Attack of the Clones

One of the biggest intersections of faith and science comes when we talk about genetics.  Genetics involves the study of DNA, and DNA is the molecule that forms the basis of life as we know it.  When scientists are messing with DNA, it gets people’s attention. They add and delete and manipulate to “create” better organisms and products.

Is that using scientific knowledge to benefit mankind or just playing God?

When a plant or animal has its DNA manipulated, we call it genetic modification.  A genetically modified organism (GMO) has been enhanced in some way to fight disease, to increase nutrients, to grow faster, or to live longer. Many people do not want GMOs to be in the marketplace.  They feel like it’s some kind of “Frankenfruit” if it had its genes manipulated.  Maybe the genes will transfer from our hamburger into us. Or somehow we will produce some type of “killer tomatoes” and they will attack us (…cue cultic B movie spoof from the ‘80s).

Since we really don’t understand DNA, it becomes mysterious (or terrifying) to have it altered.

Maybe it’s just when scientists are manipulating the DNA it becomes mysterious.  You see, farmers have been manipulating DNA for centuries. We call it selective breeding. We’ve altered our crops, our livestock and our pets using “natural” genetic modification. We get more disease resistance, more nutrients, faster growth, more domestic behavior, increased cuteness…but have we made better products or just swapped one set of problems for another?

Well, last year scientists made one of the biggest breakthroughs with DNA research.  They successfully completed a somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) with human DNA. With SCNT the DNA is removed from an egg cell and replaced with DNA from a skin cell. The resulting cell is tricked into growing as an embryo.

In “therapeutic cloning”, the embryo is harvested early to collect the stem cells which theoretically can become any tissue type for organ transplant or disease treatment. In “reproductive cloning” the embryo is implanted into a surrogate mother and allowed to develop into a complete animal.

A type of SCNT was used 17 years ago to clone the infamous sheep Dolly, the first mammal cloned by this method. Other embryo cell methods had worked before then, but this was the first to use skin cells. Since then they have cloned probably 18-20 different four legged mammals with this procedure.

It turns out to be very difficult to make a clone. You only get a few good embryos from hundreds of attempts. And most cloned animals have health problems that shorten their life span. Dolly died at only half the age of normal sheep.

The human clone was a therapeutic clone. The technique was perfected with monkey eggs.  More than a thousand monkey eggs were used before moving to humans. You see monkeys have not been reproductively cloned using SCNT. There is something different about monkey eggs verses other mammal eggs. It is much more difficult if not impossible to make a reproductive clone with monkeys and, in that respect,  humans.

So the issue is not about making a cloned human baby, although that may be somewhere down the road, it is about the ethics of using embryo derived cells for research. Has the science jumped ahead of our ethics?

  • Is a therapeutically cloned embryo still an embryo?
  • Does the situation change if the embryo could never become a baby?
  • Is there an ethical problem with using human eggs to make the clone?
  • Should we pay for the eggs to do this type of research?
  • Do we impose religious ethics on this type of research and if so, do we use Western religion or Eastern religion?

These and other questions will be asked as our ethics tries to keep up with the scientific techniques.


That’s humiliating!

Just a year ago, I was flabbergasted when I discovered that quite a great number of students in our introductory leadership class, Learning and Leading, couldn’t explain the difference between humility and humiliation. This presented quite a difficulty since we spend an entire week in our freshman leadership class on the role of humility in leadership.  In fact, when I asked them what they thought about the article they read which referenced the role of humility in leadership, a number of them thought the idea was a terrible one.


Photo Credit: gak via Compfight cc

In twenty-three sections of this particular class, almost every facilitator had a similar experience. Many of these students had seen leaders who chose to use intimidation or humiliation with their followers and our students couldn’t distinguish this from the concept of having humility as a leader.  Others had watched as once respected leaders had plummeted from public approval through various scandals and wanted no part of leadership accompanied by humiliation.

So, when every group in my Organizational Leadership class selected humility among the top qualities of a leader, I was thrilled. (Only 7% of Barna survey respondents selected humility.)

As I discussed in last week’s blog, a couple of the characteristics of good leaders selected by my students were unexpected. Though the first gave me plenty of food for thought, this second difference was particularly surprising in light of my past interactions with students about humility and leadership. Though I’m sure I maintained an outward posture of serious academic fervor in front of my class, inside I was throwing a party.

