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Well, our Duck Dynasty friends have found themselves in the news again. The show has been something of an inexplicable (to me, at least) pop culture phenomenon. Not since Jeff Foxworthy’s “you might be a redneck” routines has redneck culture  been so prominent and acceptable and marketable.

But this time Duck Dynasty finds itself on the receiving end of a media backlash that one could predict with just a little exposure to our current cultural climate on sexuality. The now infamous GQ interview with Mr. Phil Robertson has caused something of a furor surrounding the surprisingly popular Duck Dynasty show.

Watching from the distance of a Caribbean island, which is not to be confused with watching from an impartial distance, several ironies surface for me.

1. It’s ironic that a “vulgar” rejection of certain sexual acts cannot co-exist with visual and verbal sexual vulgarity itself.

2. It’s ironic that “vile” remarks are rejected while the vile acts they describe are celebrated.

3. It’s ironic that an end to the censorship of certain sex acts should be accompanied by the use of censorship.

4. It’s ironic that one’s job can be taken away because of their view of human sexuality while sexual orientation is protected against job descrimination.

5. It’s ironic that young girls can parade themselves as hyper-sexualized beings on major awards shows and older men be vilified for graphically expressing their sexual interest.

6. It’s ironic that “wisdom” on the side of normative sexual ethics requires the use of rhetorical restraint while “tolerance” of deviant sexual ethics includes acceptance of rhetorical abandonment, recklessness and provocation.

Whatever one thinks of Mr. Robertson’s comments in GQ magazine, Americans should all agree that he has a First Amendment right to make them. And, frankly, in a public debate characterized by a lot of raw, unrestrained demonstration, we seriously need to reflect on the terms of engagement in this debate. As you may  know, I think Mr. Robertson spoke what a lot of people think and feel but are not accustomed to expressing–for good or ill. His visceral reaction is the reaction of most who stop to think about the actions in question. That he should be beaten up for it is expected. That many should stand by quietly while he is… is sad. Soon they’ll come around for us, too. Which raises the big question of whether or not, at the risk of being rejected, every American citizen will insist on the kind of public debate that makes room for every opinion–whether or not we agree. We don’t have to confer legitimacy on every opinion or even engage everyone who speaks to an issue. But we should make sure that the freedom to speak freely is protected and honored.

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29 thoughts on “Duck Dynasty and the Twisted Ironies of Our Current Sexual Politics”

  1. Aaron Snell says:

    Excellent points, Thabiti, and a good real-time illustration of your description of the new gameplay in your gag-reflex post – seize upon politeness, minimize conjugality, remove the yuck factor. I’m interested, though – would you say Robertson’s approach was a good application of your argument in that post?

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Hi Aaron,

      Great question. I’d say his approach is an application of the argument. In some ways it was better than my post. For instance, he clearly commented on a range of sins and did not single our homosexuality alone. That’s being overlooked in the discussions. Yet, I think he was biblical to do that and did a better job of it than my post.

      But in other ways, I think he might have been over the line–especially as it relates to the description of his own preferences. To me, that felt like a bit much. It risked making his comments merely about his preferences rather than about the morality of same-sex acts. I think that’s a bad idea.

      But his comments and my post illustrate this one point: Whether you try to be clinical in your description (as I tried with my post) or you speak in a more colloquial way, you’re going to be met with swift disapproval. As I said previously, we’ve entered the space where there’s no acceptable way to express opposition. That means we’re going to need the courage of our convictions.


      1. Charles says:

        Being clinical (clever) or colloquial (crude) is not the issue here. The issue is about rightness and being sensitive to the lives of fellow human beings. By and large, Christians have taken the long and winding road to catch up to what society already has accepted. Christians are supposed to esteem others as better than themselves. Christians are supposed to study to show themselves approved and yet they seem unlearned about what the bible says concerning same sex relations. Would it even make sense to have a homophobic God? Or are people reading a meaning into scripture that does not exist? And thank God that ignorance and intolerance are met with swift disapproval. It’s abundantly clear that instead of working out their own salvation, Christians are obsessed with other people lives. The bible says take the log out of our own eye before attempting to take the speck out of someone else s. And speaking of opposition and convictions, what exactly does Christianity stand for? Anything? Or does it just oppose? It’s quite revealing when the only time Christians are involved in a ‘social’ discussion involves either defending Chick-Fil-A or Duck Dynasty.

