Phil Robertson, from the Duck Dynasty TV show, has a wonderful ability to convey to the masses (via his appearance and antics) that the life of any Christian can be fun, edgy, and meaningful. In other words, all Christians don’t have to aspire to look and act like Billy Graham or Francis Chan (don’t get me wrong, I think Billy and Francis are dashing fellows, even though I’ve never seen them in camo and full beards). But it is encouraging that the Robertson family and Duck Dynasty are extremely popular with such a wide range of people right now. Even so, we ought to remember that America has become a fickle nation of fadaholics. The Roberson’s personify the meme. But how long will it last? I hope it lasts a long time and in a good way. Perhaps there is a third generation of Robertson’s waiting in the wings to take the reins.
No doubt the Robertson’s will have their struggles going forward. The paparazzi are always on the prowl to catch celebrity drama and screw-ups. I hope the Robertson’s financial success remains above board. I hope their marriages survive and thrive and that they don’t suffer a tragic moral fail along the way. I hope their children don’t suffer from the harmful side effects of celebrity. But even if some of the Robertson’s mess up because they are human, perhaps their fans, especially Christians, will be prepared to forgive their shortcomings.
Here’s the part that blows my mind: God may be directly using the Robertson’s to inspire millions of Americans (who might otherwise never give God or Christianity a second thought) to ponder the meaning of commitment to family, redemption, transformation, and choosing to live a life that follows Christ while at the same time enjoying life and being industrious. I find it exhilarating and ironic that God has used the Robertson’s to spread the message of God on such a large scale. American church leaders and congregations may have been waiting for a skilled and charismatic speaker, author, mega-church pastor or evangelist to reintroduce God to the people, but God may have other plans. It fascinates me that God may have raised-up the Robertson’s from the ranks of a congregation rather than relying mostly on the heavy hitters in pulpits around the country. But God is known for doing the unexpected now and then. The Robertson’s demonstrate a powerful reality for each person in the congregation: every believer does not need a doctorate in theology, a job as a pastor, and flawless skills in oration to communicate the faith.
The question remains: is Phil Robertson still happy, happy, happy? Other than Phil, Miss Kay may be the only person who knows for sure. I don’t know Phil but I’ve know men similar to Phil, and not much bothers them. I believe Phil Robertson is most likely still happy, happy, happy, because he’s had a life-changing encounter with God. Prior to God entering his life, Phil had seen first-hand how bad life can get. This brouhaha over Phil’s comments regarding sin probably doesn’t come close to the dark places he’s been in the past.
If nothing else, Uncle Si Robertson’s character proves that God has a tremendous sense of humor.
Another scandal hit the news recently about some pastors resigning over inappropriate sexual and abusive behavior in the church. I’ll spare you the lurid details. It makes me angry when these things happen. Not just because of the betrayal of trust and the often predatory mentality of the pastors who cross that line (they prey on the vulnerable), but because such defrocked pastors too often finagle a return to full-time paid ministry as a pastor. When that happens, it raises serious questions about the hiring policies of some churches. It also makes me question whether the leadership at churches that hire defrocked pastors has a misguided interpretation of forgiveness and restoration so off the rails it puts their congregation at risk.
Here is a valuable tip for all Christians in a denominational or independent church: If your church leaders hire a pastor without doing a thorough background check (including reference checks), or they decide to hire a pastor who has demonstrated inappropriate or predatory sexual behavior in the past–RUN AWAY! That’s right, find another church. There are too many wolves out there these days for congregations to indulge a Pollyanna attitude about safety in their church. The sad truth is that some of those predatory pastors know how to weasel their way back into a church leadership position and often the only thing standing between them and a new congregation is the church search or hiring committee.
Don’t get me wrong, I support forgiveness and second chances with appropriate safeguards, but the process of rebuilding trust takes years. Often it’s better if fallen clergy find another career. There are simply too many damaged and vulnerable people sitting in congregations to expect anything from church hiring committees other than absolute commitment to the safety of God’s sheep over nepotism or misguided ideology.
If your church is in the process of hiring a new pastor, I believe it is appropriate for members of the congregation to ask those responsible for hiring to explain the process they will follow, especially the process of background and reference checks. It is OK to ask how they would handle a negative hit in the background check process. Granted, there are issues of confidentiality in hiring procedures and those responsible for hiring might not be allowed by law to share details about a specific candidate’s application. But congregations have a right to know if church leadership has a thorough screening process that they follow without exception. It is a red flag if the hiring committee is determined to hire a candidate without a background check (or they choose to ignore the results of a background check) simply because the candidate is a dynamic speaker, has years of experience, or is the friend or family member of someone in church leadership. In that case, church leaders may be putting vulnerable people in the congregation at risk. On the other hand, hiring committees may be so focused (with good intentions) on developing a dynamic and growing church that they don’t see a candidate’s glaring red flags. Either way, the congregation is at risk. The fix is for congregations to take a more active role in knowing their church’s hiring process.