Not all spoken words are equal. Several factors play an important role in language:
1) Your tone
2) What you want to accomplish with your words (command, question, statement).
3) Who you are.
This third point often gets overlooked but it shouldn't because it is absolutely vital to grasp. Two people can say the SAME thing but the statement can carry different weight. I can tell someone with cancer, "You will get through this" and yet the words will be so much more meaningful if a cancer survivor says the exact same thing.
Of course, it also works in reverse. I can say something mean as a teacher and completely demolish a student's self-esteem. Why? Because I am in a position of authority and influence. A fellow student can say the same thing and it not matter. Who you are loads your words with weight.
Which is where the problem lies with this whole Duck Dynasty fiasco.
Fellow Christians, please be aware of this: the problem the world often has with us is not our stance against gay marriage. The problem is with the way we express that stance. Often those in great positions of influence say outlandish, unqualified statements that undermine the truth of what is being said.
This is why the Pope can be on the front cover of Time and Phil Robertson can be in hot water for holding to the same view. Phil's statement, I believe, is true: the Bible speaks clearly against homosexuality. However, Phil's statements didn't come across in a loving manner (at least not in print) and some of his statements were vulgar.
While he could probably get by with that in a one-on-one conversation in the woods, it isn't going to fly in front of millions.
Nor should it.
The reality is that while many are screaming, "Freedom of speech" few are acknowledging this reality--Scripture does not give us freedom of speech as is traditionally understood in America.
Paul outlines several biblical injunctions for us on this premise:
1) "And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love." (Ephesians 4:11-16)
Three things to notice briefly: First, this is a Gospel-centered command. We are to speak the truth in love and the truth is nothing short of the Gospel. Second, we are to speak the truth. This prevents us from falling into doctrinal error (v. 14). Third, we are to speak the truth in "love." I have a suspicion that Paul is building us toward a cross-centered way of speaking by defining love as what Christ did for us at the cross (Eph. 5:1-2). Thus our language should demonstrate the love of Christ at the cross.
2) "Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. 26 Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and give no opportunity to the devil. 28 Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. 29 Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear." (Ephesians 4:25-29)
Notice again the close parallel between truth and grace. We are called to avoid corrupting speech and are called to use speech that builds up and gives grace to the hearers. Again, the language here is rich is in "cross-centered" speech.
3) "Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving." (Ephesians 5:3)
In a matter of just a few verses Paul has encouraged us to be careful with our speech. We should make sure our language is neither crass or inappropriate. Rather, we should speak in such a way that it is filled with thanksgiving and glorifies God as a result.
So as a Christian, what can we summarize about how we should speak?
Simply put, we are called to speak in such a way that makes beautiful the reality of sin, the glory of the Gospel and the scandal of grace. Anything less is a failure to speak rightly.
Therein lies the dilemma of Phil's statements. They do not make beautiful the Gospel. They crush the hearer. They offend, not so much because of their truth, but because of the ugliness of the language. They have dropped like a bomb in America, not because of the scandal of grace and the reality of sin, but because the package that message was delivered in was very, very ugly. It was delivered by a man that many people looked up to. It was careless. It has caused a crisis. It could have been different.
I fail in this too. Chances are you do too. But let us never forget our calling as Christians is to be cautious with how we speak. It should be cross-like. The world will state hate us for that. But let the world hate us for the same reasons it hated Christ...not because of the package we deliver the glorious message in.