the Gospel, sure, but usually (hopefully!) without words” approach. Surely there’s a middle ground. But what is it?
I of course don’t have definitive answers. Our Scriptural mandates are the same, our consciences and gifting’s are different, and the end result is probably as varied as the amount of people in the world. As I see it, there are two takeaways from Phil Robertson’s comments.
First, “kill them or convert them” as a style of evangelism, whether literally or metaphorically, is usually unloving, counterproductive, and self-destructive. Jesus may have flipped tables in the proper context, but he didn’t flip tables on top of non-believers so that their skulls were crushed because they were sinning. Second, Phil Robertson knows Scripture, loves Scripture, and seemingly has a heart for (most of) the lost, and a real desire to see God’s name proclaimed and then worshipped throughout the world. I don’t agree with his methods (or really even understand them) but surely there’s something to be learned from him as well. Kill them or convert them? A thousand times no. Love Jesus enough to boldly and compassionately display the aroma of Christ to a world desperately in need of a Savior? Always.
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