I think any faculty member in Christian higher education wants to celebrate when they see their students integrate faith with their learning. Whether they realized it or not, these students were drawing directly from the teachings of Scripture in considering what makes a good leader.  When we consider the character of Jesus Christ, humility is among the first qualities to come to mind. Consider the words of Philippians 2:5-7

“In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant…”

If we, as leaders, are leading only in the context of being followers of Christ, then it would be exceptionally difficult to find a place for self-serving leadership.
And as often seems to be the case, research supports the words of scripture. Jim Collins’ research in Good to Great indicates that the best leaders are in fact humble.  He talks about a “curious combination” of personal humility combined with a great deal of drive to see the organization succeed.

Of course, being humble doesn’t automatically make you a good leader, but in a world where so many leaders we see are arrogant, domineering, or self-serving, I’m so impressed that our students can envision a world where the most valued leaders look out for the good of others and give credit to those around them.


You mean, I have an agenda?

An abundance of research has shown that the mass media, while not telling us what to think (or making us think or act certain ways), clearly tell us what to think about. McCombs and Shaw did seminal work in this area in the 1970s, and their findings are still highly regarded–and have been rigorously emulated–in the academic field of mass communication through the present. This body of work has been directing our attention to—and illustrating how—some issues, values, video clips, and a milieu of daily highlights are shuffled and re-shuffled in order of importance in our minds, some decreasing and some increasing in salience and prominence among our thoughts de jure. Many take up permanent residence in our medium-term memory; others hang around only long enough to cloud our values and blur our vision of that supposedly ever-graying line between right and wrong.

“But we’re just giving people what they want!”

The entertainment industry conveniently ignores its role in causing people to develop an appetite for the lurid, the profane, and prurient. The news industry goes further with its claims.

“We’re giving people what they need.” (As if they know.)

The highly-successful, commercially marketed news product does produce a faux sense of what we need to know, far more successful than any Black Friday sales scheme, and this happens every morning and every evening on your favorite channel!

Jesus got it right!

Jesus best understood and described the human psycho-spiritual response to the world in which His disciples would continue to live after He left. With the following remarks he also laid responsibility on both the source and the receiver of unrighteousness.

(Matthew 12:33-35, NASB)
33 “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for the tree is known by its fruit. 34 You brood of vipers, how can you, being evil, speak what is good? For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. 35 The good man brings out of his good treasure what is good; and the evil man brings out of his evil treasure what is evil.”

(Matthew 15:10-20, NASB) After Jesus called the crowd to Him, He said to them, “Hear and understand. 11 It is not what enters into the mouth that defiles the man, but what proceeds out of the mouth, this defiles the man.” 15 Peter said to Him, “Explain the parable to us.” 16 Jesus said, “Are you still lacking in understanding also? 17 Do you not understand that everything that goes into the mouth passes into the stomach, and is eliminated? 18 But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. 20 These are the things which defile the man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile the man.”

Helping our students get it…

In the classroom it is vital that we help students find the relevance and workability of conceptual approaches to media. In my mass communication classes I strive to help them understand via discussion and media clips that broadcasters and webcasters do indeed create content which “sets our agendas” toward the inane, the preposterous, and the untoward. Students’ at first are typically indifferent to the notion that most of the media’s agenda is directing us away from truly pressing issues, let alone spiritual and God-centered perspectives on those issues. (Such content is not hard to find; in fact, it’s much harder to find where it doesn’t occur.)

The second challenge in successfully engaging mass communication students about agenda setting is to instill within them the recognition that they are indeed the future content-makers in both the entertainment and information industries and, as such, have a God-given obligation to help get the “ox out of the ditch,” so to speak.

In this regard, I must strive (with God’s help) to convince them that they CAN and WILL make a positive impact on the audio-visual world and that they have a responsibility to try. They WILL be the opinion makers and agenda setters of tomorrow, and what they say and how they say it will direct the hearts and minds of the upcoming generation. No pressure, eh? 

Dr. Darrell Roe (Ph.D., UGA, 1998) is an Assoc. Prof. of Mass Communication at ETBU. His specialty is analyzing the content of visual media and its effects on audiences.

Sense and Sense-ability…

People know about the five senses:

  • Seeing
  • Hearing
  • Smelling
  • Tasting
  • Touching

(If you want to be more up-to-date scientifically, add Balance/Equilibrium to the list for a sixth sense.)

