The A&E network has suspended Phil Robertson, patriarch of the Duck Dynasty clan, for perceived anti-gay remarks in a recent GQ interview. While discussing God, sin, and repentence, Robertson was asked what he found to be sinful:
"Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there," he says. "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.
The reaction from A&E was swift and decisive. In a statement the network said:
We are extremely disappointed to have read Phil Robertson's comments in GQ, which are based on his own personal beliefs and are not reflected in the series Duck Dynasty. His personal views in no way reflect those of A+E Networks, who have always been strong supporters and champions of the LGBT community. The network has placed Phil under hiatus from filming indefinitely.
There is a lot to sort through here, but let’s start with the largest portion of the controversy. Did Phil Robertson say something horribly offensive to homosexuals? He’s been accused of comparing gays to terrorists as a result of this quote:
We never, ever judge someone on who’s going to heaven, hell. That’s the Almighty’s job. We just love ’em, give ’em the good news about Jesus—whether they’re homosexuals, drunks, terrorists. We let God sort ’em out later, you see what I’m saying?
This accusation is easy to dismiss. He is simply listing behaviors that he considers sinful. If one said a thief, a pastor, and a murderer were all people who had made mistakes, it would be silly to assume the statement is giving all three moral equity. It’s hard to know without being in the room, but this also appears to be the case with his discussion of bestiality and other categories of sin. He seems to be simply reciting sin lists.
But what about:
It seems like, to me, a vagina -- as a man -- would be more desirable than a man's anus. That's just me. I'm just thinking: There's more there! She's got more to offer. I mean, come on, dudes! You know what I'm saying? But hey, sin: It's not logical, my man. It's just not logical.
Robertson wasn’t as delicate as he could have been, but what he is saying is that homosexuality is a sin and something that doesn’t make sense to him. This position is no longer acceptable to most gay advocates and our culture in general. Tolerance now means not only respecting people whose lifestyles you disagree with, but also giving your approval to those lifestyles.
The response from the gay advocacy group GLAAD was particularly fascinating. Wilson Cruz, a spokesperson for GLAAD, said what Robertson was saying is not reflective of Christians at large:
Phil and his family claim to be Christian, but Phil's lies about an entire community fly in the face of what true Christians believe. He clearly knows nothing about gay people or the majority of Louisianans -- and Americans -- who support legal recognition for loving and committed gay and lesbian couples. Phil's decision to push vile and extreme stereotypes is a stain on A&E and his sponsors, who now need to re-examine their ties to someone with such public disdain for LGBT people and families.
Assuming Cruz means that real Christians don’t believe homosexuality is “sinful,” he could not be more wrong. The Catholic Church, most evangelicals, Presbyterians (PCA), and several other Christian denominations hold to the traditional definition of homosexuality as a sin. GLAAD’s attempt to rewrite Christian doctrine is a interesting pivot to try and co-opt Christians. Forgive me if I don’t accept their interpretation of scripture that contradicts thousands of years of Church history. If the media, gay advocates, and liberals hate calling out sin for what it is and being told they need to repent in order to receive God's grace, they aren't going to like Jesus very much.
There is another element to the GQ interview and it is not as defensible. Robertson gave some racially insensitive remarks about never seeing any racism during the pre-civil rights era in Louisiana. One of his comments—“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”—sounds too much like a bad racist cliché. That being said, A&E knew they were getting a real southern family of rednecks when they hired them. How can they be surprised or angry when the Robertsons make politically incorrect statements? Heck, that’s part of the marketing shtick for the show.
This controversy is yet another example of our modern culture objecting to Christians expressing biblically inspired beliefs. We don’t need more doublespeak; we need more honest discussion on subjects like homosexuality. I, for one, am glad that Phil Robertson refuses to be censored. It may be true that he could have been gentler, kinder, wiser, and more loving in his comments, but at least he’s honest.
For his part, Phil Robertson already released a statement:
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.
If that's no longer acceptable in this country, religious folks are in trouble.