  2. Aaron says:

    Couldn’t agree more Thabiti. Good post.

    But, if we’re talking First Ammendment. . . doesn’t A & E have the right to run their business as they see fit. If there were clauses in his contract about discrimination, etc. . . don’t you think they have a right to enforce those?

    I’m totally agreeing with you on the principle. . . but I think if we’re going after the First Ammendment, Mr. Robertson does not have the right to never be fired from A & E, he works at their pleasure. Now, if he would’ve been arrested or something, . . .that’s a different story.

    The pushback could be. . “what if A & E fired someone for being flamboyantly homosexual”. And, that’s a great question. But, it’s a business practice question, not necessarily First Ammendment, I think. . .

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Hi Aaron,

      Great questions, bro. Thanks for raising them. My answer would be: “It depends on what’s in his contract with A&E.” If he’s violated some clause in his contract, then absolutely. But the A&E statement doesn’t say that. It says, “Robertson’s comments do not represent the views of A&E.” But is Robertson’s private life and private views meant to represent the views of A&E? I doubt it. After all, it’s a “reality” TV show. It’s supposed to be the broadcasting of this family as they really are… A&E’s views aside.

      I think it’s a First Amendment question because Mr. Robertson was not representing A&E in the interview or doing acting in any official capacity re: the show. He was being interviewed and was asked what constitutes sinful behavior. Interestingly, he did the most appropriate thing in listing a lot of sins–heterosexual and homosexual. He made the same pronouncement about them all. But he’s being punished for what he said about homosexual acts. That, it seems to me, calls into question his rights to free speech.

      So, I’m not suggesting he has the right to never be fired from A&E. I’m suggesting that his interview comments do not constitute discrimination (there was no hiring decision being made by Mr. Robertson), but A&E’s firing decision (depending on the contract’s particulars) does. Interestingly… if he had been found doing with a woman not his wife what he describes in the interview or found in a drunken stupor, it’s quite likely he’d still have his job and A&E would find a way to spin it for ratings. That’s the dangerous hypocrisy evident in all this.


      1. Aaron says:

        Totally agree on the hypocricy. . . I guess I’m getting at what Rachel is mentioning below. I think if we want the Cake makers in Phoenix to be able to run their business as they see fit. . .we should allow A & E to do the same, even though we don’t like it. (I don’t).

        Wesley Hill’s piece today talks about Phil’s error here, and I would agree with Wesley. But, there’s some hypocricy there with A&E as well, because they hired, sold, and marketed Phil as being a loud, funny redneck. Now, they are firing him for being that way (essentially what they hired him for). So, if you don’t want a loud redneck to say things in an inflammatory way (Phil, could stand to learn “no comment), don’t market him, sell him, and encourage him in such a way.

        Alas, another confirmation that our culture has changed. I personally love the show, love watching it with my kids (they learn so much in every show about how we treat one another and the honesty and good of a long day’s work with your hands, and living off the land).

        BTW, Thanks Thabiti for a year of challenging, courageous posts. I hope you have a wonderful Christmas and New Year’s!

        God bless,


        1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

          Hi Aaron,

          I see what you’re saying. I haven’t seen the piece by Hill. Will look for it.

          I certainly don’t think we should try to dictate to A&E how they run their business. That’s where we’re being consistent in our defense of the cake makers. They shouldn’t be forced to do things that violate their Christian commitments as business owners. Same for Hobby Lobby, etc. Everyone should have that courtesy/right extended to them.

          But as your second paragraph points out, you can’t profit from a thing and at the same time silence it. Let me use a Black church example. In many churches everyone knows the music director is living a gay or perhaps a bi-sexual lifestyle. The church has had a kind of don’t ask/don’t tell approach. They’ve taken that approach because they’ve profited from the musical talents of their gay members. But if you do that, you compromise yourself when it comes to biblically addressing the behavior and lifestyle. It’s hypocrisy, and we should confront it wherever we find it. And, as you agreed, A&E has been hypocritical at the cost of Mr. Robertson’s ability to speak freely something their execs and others find unpopular. In that way, A&E has discriminated against Mr. Robertson for Robertson’s creed, which in most places is protected in anti-discrimination employment laws. They’ve been both hypocritical and illegal, it seems to me.