These senses are the way we know about the world around us.  Each sense has a special way of receiving the outside information with one or more receptors.  The receptors then send the information to our brain where we become aware or perceive it.

Without the proper receptors, we cannot sense the environment.


Photo Credit: RHiNO NEAL via Compfight cc

With our vision, we sense light, a small part of the wavelengths of electromagnetic radiation in the environment. We see the wavelengths as colors of the rainbow (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet), and if all the wavelengths are present we see white light.

If the wavelengths are on either side of the rainbow, e.g. infrared light or ultraviolet light, we can’t see them.  We don’t have the receptors for infrared light or ultraviolet light.  We build artificial receptors or cameras to sense this light and produce an image that we can perceive.  Pictures made with these cameras show us images of our world that we miss just because we lack receptors for the information. These environmental cues are invisible to us.

That doesn’t mean that these things are not natural, we just don’t perceive them.

Some people seem to be more aware of their environment.  They seem to have a “sixth sense” (or seventh sense if you want to be more technically correct…see first paragraph).  That teacher with the “eyes in the back of her head” or the mother who knows when her child is in trouble.  You may have been in a room and “felt” someone looking at you.  Is it possible that these people are more “tuned-in” to the environment?

Maybe they sense invisible things in the environment such as gravity or creepy stare rays or “getting-into-mischief-vibes”.

There are many “invisible” things in our environment.  Things like radiation, air pressure, microscopic creatures, and love. When something is invisible to us, it becomes more difficult to understand. We tend to ignore it or find it mysterious or frightening. The spiritual world is a part of this invisible environment.  I find the spiritual realm to have mystery and intrigue. Many people just choose to ignore the spiritual.  So is this invisible environment “supernatural” or just a different part of the natural?

angel glass

Photo Credit: Lawrence OP via Compfight cc

Sometimes God adjusts our senses to be able to see parts of this spiritual world. In Numbers 22:31, Balaam’s eyes were opened and he saw the angel with sword drawn. In 2 Kings 6:17, Elisha’s servant’s eyes were opened and he saw the angel army upon the mountains.  We tend to forget the fact that angels are among us. They need to be visible for us to stop ignoring them. What spiritual images are we missing because we lack receptors?

What type of receptor would let us see angel armies? Instead of a sensory receptor, the receptor for the spiritual realm appears to be faith, i.e. the evidence of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1). Faith is what allows people to perceive the spiritual world and make it an important part of their lives. It provides the ability to sense God working in our lives.

I like the chorus of an old Sierra song, “…in the Story of Life, I’ve found the only way I can ever survive is reading by the light of my Faith…” (Sierra, 1998).  Faith provides the “vision” to see life with its eternal meaning.

People have the ability to increase their sensitivity to the environment.  We know that people who have lost their sight have the other senses become more sensitive. Other people have focused on their senses and increased awareness of their environment. With practice and meditation they can train their senses to be more tuned-in, increasing their “sense-ability”.

This can happen in the spiritual realm also. Prayer allows us to focus on the spiritual. Meditation can train the faith receptors to be more sensitive. Maybe we can tune-in our spiritual seventh sense to become more aware of our true environment. More interaction with the spiritual world can make it less mysterious and less frightening. The increased sensitivity would allow us to be consciously aware of this invisible world that is all around us making it more “natural” in our lives.

What ways could you focus on your Faith to increase your sense-ability of God’s presence in your life?


Know it When You See it

I like to jump directly into a discussion of faith and our subject matter during the first day of class.  While I could spend the entire time hammering home the finer points of my syllabus, I fear I might put myself to sleep.

So, to get us started in Organizational Leadership this semester, I thought we might consider what good leadership looks like. A lot of people struggle to define leadership and some would even say that though they can’t quite describe it, they know good leadership when they see it. So, I thought it would be interesting to find out how my students would define good leadership.  To do so, I asked them the same question that the Barna Research Group recently asked about the most important characteristics of a leader. Here were the options that respondents in Barna’s research could choose from:

  • Courage
  • Vision
  • Competence
  • Humility
  • Collaboration
  • Passion for God
  • Integrity
  • Authenticity
  • Purpose (which they defined as being made for or “called” to the job)
  • Discipline

I let my students select 4 characteristics that they believed were essential characteristics of a leader.  My students’ responses were similar to those in the Barna survey, but they also differed in a couple of regards:

My students selected “passion for God” most frequently as an essential quality. The article reporting on the Barna research seemed to indicate that the author was a little disappointed in how few Christians selected “passion for God” as essential.  I was frankly surprised that so many of my students chose this characteristic.

