I cringed and shook my head when I first read the quotes Phil Robertson, the patriarch of the hit A&E reality TV series Duck Dynasty, made in the recent GQ article “What the Duck?” by Drew Magery. I
I wasn’t exactly shocked that the duck call mogul had a conservative evangelical worldview.
As a big fan of the show I’ve consumed nearly everything about the Robertson clan. I’ve watched every episode up until this current season, own Seasons 1-3 on DVD and have shown a couple of episodes in an Adult Church School Class to teach a lesson on parenting and faith.
I’ve read their books, The Duck Commander Family: How Faith, Family and Ducks Built a Dynasty and Si-cology 1: Tales and Wisdom from Duck Dynasty’s Favorite Uncle, (the latter of which is signed by Uncle Si himself), perused Phil’s auto-biography, read articles about their rags-to-riches story and watched countless videos about their life apart from the show (behind-the-scenes vignettes on A&E’s website, interviews on Sports Spectrum and public speaking engagements on YouTube).
After absorbing any or all of the material that is available on the nation’s most popular reality TV family, it becomes quite clear that Phil is old school, possibly more so than the rest of his family. His wife, sons and daughter-in-laws usually give him a (lovingly) hard time for being stodgy in his ways (Phil typically views non-hunters and people who spend too much time with their gadgets and luxury items as yuppies). Phil’s a 67-year-old hunter who lives simply (despite his accumulated wealth) and loves running around in the woods of his rural home near a small town in Monroe, Louisiana. He’s also a recovering alcoholic who nearly lost his family, later converted to Christianity and is now an elder at his local non-denominational evangelical church who for years has gone around preaching the Gospel.
It’s no secret that he’s an evangelical conservative and actually more of a fundamentalist. To be honest, neither his religion, politics or way of life is all that unique, particularly in the South. These pieces of Phil Robertson’s identity don’t make him less of a human being. While I certainly don’t agree with his or his church’s theology, his politics and views on homosexuality and other issues, (I am a liberal PC(USA) minister serving in Atlanta), I’ve discovered–mostly through the show–that Phil is a good family man who is trying his hardest to follow Christ and treat others with Christ’s love (the Robertsons are no strangers when it comes to mission work and helping out the poor).
The thing that draws me to the Robertsons and Duck Dynasty is their folksy country humor and strong family ties (which is reminiscent of my favorite TV program of all time, The Andy Griffith Show).
As a connoisseur of pop culture and faith, I’ve enjoyed observing the faithful ways in which the Robertsons parent and treat one another with love and respect, no matter how frustrating and ugly their relationships or life can get. And I’ve appreciated how at the end of every episode, the family gathers around the dinner table where Phil says a prayer of thanksgiving and a lesson about that particular episode’s events is heard in a voice-over by son and Duck Commander CEO Willie Robertson.
Duck Dynasty has also taught me much about stereotypes. I avoided watching the show for some time because I assumed these guys were a bunch of dumb, uneducated, dysfunctional rednecks who only liked killin’ stuff. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Beneath the beards and hunting gear are educated, intelligent, hard-working and loving fathers, husbands, sons and friends. In some ways, they aren’t much different from me or my family and friends. And I discovered that I could actually value the other who was vastly different from me, despite opposing viewpoints on the Bible, homosexuality, etc.
So it was with great disappointment that I read about Phil’s more open views about homosexuality among other things. Again, I wasn’t surprised by his views or how they differed from mine. I was amazed at how Phil Robertson expressed his opinion in such an unfiltered and coarse manner without giving much more thought to what he was saying and who he might be hurting with his comments.
I’m not suggesting that he should’ve been perfectly polished or politically correct. However, there is a huge difference in saying, “I think homosexuality is a sin based on these passages in the Bible, etc.” and comparing homosexuality to bestiality and making a creepy comment about how vaginas offer more to men, as Phil so bluntly put it. (Click here for a more in-depth look at Phil’s view of homosexuality in the CNN article “Does Phil Robertson get the Bible wrong?”)