          Thanks for reading this year and for the encouragement. The Lord bless and fill you with joy this Advent season!


  3. Rachael Starke says:

    So many thought-provoking things on a day when I am so behind on Christmas….

    One element of this mess that is interesting is how much attention his comments about homosexuality have garnered, with almost nothing being said about his comments on race and working black farm workers before the Civil Rights era. To be honest, that’s where I thought your initial thoughts might go.

    There definitely are many ironies here – that there was so much hue and cry by conservatives over Martin Bashir’s vulgar remarks about Sarah Palin, for example. There was also a lot of protesting when the Christian owners of a bakery were shut down after they declined the request to bake a wedding cake for a lesbian couple. They acted on their beliefs and lost their business, and Christians protested on their behalf. Now A&E is doing the same, and suddenly Christians aren’t okay with it.

    But now that we’re returning to the “vile” factor and examining where it fits as an argument – the last time you brought this up, it drove me to do a word study of both the OT and NT on “abomination”. So many throw that one word around, and yet when I looked into it, I noticed several interesting trends:

    1. In the OT, “abomination” is used to describe many types of sin, with homosexual practice being one of them, but not the only one, by a long shot.
    2. In the NT, it is not used to describe homosexual sin at all. There is a dramatic shift in the way homosexual sin, and the people who either practice it or have put it away, is written about.

    That’s a long way of saying that while I agree that our language has become too ameliorated in how we talk about this particular sin, it could also be argued that that’s because we have ameliorated our talk of many types of sin, compared to how the Bible has. But we’ve also diluted what Jesus’ work on the cross really accomplished, in terms of taking all that abomination on Himself.

    That’s both more lengthy and less coherent than I’d like, but I have to get back to Christmas for now. Will think on these things as I work, and I look forward to reading more. You help me think about hard things!

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Hi Rachael,

      Thanks for taking a break from Christmas and joining us in the discussion :-). I don’t think you’re incoherent at all. But it does make me think of something in a way that I hadn’t yet put words to. And that’s this: It seems to me (as others have no doubt been saying with far greater clarity and frequency than me) that American Christianity is in the midst of a very long, steep downgrade. It’s not simply that we’ve ameliorated our speech in appropriate ways. After all, the NT does say homosexual acts are a lot of other things besides the OT’s use of “abominable” (see Rom. 1). We don’t use those other words either. That’s what suggests the downgrade. Perhaps we’re milquetoast. Perhaps Christians have mistaken a kind of cultural power for actual conviction, courage and willingness to suffer for unpopular and difficult stances. Now with the waning of cultural power from bygone generations of civic Christianity we’re having to learn to talk again in manful (and sometimes painfully plain) ways about uncomfortable subjects. And we don’t yet know how. But stories like this convince me more and more that the incivility of some persons makes the call for Christian “civility” (as if plain speech is uncivil) misguided and self-defeating. Still thinking about it… but that’s where I am at the moment.

      Would be grateful to hear your thoughts after work and all your Christmas shopping is done :-).

      All for Jesus,

      1. george canady says:

        I learn much from reading your responses to other. Thanks.

  4. Lynn says:

    Like Rachel, I too find it interesting that in the very same interview where he discussed sexuality, he also made several comments about “race” that have received considerably less attention. He claimed that blacks were happy before the civil rights movement, and that he never saw them mistreated in the south (a claim I find really hard to believe unless he doesn’t consider forced segregation and lynchings to be mistreatment). His sentiments about the Jim Crow era of the south actually reminded me of your dialogue with Doug Wilson. I agree that Robertson should have the right to express his views on sexuality and everything else — but his statements about blacks tarnish his Christian witness in my opinion.

  5. Jeremiah says:

    T- I would be interested in your response to Phil’s take regarding ‘blacks’.
    grace and peace

    1. James says:

      Agree, but wouldn’t we at least need to see a full transcript of the interview prior to responding to “Phil’s take”? Might or might not change anything, but we’re basing a “take” off a call-out box in a GQ article. Phil’s views could be worse than what was published, or maybe he prefaced his comment with “granted, the pre-civil rights era was awful in many ways. I heard of a lot of bad, including…but ‘I never, with my eyes,…” At any rate, I’ll be interested in how Thabiti responds.