Is passion for God necessary for good leadership?

On the one hand, I do prefer working directly for someone who shares my commitment to the Christian faith. Furthermore, I have chosen to teach in a Christian university where we consider the integration of faith essential to exploring the full breadth and depth of knowledge. On the other hand, I’m not sure I would have chosen “passion for God” in my list of essentials for leadership.

As I reflect on my hesitance to put “passion for God” on my list of leadership essentials, I realize that perspective makes a lot of difference.
On a regular basis I interact with leaders in business, politics, medicine, education, social service, and the arts who are not all followers of Christ. When I consider the Barna research question, I have all of those individuals in mind. I don’t expect that I will necessarily have a Christian representative in government on the state or local level.  I don’t expect that my doctor or local law enforcement officers will all be Christians, but I certainly do want them to be leaders in their field. And I would like for my leaders to display integrity and vision regardless of their Christian (or not so Christian) beliefs. So, when I decide who will get my vote or my business, I don’t immediately put “passion for God” on the list of essentials.

If we phrase the question just a bit differently, my perspective changes.  Let’s suppose that instead I was asked, “What characteristics are essential for Christians who lead?” I believe that it is absolutely essential that any leadership that a believer would offer should grow out of our primary role as a followers – followers of Christ.

Even then, I would probably call this a prerequisite to Christian leadership.  It’s the bare-minimum standard that individuals who claim to be Christians would be faithful to living as Christ and through the power of the Holy Spirit, whether or not they are leading.

And I would likely choose a different term than “passion for God.” I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being passionate, but when I think about the characteristics of Christian leaders it goes beyond strong feelings and emotions. The Christian leaders whom I most admire and who have been most influential in my life, were also dedicated, committed, surrendered, and faithful to Christ. So though perhaps I would choose those terms instead, if that’s what the researchers and my students intended when they put “passion for God” on the list, then I suppose I can see their perspective.

Next week, I’ll tell you about the other major difference between my students and the Barna research, but until then, what 4 characteristics would make your list?


Go for the Gold!

On February 7 the world will once again tune into media coverage of The Games, the Sochi (Russia) Winter Olympics!

Go Team U.S.A.!!

The Games will also provide media critics and analysts, such as myself, the opportunity to point out how interviews with athletes and news features (“packages”) about their lives and struggles are rather superficial and not particularly meaningful. Moreover, from a Christian (and scriptural) perspective the emphasis on individual achievement and personal attainment of goals should leave us hungry for the truth: that everything we are and can be is given to us by God, that everything we are privileged to achieve, to endure, to conquer, and to excel in, is because the Lord is giving us generously of His strength, giving us the ability to do whatever He has created us for in His wisdom. No one can do anything apart from the life, health, courage, stamina, and perseverance with which He blesses us.

But you won’t hear that on TV.

Before I explore this phenomenon from an academic standpoint, let’s remember what the Lord spoke through the prophet Jeremiah:

Thus says the Lord, “Cursed is the man who trusts in mankind and makes flesh his strength, and whose heart turns away from the Lord. 6“For he will be like a bush in the desert and will not see when prosperity comes, but will live in stony wastes in the wilderness, a land of salt without inhabitant. 7“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord and whose trust is the Lord. 8“For he will be like a tree planted by the water, that extends its roots by a stream and will not fear when the heat comes; but its leaves will be green, and it will not be anxious in a year of drought nor cease to yield fruit.  (Jeremiah 17: 5-8, NASB)

I did it myself!

Schema theory is one conceptual approach which has proven successful in explaining how images and situations portrayed on television and film provide building blocks for how we, the audience, construct–and re-construct–our internal (cognitive) reality. What we see and hear provide us with the building blocks and structural blueprints for all sorts of cognitive structures (ideologies) through which our minds conceive of reality. Our reality about people, politics, tangible and intangible things, including faith, God, love, humility, as well as our concept of the “the self,” are made up mostly of a curious amalgamation of information bits about the things which we have been experiencing and observing since we arrived on the planet. As we learn more about anything we adjust the schematic references in our minds, or, in some cases, adjust the incoming information to fit into the existing realities already present there, since the latter requires fewer processing resources (and less work!). This has been demonstrated by Rumelhart (1980) and others who have done extensive research using schema theory.