I also was a bit floored by his observation of the Pre-Civil Rights era in Lousiana and his reason for voting for Romney instead of Obama in the last election:
I never, with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person. Not once. 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. We’re going across the field…. 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.
If I’m lost at three o’clock in a major metropolitan area…I ask myself: Where would I rather be trying to walk with my wife and children? One of the guys who’s running for president is out of Chicago, Illinois, and the other one is from Salt Lake City, Utah. [Editor’s note: Romney is from Boston, not Salt Lake City.] Where would I rather be turned around at three o’clock in the morning? I opted for Salt Lake City. I think it would be safer.
All three quotes immediately sparked a reaction from the American public which has caused me to squirm even more.
Conservative politicians and pundits like Sarah Palin, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindhal and Sean Hannity have attempted to advance their own political agenda by making this a First Amendment censorship issue, solely because A&E decided to put Phil on hiatus from the show.
The argument that Phil’s constitutional right to speak is being violated is quite a reach and reveals misunderstandings about the First Amendment. While Phil Robertson certainly has a right to his opinion, so do others who disagree with that opinion. A&E’s statement about Phil’s comments is also a First Amendment right as well as their decision to place someone under their employee on leave.
I will concede, though, that while A&E’s admonishment of Phil’s comments was appropriate, its decision to put the show’s patriarch in time-out was a bit over-reactionary, especially when you consider that Season 5 of Duck Dynasty has been filmed and is scheduled to premier in January 2014. The network’s suspension of Phil wouldn’t take affect till a possible Season 6 aired in August. So since that’s a long way off, it might behoove the A&E big wigs to stick to their statement about Phil’s views and hold off on taking further action, allowing time for honest dialogue and grace. As Tyler Huckabee points out in an article for Relevant Magazine online:
By putting Mr. Robertson into a timeout, A+E has wasted just such an opportunity. What could have been a chance for them to engage has instead become just another chance to point out loony rednecks and their backwards beliefs. Imagine how different things may have gone if they had instead acted like Shane L. Windmeyer, an LGBT advocate who has struck up a friendship with Chick-Fil-a owner Dan Cathy. They talk about their differences. They seek common ground. They learn from each other.
Similarly, it seems ridiculous that close to 200,000 people on Facebook have signed a petition to A&E to reinstate Phil and to urge a boycott of A&E products until he is allowed back on the show. And even more absurd are the social media memes which claim that America is hypocritical by supporting Miley Cyrus while a “godly man” is censored; that A&E should be ashamed and that Phil’s opinion “affects no one.” There are certainly more important things to stand up for than the star of a TV reality show being temporarily taken off the air.
The meme stating that Phil’s comments “affects no one” probably bugs me the most because in actuality, Phil’s opinions, while a God-given constitutional right, do affect others. They fuel hate and fear about homosexuality and race as well as ignore the plight of slavery and civil rights among African-Americans.
Although Phil had a good working relationship with blacks as a poor white boy growing up in the late 40s, the absence of comments about prejudice and injustice doesn’t mean that those things didn’t exist. And just because the blacks Phil grew up around were friendly and sang songs of praise doesn’t mean they were not angry at Jim Crow laws or personal mistreatment by privileged whites.
And while Phil shared the same economic status with other African-Americans at the time, they likely never showed any displeasure because they were afraid to say anything in front of another white person, regardless if they were poor or not. It’s also likely that Phil’s black neighbors, like many African-Americans, put on smiles and stayed positive precisely because it was how they pushed through the racism and prejudice, and how they tried to maintain hope in a world that rejected them.
Other people, however, don’t see it that way.I’ve been disheartened to see more liberal Christian voices with like-minded views on homosexuality and race, (most of whom have never seen an episode of Duck Dynasty) condemn Phil Robertson and lazily call him a dumb redneck. Talk about hypocrisy. (Click here to read an excellent column by S.E. Cupp a friend of the Robertson’s and host of CNN’s Crossfire entitled: “Don’t Reject the Duck Dynasty Family”).
At the end of the day, it’s the conversations in love that make lasting change and ensure justice and equality for all people. The political sound-bytes, the Facebook petitions, memes and comments and the media sensationalism…all of that is a bunch of quack.