  6. William M Parker says:

    It is a sad day in America when one can not make statements of ones belief based upon the bible teachings without such outrage from others who don’t believe in it. At the same time those who live such lifestyles can parade it to all others without any backlash. The bible is true, read Romans chapter 1 in it’s entire and see what the Word says then go find God.

  7. george canady says:

    Hey pastor T. Grateful as always to hear your take. I have to confess a little surprise also. I must admit I have never seen an episode of Duck Dynasty but I see them all the time on My friends t-shirt and at Wal-Mart. I would say I am not surprised though at the setup that our enemy brings in the form of celebrity. We seem to buy it all the time, like maybe these guys our culture will respect because they are so regular. Do we consider there is an understanding/contract that all parties agree to editing. I think that is the definition of the absence of “free speech. I think that means the true meaning of Jesus will be and has probably been edited out of all episodes. I guess my question would be to us and Phil is: did he expect a different result this time or are we just to embarrassed to admit we fell for it one more time. I am grateful for your strong stance on the language to use when describing the act of homosexuality. Phil though, is bound not free to do what his employer and him have agreed to, if he has agreed to take money to edit his convictions from the start. Seems like you and Joe also missed something in the frenzy.

  8. Curt Day says:

    Another irony is found in how Christians publicly describe homosexuality as vile and demand that society stigmatizes, or punishes, gays while feeling persecuted that their speech against gays is not only less and less tolerated, it is punished itself.

    It isn’t that we should not describe homosexuality as being sinful or against nature. It is that we ‘pile on,’ as they say in football when describing tacking someone who jumps on the ballcarrier after they have been declared down by contact, after we call it sin. And we do so in order to have gays persecuted in some way.

    It seems that we are not satisfied with just telling gays that they are sinning, we want society to mark them and treat them differently from other sinners. We want society to prohibit gays from marrying whom they want to lest people think that homosexuality is normal, acceptable. Thus we want society to stigmatize and persecute gays. At the same time, some of us will declare that we are not against equality for gays. Or if we admit that we are against equality for gays, we express surprise that there is resistance to our push to persecute gays.

    So for as long as we associate calling homosexuality sin with promoting inequality, we should not be surprised if we start losing our right to call homosexuality sin. And we will have no right to complain about that because we will have established in the minds of the public that calling an act sin is part of promoting inequality by persecuting the person performing the sin. And all of this will occur in the context that there are some very common household sins listed in Romans 1 along with homosexuality that never merit the same treatment though they too are born from rejecting the knowledge of God that all have access to. And it will also occur in the context that not all that gays do is peculiar to them.

    We need to be firm in calling homosexuality sin. But if we pile on, we will be providing an unnecessary offense to the preaching of the Gospel which could result in an unnecessary losing of some freedom to preach the Gospel. But that is not the worst of it. What is most intolerable, besides the unnecessary suffering we are causing others, is that we will have passionately embraced the role of the pharisee in the parable of the two men praying. And I am writing this as someone who disagrees with the suspension of Mr. Robertson by A&E.

  9. Charles says:

    The twisted irony is reading an article by a black author who never addresses the somewhat delusional statements that Mr. Robertson made about pre-civil rights blacks he was around who were happy all the time. That’s ironic. I don’t believe Mr. Robertson meant any harm but he was viewing the lives of those black people through his own somewhat limited lens. They were no doubt godly, but it’s hard to believe that in such a discriminatory time, that he never saw them mistreated or that they were always ‘happy’. He either living in the ‘good’ part of the south or he’s somewhat delusional. Either way, Mr. Robertson looks a bit foolish.

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Hi Charles,

      Thanks for joining the discussion and taking the time to comment.

      It would be ironic that I didn’t address Mr. Robertson’s comments about his relationship with sharecroppers only if as a Black man I’m somehow required to always talk about race or always comment on every racial controversy. Since I’m not so required, and I used my freedom not to comment on it as many others have, I don’t think there’s any irony there at all.