What’s the take away?

If televised coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games bombards us with repetitive messages and idealic representations of the world’s best athletes as self-constructed heroes, many viewers will believe they can, too, in their own lives work hard enough to achieve success (and glory) on their own, with little or no consideration for the higher power of our Lord and Creator who provides everything with that which we need daily (cf. Psalm 145). Scheufele (2006) states that journalists’ schemata both inform and motivate them to report on stories from their own (i.e., preferred) point of view, indicating somewhat the extent to which story elements align with–or do not align with–their pre-existing news schemata. Scheufele calls it “attitude-fitting” (p. 68) or lining (attitudes) up “with the ‘slots’ of journalists’ schema” (p. 68).

Back to the Word

Finally, let us all take heed from the apostle Paul’s words as he winds up his second letter to the young preacher Timothy:

3For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, 4and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths. 5But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

>> And future Olympians (and broadcasters) would do well to remember the source of all our success and the rewards to come, as Paul continues:

6For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. 7I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; 8in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.  (II Timothy 4:3-8, NASB)

Dr. Darrell Roe (Ph.D., UGA, 1998) is an Assoc. Prof. of Mass Communication at ETBU. His specialty is analyzing the content of visual media and its effects on audiences.

Faith outside of Church

It’s not a simple question.  Where does my faith intersect with my discipline?  I mean, I grew up as a preacher’s kid going to Sunday school and church and camp and Bible drill and more church… even Wednesday night business meetings. I checked all the right boxes on my envelope and turned it into the offering plate. I memorized Scriptures to win a bicycle, sang in the youth choir, and went to vacation Bible school and mission trips. Born and raised Southern Baptist, but is that my faith?

I loved math and science.  I studied the earth, the sky, the outdoors, animals and the wonders of nature.  I wanted to be an astronaut or scientist.  And through high school struggled with how my faith fit with science.

I tried to merge the two areas of my life by going to a small Christian college, East Texas Baptist College (ETBC…I was here before U.) and majoring in biology.  As with most liberal arts colleges, ETBU was not known for its science education. You know, the science professors here probably couldn’t get a job at a real university so they settled for teaching at a liberal arts college.  Still I enjoyed my classes, and although the coursework was more challenging than high school, I made A’s and had plenty of time for extracurricular activities such as Christian ministries as well as pranks other social activities.

It was during these years that I discovered my so called faith was really more religion than relationship.  I spent the first two years of college as a bed-side Baptist playing the religion game. Then at one of the chapels I didn’t sleep in, or a BSU revival week, or a Bible study in the dorm, or somewhere it clicked that the relationship was more important than the religion. Even Jesus said that eternal life was getting to know God and His Son (John 17:3). The Bible became a fountain of knowledge about Jesus and God (even the Old Testament). My faith was flourishing. Obviously I needed to become a minister right? I added a minor in religion. That would take care of that faith and discipline problem.

Still had a love of science… Can a scientist be a minister?

I received my degree in biology and scored high enough to attend graduate school at Texas A&M University.  When I entered Texas A&M, I was directed to the large animal surgical ward in a neuroscience lab.  I found the professor in the middle of surgery in which he was inserting a probe into a cow’s brain.  As he operated, he described the various regions of the brain as the probe passed through them.  As he talked, I found myself totally ignorant of any of the anatomy he described.  I was embarrassed with my lack of knowledge and, in my mind, blamed the poor instruction I received in my undergraduate anatomy class.  I figured that the instructor had skipped those portions of the textbook because he did not know the material.  Of course, what should you expect from a small college where the science professors were probably second-rate or last-chance employees?

Sometime later, I was moving boxes of my old textbooks when a lab manual fell on the ground.  It was my human anatomy lab manual from ETBU. Remembering my embarrassment in the surgical ward, I took this opportunity to revisit my disgust of the former anatomy professor. I turned to the nervous system section and found a picture of the brain.  Instead of being skipped over, I found every blank filled in with proper terminology.  On top of that, it was in my own handwriting!

Not only had the professor gone over this material, he had covered it completely.  Apparently, my learning was not learning after all, but it was short-term memorizing.  I had crammed for the tests and made the grade, but did not learn the material.  My graduate work at Texas A&M took longer to finish than it should have.  I had to spend some of that time relearning the things I had not truly learned during my undergraduate years.

