A&E, which broadcasts the reality hit Duck Dynasty, announced it was indefinitely suspending the reality show’s family patriarch over “anti-gay” comments, prompting a loud and predictable backlash.
I’ll go ahead and admit it: I’ve never watched Duck Dynasty. Not one single episode. I’ve never even wanted to watch it. Or considered tuning in. Once in a while, where others might want to “see what the fuss is about,” I found myself in a state of blissful ignorance of all things associated with this show.
So I had to do a bit of quick research on the show itself when people started asking me about the controversy.
Duck Dynasty centers on a family that created a duck call for hunters and now manufactures additional hunting-related items. The family, from what I can tell from press photos of the show, is full of colorful characters. Including its patriarch, Phil Robertson.
But colorful characters or not, I still have no desire to tune in.
The First Spark
Robertson isn’t the first person I’d think of when someone mentions the magazine GQ. But the magazine sought an interview with Robertson in light of his show’s success. The interview apparently touched on a range of topics, including what Robertson thought was ailing the country. He answered:
“Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men. Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers—they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right.”
It’s curious that no one who’s in any of the other categories seems to be making much of a fuss over the comments.
What’s even more curious, however, is that what should be getting at least as much outrage is his suggestion that black people were happier under the Jim Crow era:
“Where we lived was all farmers. The blacks worked for the farmers. I hoed cotton with them. I’m with the blacks, because we’re white trash. They’re singing and happy. I never heard one of them, one black person, say, ‘I tell you what: These doggone white people’—not a word!… Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.”
Sure, I’m a Christian, so I may see quoting the Bible as somewhat less a case of “spouting bigotry” than non-Christians.
But the suggestion that black people were “happier” during Jim Crow; the notion that he was of comparable position to blacks by virtue of being white trash; and the basis of his opinion of the relative happiness of oppressed blacks on the fact that segregated blacks didn’t complain to white people about their plight are all so absurdly ridiculous that it astonishes me that people aren’t raising a bigger fuss over these remarks.
The fifth season — that’s “cable” seasons — is just weeks away from debuting, and August’s season premiere delivered a record 11.8 million for a non-fiction program. A&E, you can be sure, wants to protect this show.
But the suspension angered Conservative Christians, who’ve taken a liking to the show, in part, because the family is outspoken about their Christian faith. They’re also angry because the suspension seems to be meant to appease groups like GLAAD at the expense of allowing someone who happens to be Christian express his beliefs in an interview that wasn’t meant to be any official statement of the show or to represent the network on which it airs.
And they’re angry because someone quoting the Bible is punished for doing so, yet celebrities like Miley Cyrus, who behave in anything but a Godly manner are seemingly celebrated and idolized by the same audience that gets so bent out of shape when a religious person speaks.
There are already boycotts of A&E underway. I’ve started receiving invites to join Facebook pages about boycotting the network until Robertson is reinstated. Sorry, I don’t play that game. You can’t boycott a show you have no interest in watching to begin with.
Let us not forget, as you choose how you feel based on your own spiritual beliefs and sexual orientation, that A&E, by virtue of being part of “the media,” was, is and will be in a “no-win” scenario. If they didn’t act, they’d be viewed as being insensitive to bigotry and intolerance. Because they did act, they’re attempting to stifle someone’s “free speech,” (which was never at risk), and anti-Christian.
No compromise would have made everyone happy. Essentially, one way or another, the media is always the bad guy.
The Duck Dynasty Controversy Could’ve Been Avoided.
My pastor, who’s far better than I at finding a Biblical response to such situations, posted a reaction on his Facebook page. He cited 1 Timothy 6:20, which reads, “Avoid godless, foolish discussions with those who oppose you with their so-called knowledge. [NLT]”
He then suggested that this was a perfect opportunity for Robertson to stay silent, as Christ Himself did on numerous occasions when accusers were hoping to set Him up to fail.
Too many Christians, it seems, don’t have that ability when it comes to a hot-button topic.