      Mr. Robertson’s views are what they are–whether we’re talking about his views of sin or of race relations in the South. They are what they are, and the main criteria for any of his views (or any of our own) would be whether the views are in fact true. The fact that he got one thing wrong doesn’t make him wrong at all points. The fact that he got one thing right doesn’t make him right at all points. But every place he takes his stand with the Bible he’s bound to get things basically right, even if he looks a fool while doing so.

      After all, Christians are those people who believe in the foolishness of preaching a God-man crucified, buried and resurrected for the sins of the entire world. To the unbelieving world we look like fools all day long. But “the foolishness of God wiser than men” (1 Cor. 1:25). Real wisdom is standing with God even if it looks foolish rather than standing foolishly with men even if it looks wise.

      May the Lord grant us all that wisdom to leads to eternal life. Grace and peace to you,

      1. Charles says:

        Hi Thabiti,

        And thank you for your timely response. I agree with you, i.e. a Black man is not required to talk about issues specifically because of those issues being related to Black issues or race. As an American Black, I am no doubt sometimes sensitive about racial issues. Sorry if I transferred that to you.

        But I’ll get to the points. I believe Mr. Robertson to be a sincere man of faith and I believe that he did not intend to insult anyone, but he did.

        But my first point is that the typical Christian views on homosexuality are absolutely wrong. By observation and science, it has become more and more evident that people are born as homosexuals or heterosexuals. Sexually speaking, we are who we are. For a multitude of reasons (fear, tradition, ignorance, etc.), Christians mis-interpret the bible concerning same sex acts and homosexuality. Last year, Exodus International President Alan Chambers decided to stop endorsing the widely denounced practice of gay “reparative therapy.” Concerning the failure of Exodus International, Chambers stated “…for quite some time we’ve been imprisoned in a worldview that’s neither honoring toward our fellow human beings, nor biblical”.

        My other point is that Mr. Robertson’s statement concerning never seeing any Black being mistreated…they’re singing and happy”, while possibly true one some level obviously cannot be taken at face value given the documented evidence of consistent lynchings, and intimidation tactics that were employed by the white American power structure of that time. Mr. Robertson’s statement paints a caricature of Blacks that would have one believe those were ‘the good ole days’. The problem is that ‘the good old days’ were not that good, especially for Blacks.
        In both cases, the ignorance is stunning. In both cases, a segment of people (Gays and Blacks) are demeaned. My original problem (which I did not express very well) was trying to figure out why a large segment of people, including Christians, seem to be basically indifferent to both groups…just in different ways….expressing vocal condemnation of one and then providing a silent indifference for the other. And I’m not trying to spiteful; I’m just trying to see how that looks anything like love of Christ.

        Anyway, I pray that we all continue our search for truth.

        1. Thabiti says:

          Hi Charles,

          In what way are “Christian views on homosexuality absolutely wrong”? Observation indicates precisely what Romans 1 says. The “natural relation” is between men and women, who alone can procreate and whose bodily make-up complement one another. There’s zero science that indicates people are “born as homosexuals.” Zero. Alan Chambers is really beside the point. For every Alan Chambers we could point to a piece like this: When we’ve heard the Chambers of the world and the Lopezs of the world, all we’ve heard are the shifting opinions of men. That’s no basis on which to build a view of such fundamental things. For my part, the Bible’s teaching traditionally understood represents the truth on the matter.

          I agree with you about Mr. Robertson’s comments. Though he may have had one experience (that questionable because of his own blindness and AA masking), there’s no way we can describe the Jim Crow south or sharecropping as a happy experience for AAs. Completely agree.

          I don’t think Christians are indifferent to people with same sex attractions or to African Americans. There’s significant Christian energy addressed to people with same sex attraction (see, for example, and efforts at racial reconciliation too numerous to list. Christians have not always been loving or accurate on these issues. But in this case, it seems to me people are prone to interpret disagreement as indifference. The two aren’t the same. And love demands disagreeing when eternal issues are at stake.

          With you, I pray we continue searching for the truth, and I pray we find the Truth. All for Jesus,

  10. bob in In says:

    Thabiti, I thank God for giving you faithfulness to His word, and giving you the boldness for your ministries. Abundant blessings to you and your family.

  11. Thabiti says:

    Thank you for the encouragement. The Lord bless you richly.