Intersection of faith and discipline? How about working for the Lord and not for men (Colossians 3:23)? Doing my best in all endeavors, including studying. Is that faith?

Faith intersects my Life… Not just at church. Now I look for those intersections in everyday life.  I hope to let you in on the larger intersections I find…

Ironically, I became a biology professor at ETBU, (insert God’s laughter here), where I try to encourage my students to learn it right the first time. And this job was not my last choice…It was my calling and my ministry!

With fear and trepidation

Photo Credit: Matt Hamm via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Matt Hamm via Compfight cc

There’s a reason that I rarely post to Facebook, avoid Twitter, and have never started my own blog. It might seem strange that I now am blogging about my avoidance of the social media bandwagon, but frankly I am terrified to throw my ideas out in public for the entire world to peruse, review, and critique without the ability to have a face-to-face and preferably one-on-one conversation about them.

The thing I most loved about my graduate school experience was sitting around the conference table having passionate debate with people that I could still consider colleagues and friends at the end of the day.  My experience reading discussions online hasn’t replicated this experience. I find that (some) people tend to throw out niceties and manners when they arrive in cyberspace and rather than having sensible discussions about differences of opinion they attack, point fingers and resort to name-calling.

The fact of the matter is that, even were the entire world kind and gracious, I don’t really like drawing attention to myself.  Most people find it odd to learn that I’m an introvert as I don’t mind teaching in front of a classroom or even a stadium full of people. While being in front of people isn’t a problem, talking about myself rather than my subject tends to be difficult. So we arrive again at my hesitation to post personal reflections that the entire world can see.

So, what do I do? I submit my name for consideration as a Spring 2014 blogger for the Intersection. (Yes, I am aware that this might mean I’m crazy!)  Even as I type this first blog post on the CECS Intersection, I do so with a bit of trepidation.

And yet, I choose to post these thoughts because even more than I dislike the vulnerability of this discussion that is open to the world, I love to converse about the intersection of my discipline (leadership) and our Christian faith. I find myself having this conversation quite frequently in recent weeks…

  • With our commencement speaker as we waited in line
  • Standing on a curb in the bitter cold wind (Why didn’t we move inside?)
  • At the car lot with a (really helpful and kind) salesperson

It seems that just about everyone is interested in a conversation about leadership.  And though many people are surprised to hear that leadership is my academic discipline (or an academic discipline at all), I’m pleased that it is the kind of discipline that most people feel they can converse about. So, I’ve decided to move the conversation online. And though, I’d like to keep the conversation pleasant and lighthearted, I fear it may occasionally (next week, for instance) dip over into the controversial or difficult. Still, I’m willing to risk it so that we can all be a part of this conversation about what it looks like to lead as followers of Christ.

And maybe, just maybe we can do so without forfeiting kindness, graciousness, and civility.

 Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. Colossians 4:6


Jesus and The Duck Commander

Please allow me to clear the air… of gun smoke and duck feathers…

It would be hard to exaggerate the success of A&E’s Duck Dynasty and the seemingly boundless merchandising blitz which has followed the cable TV show as it soared to fame on riparian wings. All that DD regalia, posters, and plastic-ware making its way to the suburbs–to be snatched up by yuppies?

Phil Robertson couldn’t have dreamed it, wouldn’t have.

However, along the way Bible-waving and back pew-warming Christians alike have gotten caught up in a flock of heated discussions among themselves and with non-believers about whether Duck Commander Phil is a good role model and whether we should applaud or boo his direct-to-the-solar plexus, down-homey style of wit and simple life lessons, both on and off screen.

Don’t get your feathers ruffled, Jack, but… nobody’s perfect, including Papa Phil and the boys. best duck

Let’s not make them out to be more than men. If you’re looking for a paragon of human living, you have it… in our Lord Jesus Christ and the four gospel accounts of his model physical and spiritual life. And if you still want a TV show to further inspire you, watch that other Robertson’s The 700 Club (nonfiction).

Moreover, here are some things I don’t think Jesus would have done, even if he’d had his own reality TV program.

  1. He wouldn’t have lied (a staple in numerous DD storylines).
  2. He wouldn’t have broken the law (put in some DD episodes, just for laughs?).
  3. He wouldn’t have been contentious just for kicks (a dietary staple on DD, along with beef jerfy and black coffee).

