A Southern Presbyterian Preacher’s take on the “Duck Dynasty” flap

Phil Robertson on the cover of GQ, courtesy of Google Images and GQ Magazine
Phil Robertson on the cover of GQ, courtesy of Google Images and GQ Magazine

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 Duck Dynasty guys: Jase, Si, Willie and Phil, courtesy of Google Images and A&E
The Duck Dynasty guys: Jase, Si, Willie and Phil, courtesy of Google Images and A&E

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.

This does not mean that Phil Robertson is a staunch racist nor a militant homophobe. He is, in my opinion, someone who simply has a narrow understanding and antiquated views of African-Americans and the GLBTQ community.

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”).

My hope for all of this (in the midst of the Advent Season in which millions of Christians celebrate the coming of peace and love into the world) is that more civil dialogue will be had about homosexuality and race in our society and nation.  Even more importantly, I hope that the residents of Monroe, Louisiana and employees of Duck Commander and fans of the show far and wide (particularly Christian gays and lesbians and African-Americans) will reach out to Phil and begin a conversation that sincerely attempts to listen, understand, accept and love the other.
Phil and Kay Robertson, courtesy of Google Images
Phil and Kay Robertson, courtesy of Google Images

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.

But the love is something we all need to be hunting more carefully for.
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18 thoughts on “A Southern Presbyterian Preacher’s take on the “Duck Dynasty” flap”

  1. So what do you do with the scripture of Romans 1:24-27? “Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25 They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.

    26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.” God states plainly how He feels about homosexuality and other sexual sins. We don’t get to change that. He also says that the greatest commandment is to love one another. We are to love our neighbor, despite their and our sin, but we are to hate the sin itself and strive to be more like Him and to uplift others to do the same. We are not called to judge others, but absolutely to judge sin. God does not approve of homosexuality, and neither can His children. And, no, He does not approve of any other kinds of sin, either, not even any of the sin that I myself commit regularly despite my attempts to follow Him. I don’t expect Him or anyone else to approve or accept my sins, either. He died and forgave me of them all, but He does clearly hate sin according to His word. And this is neither conservative, fundamentalist, one denomination or another; this is bible.

    1. I think passages like Romans are misunderstood and taken out of the context they were written to push a certain view of a hateful and condemning God.

      People in biblical times didn’t have an understanding of faithful committed adult same sex relationships as we know them today.

      During biblical times and in the Roman Empire which ruled the land, it was common for men to sexually abuse other men, even younger men and boys.
      Women were forced to be a part of harems.

      I believe that Paul is speaking out against those abuses. Also Paul goes on to say in chapter 2 that no one is to judge another and yet those who use the Bible as a weapon against gays and lesbians do exactly that.

      It is also not clear that God condemns homosexuality (abusive relationships yes). Otherwise there wouldn’t be such a debate among Christians about these passages and homosexuality. The Bible is clear that God is love and I am unable to imagine a God who send one of God’s creations to hell because of their sexuality and choice to be in a loving and committed relationship with someone of the same sex.

      Also if homosexuality is such a great sin as it is often portrayed by a particular set of Christians, how come Jesus says nothing about it? Again I think that homosexuality as we know it today want the issue. It was the abuse of relationships and of Gods love.

      In regards to your second comment: when I said we need to hunt for love, I was implying that we need to follow Christ and receive and share the unconditional love of God in Christ with others.

  2. We need to be hunting for and leading others to Jesus, not theology or ideology or politics or any other school of thought. It’s as simple as Jesus and His inspired Word.

  3. Thank you for spending time talking about the race element of his interview. While I disagree with his theology, I was not surprised by his stance on homosexuality. It is a bit of a shame that the completely incoherent thoughts he shared on the Jim Crow south have gone mostly unremarked upon.

    That said, I am disappointed in A&E. They hired Phil (at least implicitly) knowing his families position on these issues. I am honestly curious what has hit the editing room floor. But once his position might negatively effect their pocketbooks, they suspend him. Nothing moral about that.

    1. Thanks Mary. Great point about A&E and editing room floor. I also question the GQ reporter who surely got a lot more than those three juicy quotes, but edited and wrote the story in such a way that would sell more magazines. I was surprised he didn’t interview more family members or make the piece more about the family. Focusing solely on Phil was calculated cause I think they knew it was churn up some controversy.

  4. So you do not believe that the word of God is absolute truth, but that we can change what it means over time and as we see fit. If so, then you and I have no reason to converse. Because I believe as the bible plainly states, that it is the truth, the unchanging absolute truth of God. I, as a human without the all knowing power of Jesus, do not get to choose how or when it applies. You keep talking as if because I do not approve of the sin that I must also have to hate those who live in it. If that were true, I would hate myself, for I, too, am a sinner. I love others; I have gay and lesbian friends whom I treat with love and respect because they are human and deserve it. Also, I realize that I cannot have a ministry with them if I do not have a good relationship with them. You seem to see it that it has to be all or nothing. I love them, but I do not approve of the sin, just as I do not approve of any sin, not even my own. Yes, I sin because I am a fallen creature, and I am directed to ask forgiveness for that and REPENT, which means turn away from that which is sinful and follow Him all I can. I am to crawl up on that cross with Him every day and try my best to live a life which please Him, without the sin that He so hates. I know He hates it because He states over and over that He does. You see, I have a very loving heart because I am humbled by His great sacrifice and mercy and grace for me. I love others with a sincere, Christ love. But I also understand that as the Trinity hates sin, I am to see it as it is – the one thing that separates us from Him. If you think that a Christian cannot love someone and still hate the sin, then you too are judging without knowing the heart.