  12. St. Lee says:

    Sorry to arrive so late to this party, but I cannot help but comment. First this disclaimer: I have not read the article in question, but have heard numerous reports on it, so if I have heard something that was mis-quoted or out of context, it is only because I choose to spend my spare time reading edifying blogs such as this one rather than tracking down original quotes.

    My understanding is that Mr. Robertson said something to the effect that he worked side by side in the fields with blacks and that they seemed to be very godly and happy people. This idea that to Robertson they seemed happy apparently is offensive to many (seemingly to as many whites as blacks). Yes, what a concept! Christians happy despite persecution. What a totally unbelievable and unbiblical concept! Oh, wait IT”S NOT unbelievable nor unbiblical!

    I would dearly like to think that at least some of the popularity of the show is because of the Robertson’s public embrace of Christian values, and not merely because they are white rednecks.

    I would also dearly like to think that I would equally enjoy a reality show about a black family who likewise embraces Christian values.

    Thanks for focusing on the sin angle rather than the race angle Pastor Anyabwile. While I agree with some of the comments that homosexuality is completely normal, we need to remember that all sin is completely normal for us in our unregenerate state. “Normal” doesn’t make it acceptable to God though. Only the new birth can change us from what is normal.

  13. Charles says:

    Hi Thabiti,

    Again, thanks for taking time to respond to my last post. These discussions may not move us much from our positions but I always hope and do learn. Sorry if I ramble a bit in this one.

    I overreached stating “Christian views on homosexuality are absolutely wrong”. Absolutes are rarely absolute. However, the Christian church has historically been complicit in aligning with interpreting the bible in such a way as equate homosexuality with homosexual acts. And while many scholars have made such a case, it must be noted that many other scholars have concluded that the bible does not speak on homosexuality. Either way, the mandate to study to show ourselves approved seems appropriate indeed.

    Philo Thelos (author of God is Not A Homophobe) states “but the history of the church proves how deadly is the notion that biblical authority is the ultimate goal of religion. Those churches that place greatest emphasis on ‘book, chapter and verse’ are the ones most noticeably hostile to any ideas but their own. And they are the ones who rise up in violent antagonism that leads to the death of spiritual relationships, social relations, and sometimes even physical death”.

    Note a situation years ago. Mary Griffith’s Christian intolerance and hard-nosed indoctrination lead her gay son, Robert Warren to despise himself and ultimately committed suicide in 1983.
    Concerning why millennials are leaving the church, Rachel Held Evans states that “what millennials really want from the church is not a change in style but a change in substance. We want an end to the culture wars. We want a truce between science and faith. We want to be known for what we stand for, not what we are against. We want to ask questions that don’t have predetermined answers. We want churches that emphasize an allegiance to the kingdom of God over an allegiance to a political party or a nation. We want our LGBT friends to feel truly welcome in our faith communities.”

    It was my impression that Alan Chamber’s reparative therapy ministry was founded on biblical principles, not the shifting opinions of men. His sentiment (“for quite some time we’ve been imprisoned in a worldview that’s neither honoring toward our fellow human beings, nor biblical”) may have much to offer. If he was wrong, similar worldviews may need to be re-evaluated.

    The article you cited is exactly the case made by many bible researchers concerning what they believe the bible says about same sex relations, i.e. they conclude that the bible condemns same sex acts because those acts were about exerting status and/or domination.

    And while, for years, homosexual activity accounted for a disproportionate cause of STDs and AIDs cases, the most recent trends show that heterosexual activity as the leading cause.

    Homosexual behavior in animals is sexual behavior among non-human species that may be interpreted as homosexual or bisexual. Some researchers indicate that various forms of this are found throughout the animal kingdom. Other researchers disagree. Research supports both the ‘gay gene’ and ‘gay choice’ camps, but is far more vague, nuanced and unsettled than either side lets on.

    And while the debates rage on, gays are committing suicide; families are torn; and people are leaving the church. At the end of the day, we would all do well to look to Jesus…the author and finisher of the faith, especially noting how Jesus approached the Pharisees. Concerning tithing, they met all the requirements of the law. But Jesus scolded them declaring “woe to you, for you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done”.

    In the end, I think it comes down to how we treat one another.

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Thabiti Anyabwile

Thabiti Anyabwile is a pastor for Anacostia River Church in southeast Washington, DC and a council member of The Gospel Coalition.

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