Still… some ecstatically tout Willie’s dad and his counter-social homilies (Notice, I didn’t say anti-social) as what TV ‘art to be’ and give the show far too much credibility than sanity should justify, while others bemoan the right-wing conservative voices of a few multimillionaire duck hunters who just want to have fun and spread the gospel message on the second cable tier via A&E.  Have we no room left now for some down-home preaching and cooking, after enduring the Kardashian dynasty for so long?

Why have some Christians gotten more than a little quacked up over this?

front duck

After waiting so long for anything wholesome to watch on TV and eager to talk to somebody at church about what you saw last night, it’s hard not to get enthusiastic about this generally good hearted, G-rated TV show.

But it is just a show, right?  C’mon, say it with me… It is just a TV show.  Now that was easy, right?

So… shouldn’t I be saying something all pithy and academic about now?

I’m glad you asked! (I’ll take a quack at it.)

In their intriguing study, Nabi and Clark (2008) found that “negatively reinforced behaviors on TV may be modeled anyway” (p. 407), that is, despite, and perhaps even because they are negatively modeled. And a plethora of mass communication research on everything from sitcoms to movies to TV ads and even the so-called reality of news violence has bolstered our understanding over the decades that there is something inherently attractive and, unfortunately, more memorable about negative portrayals than positive ones (be it strong/suggestive dialogue, anti-social behavior, immoral lifestyles, physical conflict/injury, and even damage to property).

Pointing to Social Cognitive theory (SCT), Nabi and Clark remind us that “vicarious learning” (p. 409) is indeed prevalent among TV audiences. Echoing Kellner’s (1980) work, in which he warns that “[TV’s] imagery is. . . prescriptive as well as descriptive,” (p. 5),  Nabi and Clark’s research help us understand that what we view may ultimately become a guide for our own behavior thereafter. They point to Bandura (2002)  whose seminal work with children and violent behavior goes back to the 1960s (see “Bobo doll study“). In more recent studies, Bandura has explained in detail that four process guide how one’s “observational learning” and subsequent behavior are linked. And here I’ll succinctly apply it to DD fandom:

Bandura’s (2002) four processes are, in order:

  1. attention (watching the TV show with your undivided)
  2. retention (sharing it with friends and watching the reruns)
  3. production (doing as they do)
  4. motivational (why you like them)

By now you’ve surely convinced yourselves of some things I’ll need to clear up. No harm, no… foul. But let me get them off my bill :

  • So you’re anti-Phil Robertson? On the contrary, I sincerely admire his pluck in standing up for Biblical principles and against unrighteousness. I’m grateful for his mealtime prayer at each show’s conclusion, invoking the name of our Dear Lord Jesus. He is not, however, my idol.
  • So you hate Duck Dynasty? No, I’m not down on the Duck Commanders. Several episodes I’ve seen multiple times, and I look forward to more this year! But as a mass media academic, I enjoy taking some shots at it!
  • So you think merchandising is un-American? (Do you even know me? I’m thinking about getting someone a Valentine’s candy box with the Duck Commander and crews’ pictures on it. It don’t get more redneck, southern, all-American, Walmart than that, Jack!)

    left to right duck


CECS Announces Spring 2014 Bloggers

As our inaugural blogging semester concluded in December 2013, the Center for Excellence in Christian Scholarship issued a call for bloggers to the ETBU faculty members for Spring 2014. This semester we are able to sponsor 3 new faculty bloggers as they endeavor to explore the collisions of faith and academia. Please join us in congratulating our Spring 2014 bloggers – Dr. David Brooks, Associate Professor of Biology & Nursing, Dr. Emily Row Prevost, Director of Leadership Studies, and Dr. Darrell Roe, Associate Professor of Communication Studies. Together they will use their varied vantage points to examine what it means to be a Christian scholar and teacher in today’s world.

Dr. David Brooks, Dr. Emily Row Prevost, and Dr. Darrell Roe

Dr. David Brooks, Dr. Emily Row Prevost, and Dr. Darrell Roe

You will have an opportunity to learn more about our bloggers and their individual journeys next week. Each writer will share a weekly post on Monday, Wednesday, or Friday. Stop by three times a week to see what they have to say or subscribe via email by signing up on the right side of the page. We hope that you will engage with our authors by leaving comments and asking questions throughout the semester.

Have a topic suggestion for our bloggers? Leave a comment below!

Looking forward to another semester @ The Intersection,

Elizabeth Ponder, MSLS
Program Coordinator, Center for Excellence in Christian Scholarship