But let’s give Robertson the benefit of the doubt for a moment. Let’s suppose that he viewed the question about his beliefs as a genuine opportunity to spread the Word, a chance to reach someone else with God’s message. His actions may have been the result of the best intentions.
The best of intentions might also explain why he continued in a show that he said asked him to not mention Jesus Christ’s name during his family’s prayer, out of fear of, as he told Sports Spectrum TV in 2012, “offending the Muslims or something.” In that interview, he mentioned the idea of spiritual warfare, and added, “What I tell people is, ‘Be patient, be patient. We’re working on it.’”
The problem to me isn’t that he didn’t remain silent, but that he didn’t find a way to bridge the gap between those being condemned and Jesus Christ, the hope for all of us. That’s what we Christians should always be focused on, after all.
In a statement the family issued following the debacle, they acknowledge that his comments may not have been “elegantly phrased.” It’s not about how elegantly God’s message is phrased, but how lovingly it’s phrased. It’s important to note, too, that in the original interview, as published by GQ, he urged the reporter to include this:
“You put in your article that the Robertson family really believes strongly that if the human race loved each other and they loved God, we would just be better off. We ought to just be repentant, turn to God, and let’s get on with it, and everything will turn around.”
But the truth of the matter, if we’re honest, is that just “turning to God” does not guarantee that everything will turn around. Our perspective of our problems may very well be different; our problems may not look at bad as they did. But for Christians, as the old song goes, no one ever promised you a rose garden.
It’s fine to recite a list of people who aren’t going to heaven. I suspect everyone who’s on that list has already had that passage quoted to them more times than they can count. The practice of “calling a sin a sin,” a favorite among older Christians, it seems, always overlooks the fact that most of the people who are sinning know they’re sinning.
It’s sort of like walking up to someone who you’ve seen drive around the same block six times looking at building after building and saying, “It looks like you’re lost.” They don’t need you to tell them that. They know they’re lost. They need directions to actually get where they’re supposed to go.
Robertson himself issued an apology after the remarks were published online:
“I myself am a product of the 60s; I centered my life around sex, drugs and rock and roll until I hit rock bottom and accepted Jesus as my Savior. My mission today is to go forth and tell people about why I follow Christ and also what the bible teaches, and part of that teaching is that women and men are meant to be together. However, I would never treat anyone with disrespect just because they are different from me. We are all created by the Almighty and like Him, I love all of humanity. We would all be better off if we loved God and loved each other.
There’s some mention of love. Too often, that’s the part that’s almost always missing when a Christian “tells it like it is.”
More’s the pity.
Going for Buzz
My pastor also made mention of the curiosity of the interview itself, comparing its publication to the cover photo of the Boston Bombing suspect on Rolling Stone:
“The context was not ‘truth seeking’ or discipleship making.”
Well, sure. I can’t deny that magazines — and every other form of media — aren’t out to find ways to increase sales. But before we are too quick to nod our condemnation at the practice, perhaps it’s wise not to lose sight of the fact that even churches attempt to “stir things up” to create their own buzz. That’s why you find controversial church marquees and clever sermon titles — and even racy graphics — that play off of secular phrases to raise eyebrows (and, hopefully, increase attendance).
I would not argue — because it would be silly to do so — that between raising a publication’s circulation and getting more people to hear the genuine message of Jesus Christ, the latter is of infinitely greater importance.
My point, on the other hand, is to point out that we must be careful about condemning a tactic if we’re going to turn around and make use of it ourselves.
The Bottom Line
Efforts to boycott the show until A&E reinstates Robertson may be futile. The family has already suggested that they can’t imagine going forward with the show without Robertson.
On the other hand, if Robertson is reinstated, A&E stands to see huge ratings when that is addressed on the program. And just as we saw with the Christian response to the Chick-Fil-A controversy, those who complain about a businesses “anti-gay” remarks also fuel a counter-attack that could also lead to profit.
In this case, if Robertson’s comments are so offensive, maybe the less offensive response would have been to simply change the channel.