Rednecks, redemption and reality TV

duck-dynastyI’m hooked. I blame Dave Harder and Darren Milley.

Dave Harder leads The Journey in Ottawa – a bunch of people on mission, working together for the common good and renewal of their city. Darren Milley is Dave’s church planting apprentice in the Manotick parish.

I was in Ottawa for a few days when Dave, aided and abetted by Darren, spoke eagerly of a phenomenon that had escaped my attention. They both attempted to recruit me to the fan base of…Duck Dynasty. I tuned in to this reality TV show and I’ll admit it – I’m now a fan!

The show boasts a cast of colourful characters who’ve built a multi-million duck-call empire in Louisiana. It features the family patriarch Phil Robertson, his two sons, a wisecracking uncle, and menus that include stewed squirrel and deep-fried bullfrog.

However, something stronger than an affinity for duck hunting unites the family. It’s their love and devotion to Jesus.

Preach the gospel at all times

Phil, the wild man of the woods, has a significant speaking ministry that began at a trade show at the Superdome in the early 1990s. A crowd of about 1,000 had gathered to hear Phil’s duck-call seminar; but instead, Phil grabbed his Bible and began preaching the gospel.

“I thought I owed it to them,” he said. As people approached Phil to speak at their churches, his wider ministry was born.

When I shared this story with Dave Harder, he responded with his own Duck Dynasty story. Dave said that the Robertson men, who all look like ZZ Top escapees, once arrived unannounced at a country music festival in our nation’s capital.

At one point, Jason Robertson was given the stage. When he took the microphone, he didn’t introduce the next musical act or extoll the virtues of country music – Jase took 15–20 minutes to proclaim the gospel to the festival crowd. Like father like son.

The Robertsons aren’t just involved in public ministry. Their home is also a place of hospitality – a portal where people have stepped from darkness into light.

Phil opens his Bible, shares the good news of Jesus, and invites his guests to repent and be baptized. Many have. Over the years, more than 300 people have been dunked in the Ouachita River next to the house, day and night. (During night baptisms, the Robertson boys wade into the river with flashlights and shotguns to ensure that alligators and snakes don’t interrupt proceedings.)

Our challenge

The Duck Dynasty posse presents us with some missional challenges.

First, they’re unashamed of Jesus. They’d yell a hearty redneck “amen” to the apostle Paul’s declaration: “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16a).

Second, they have a deep love for people. Phil Robertson claims, “I don’t care if I’m talking to one person or one thousand; if I can help save one lost soul and bring them back to Jesus, it’s well worth it to me.”

Alan, the beardless Robertson son, has been a pastor for 20 years. His wife Lisa commented about taking the gospel beyond the confines of their congregation: “To have a great church is good. But there is [sic] people out there that’s not ever going to darken the doors that we have here. And they may not ever darken the doors of any church building.

“And so, we can give them a little taste of Christianity, a little taste of God, but in a fun way, to tell them that just because you’re a Christian doesn’t mean that you can’t have loads of fun and laugh all the time and just enjoy what God’s given you.”

Third, we may run into some roadblocks along the way. In December, Phil Robertson was suspended by A&E and then reinstated. The network took exception to comments Phil made about homosexuality in an interview with GQ. It’s a reminder that a faithful gospel witness will not only be good news – but also dissonant and countercultural at times.

It’s also a reminder that, in our witness, we are called to be winsome and wise: “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; made the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone”  (Colossians 4:5–6).

The Robertson family gives us an example of unabashed devotion to Jesus and love for the lost. We will, in all likelihood, never have a gospel platform at the Superdome or at a music festival in Ottawa. Our joys, triumphs, challenges and foibles will never become reality TV fodder.

But we do have platforms God has given us. We all have spheres of influence and a network of relationships. How are we going to steward those platforms for the sake of the gospel?

Bill Hogg is national missiologist with C2C Network, and lives in Abbotsford, B.C. His role is to help leaders and established churches think and act like missionaries.

What do you think?

Here are two other missional responses to cultural challenges:

“The Unintentional Effects of Defending Duck Dynasty” by Jeff Bucknam

“One more F-bomb for the road” by Sam Dick

One Comment on “Rednecks, redemption and reality TV

  1. I agree with Jeff Bucknam’s [see the next article] caution about using Phil Robertson as a platform to promote the Gospel but will add 2 more cautions-
    1. We need to do our research. I’m assuming that Bill Hogg read the GQ article but I think that everyone with opinions about it should do so- otherwise, like Sarah Palin we can end up defending the indefensible. It is extremely interesting article at all kind of levels. To me it feels very balanced and sympathetic and functions as a cautionary tale. And that leads to the second caution.
    2. I liked the show before I read the article, though less than some of my family who have every episode recorded. But then I live in Duck Dynasty country and I do love shooting stuff. Mostly though I liked the expression of faith that the show presents. I especially liked Phil Robertson’s closing prayers. To me it displayed a wonderful expression of faith and family. The GQ interviewer also appeared to be genuinely warmed by this.
    BUT I think Phil’s views on homosexuality, race relations, and his own repentance are egregiously expressed. The last was theologically bizarre and it seems to have flown underneath the evangelical radar.
    There’s no defending Phil Robertson for what he publically stated, in my opinion and therefore he needs to repent as publicly as he has sinned.
    And for me this leads to the most important lesson of the story- people we like and even admire can and will do things that are wrong. Sometimes, like Phil, they remain unrepentant and go from bad to worse. And that is the challenge. The Kingdom of God, is made up of broken people and yet we mustn’t throw them under the bus. But until he repents I doubt I’ll ever watch the show again.

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