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He Don't Look Right

by Tim O'Hearn

Time for some unabashed name dropping. I am a cousin to Missy Robertson. Yes, the Missy Robertson who is married to Jase Robertson of the immensely popular television show, “Duck Dynasty.” For those who have not seen the show on the A&E network or online, “Duck Dynasty” is a television “reality” show about the Robertson family, who have made a fortune producing duck calls. Very little of the show is about the manufacture of the duck calls, however. It is about the funny situations families can get themselves into, and out of. Willie, the businessman in camouflage, is either coming up with a harebrained idea or rescuing big brother Jase from one. Their father Phil dispenses redneck wisdom and tries to turn his “yuppie” granddaughters into redneck hunters. Through it all Phil’s wife, Ms. Kay, holds the family together, mostly with food. Every show ends with a prayer around a huge family dinner table.

The producers of “Duck Dynasty” once kept in the reference to Jesus in Phil’s family prayer. They rarely show the family at church, and only occasionally allow references to faith. Yet this is a very faithful family. Phil and (unbearded) son Alan are elders of the White’s Ferry Road church of Christ in West Monroe, Louisiana. Willie is an excellent preacher, with great faith and knowledge of the scriptures. Missy’s parents are a driving force behind “We Care Ministries” (see “We Care” in Minutes With Messiah, February 2012).

All that is background. If you have watched the show, you may have noticed that Phil, the patriarch, sometimes comes across as a bit crude. In some parts of the country people might ask, “This is an elder in the church?” And that brings me to the point of this article. God puts many different kinds of people in the church. Phil Robertson might say they are “rednecks or yuppies.” The apostle Paul said, “Jew, Greek, slave, free, male, and female.” (Gal 3:28) Not everyone will be somebody’s idea of what is appropriate. Why, there are even sinners in the church! Just because somebody offends my Victorian sensibilities doesn’t mean they are wrong. What some may consider crude language may be what others need to hear, to realize that they can become Christians, too. What others may consider prudish may be appropriate for a separate group of potential converts. If we did not have all different kinds of people, the church would be a country club, not a church.

But what of the elders? Shouldn’t they be held to a higher standard? Granted, a long beard and a head scarf are not what most people think of when they picture leaders in the church. But those things are externals. In Titus 1, Paul didn’t insist that elders wear dark suits. In 1 Timothy 3 he did not require a man to be clean shaven, or even neatly trimmed. The qualities Paul lists in those places have to do with what a man is and what he believes, not how he looks or talks.

Sometimes we call those passages the “qualifications” for elders. Some seem to think once a man meets these qualifications and is named an elder, he is an elder for life. If his children later prove to be unfaithful or he rejects the clear teaching of the Bible, he can remain in his leadership role. He once met the qualifications, so he is an elder until he chooses to quit.

On the other hand, sometimes we expect our elders and preachers to be what they are not, and cannot be. We have put Paul on such a pedestal that when he calls himself the “chief of sinners” we say he must have been talking about his former life. Preachers can’t have arguments with their wives or yell at their children. Elders cannot say things that might sound earthy. Our leaders and teachers must be perfect, even if we are not. Maybe because we are not.

What you see of Phil Robertson on television might not be the perfect elder, by some people’s standards. But don’t be fooled by an editor’s scissors, or a long beard. Even the editors cannot cut out the man’s faith in God. Yes, I would love to meet my cousin’s father-in-law and shake his hand. And not just because his beard looks a lot like mine.