    1. Audra, you are entitled to your own opinion and interpretation of the Bible. It is, however, your interpretation that God says homosexuality is a sin.

      I do not believe that or interpret the Bible in that way. Our interpretations don’t affect who God is or what God does in Christ Jesus…thanks be to God.

      At the end of the day, God is supreme, unconditional love for all people. Judgment is taken on the cross, grace is a free gift for all. As a minister in the PCUSA I adhere to a Reformed theology that believes strongly that there is nothing we can do to receive that grace, no list of works or notches to put in our belts. The good news is that God freely gives love and mercy to all and we have to choose whether to receive and live in that grace. We serve God and show compassion to others, not so we can earn God’s love but because God loves us. Yes, we all sin and fall short of God’s glory. We break covenant and our relationship with God by not showing love to the neighbor, the stranger, the outcast, the widow, the orphan, the marginalized, the sick, the prisoner, etc. We allow idols of power, money, greed, self-righteousness get in the way of our relationship to God.

      But homosexuality, in my opinion, is not a sin and neither God nor Jesus nor the Bible condemns homosexuality as we understand it today or people in the GLBTQ community.

      Several Christians misuse the Bible to condemn gays and lesbians just as many Christians (over the centuries) cited chapter and verse and proclaimed loudly that the Bible and God declared that Africans and blacks were inferior and that women were second class citizens and that Jews were abominations.

      I do believe that scripture is divinely inspired by God and the Bible points us toward who God is and how we are to follow God’s commandment to love. As broken and sinful human beings (whom God always loves and redeems again and again and again through grace) we do, though, try to act as if we know better than God and those who lived during biblical times. We sometimes use the scriptures to push our own prejudices, views, ideologies, etc. We sometimes ignore the context of when the Bible was written and read it black and white or face value which is a disservice and detriment to living breathing work of scripture as well as God.

  5. And, what do you believe God sends people to hell for? There is a hell and people are going there – the old and new testament gives proof of that.

  6. I don’t believe God sends people to hell. Christians have debated over those texts that mention hell for centuries. There are valid arguments on both sides. Some of the passages are taken out of context and misunderstood. Others, I have no answer for. I do believe that many Christians spend so much time on issues of heaven and hell and who is favored or getting in that we miss opportunities to build and be a part of God’s kingdom in the here and now. Both God and Christ tell people in the scripture to not worry about heaven and hell but to be a part of the kingdom of God in the present, to care for the least of these, to welcome the widow, the orphan, the alien. It is not up to me or you to judge who is going to heaven or hell. Only God can do that. The scriptures and my faith experience tell me that God is a God of love and that the good news is for everyone. If the good news is not for everyone, if some are condemned to hell no matter what or if they don’t meet certain conditions or follow specific rules…than it’s not good news.

    Again, all of this is my own interpretation and personal belief. I understand and realize that you have different beliefs and I’m ok with us agreeing to disagree. I still value you as a beloved child of God, regardless of where you stand on a particular issue or interpretation of scripture.

  7. And I agree with so much of what you say here. I too believe that as in I Cor. 13, none of our knowledge or works are of any value without love. I too believe that we are called to love all and that is His greatest commandment. I do not believe that I nor anyone is condemning others because of homosexuality. We are condemning the sin, not the sinner. That is a critical difference. I made it clear that I love them and understand that the gospel is for all, and it is up to us to choose to live it. But for those who do not choose to live as He commands, they condemn themselves. Can homosexuality alone condemn someone? I don’t believe it says that. Turning our backs on him and living in sin separates us from God. I am simply saying that like any other sin, it is not ok to approve of it. Also, I do believe the bible is black and white. I do not believe we get to change it or amend it as we choose. Who am I to change God’s word? I also agree that we can disagree. I simply cannot understand how one can take scripture that is so plain, so evident, and change it’s meaning. If that is possible, then I could change so many other things that are critical to living a Christian life. However, I know that you nor I will agree on this, and I hope you don’t see my adherence to the bible as the bible as ignorant or backward, for my understanding is through much prayer and the revelation of the Holy Spirit who lives within me. Believe me, it would be so much easier for me to believe as you say. If I could just believe that everyone is going to heaven, then it would relieve me of the responsibility to share His good news and minister to others and hope they receive Him. I could also send you many links of messages but I don’t think it would serve either of us. Bless you and I leave you in peace. By the way, I was also born in Tuskeegee, AL in 1968. My father worked with many black men and they were very good friend. Yes, they were happy in the life they lived, a simple life lived on faith. They were not afraid to share with my father because he was white. We lived in that world and know an entire different side of it. Your assumptions in your blog are again, your opinion, but as you didn’t experience that part of life in that time, your assumptions are also quite one sided and a result of your experiences and not fair to some who actually lived it, on both sides. But that is a entirely different discussion. Yes, your article offends me in several ways, as it is passing some judgments, also, that are unfair. But again, I will leave you in peace. 🙂

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