The Genuine Conflict Being Ignored in the Duck Dynasty Debate

By Larry Alex Taunton
Phil Robertson (left) with the other Duck Dynasty stars, whose Christianity has been an open feature of the show. (AP/A&E/Zach Dilgard)

Until recently, I had never seen A&E’s hit series Duck Dynasty. Given all the long beards and the “Sharp Dressed Man” opening theme song, I had mistakenly assumed it to be a reality show about ZZ Top. Judging from the headlines, however, I am in a minority. According to A&E, the series is the highest-rated nonfiction program in cable history. 

The series focuses on a Louisiana family, the Robertsons, who have made a fortune manufacturing and selling products marketed to duck hunters. Pro-God and guns, the Robertsons are direct and clear about what they believe. They are unashamedly Christian, are seen attending church in several episodes, and have openly indicated that they see the show as a vehicle for promoting the God they worship. “My mission today is to go forth and tell people why I follow Christ,” said family patriarch, Phil Robertson, in a statement to Fox411.

But now the show is in jeopardy. In a well-publicized interview with GQ, Phil Robertson spoke his mind on homosexuality where, shocking no one but executives at A&E, Robertson did not adhere to the orthodoxy of the cultural left. Instead, Robertson spoke in explicit terms of the homosexual and heterosexual options available to men and concluded: “She’s [i.e., women in general] got more to offer.” But he didn’t end there. Robertson suggested homosexuality is a sin that could lead to sexual anarchy, the nadir of which is bestiality: “Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there.”  (He did not actually equate homosexual behavior with bestiality, as many have been saying, and tellingly, his catalog of sinful sexual behavior also included heterosexual promiscuity.)

Robertson’s remarks were met with indignation. A&E swiftly suspended Robertson with the justification that “His personal views in no way reflect those of A&E Networks, who have always been strong supporters and champions of the LGBT community.” This seems obvious given that the show is about Robertson’s family and not about the families of A&E executives and those who write their press releases. Furthermore, Robertson, in making his comments, did not claim to represent A&E. As even the most casual viewer of the show can tell you, he claims to be a follower of Jesus Christ. As such, is anyone really surprised to discover that the Duck Dynasty star is opposed to homosexuality on moral grounds? Apparently, the brass at A&E found it astonishing. Perhaps they should put down GQ and watch their own programming.

Or maybe they want to avoid an uncomfortable truth: that Robertson wasn’t expressing “his personal views,” but principles that are intrinsic to his religion.  You see, Robertson didn’t simply attack and disparage the sexual preferences of a minority, as Alec Baldwin recently did in a hateful rant. No, Robertson’s opinion—couched as it was in scriptural references that suggest he not only owns a Bible, but also reads it—reflects the teaching and practice of historic Christianity and, by extension, the opinion of a sizable portion of the American public. Indeed, according to a June 2013 Pew Research Center survey, roughly half (45 percent) of Americans polled said they believe homosexual actions are a “sin.” 

In an apparent effort to convince this demographic that homosexual actions are not sinful, GLAAD spokesperson Wilson Cruz said Robertson’s views are not Christian. The strategy here seems to be “divide and conquer”—separate Robertson from his religion and let public opinion do the rest. The theologians at GLAAD will have to do better, because what Robertson said is not inconsistent with a Christianity that sees the Bible as a source of Divine authority and inspiration—and Louisiana gun-toting evangelicals are not the only ones who embrace that Christianity. On the contrary, Cruz’s statement appears naive when one considers that the man who became Pope Francis, Time Magazine’s Person of the Year for 2013, once called gay marriage the work of the devil and “a total rejection of God’s law engraved on our hearts.” Judging by Thursday’s precedent, A&E would fire the pope. And if his public statements on the subject are to be believed, the President of the United States would also receive a pink slip prior to his change of heart in May of last year.

Missing in the controversy over A&E’s handling of its golden goose—or duck, rather—is the fact that the real conflict here is not between Robertson and A&E; it is between gay activists and a solid majority of Christians who believe homosexual acts are wrong. Again, Robertson’s views are hardly anomalous. Christians may disagree on the details, but the Bible strongly condemns homosexuality in both the Old and New Testaments; the marriage model of one man and one woman is first given by God in Genesis 2 and reiterated by Jesus in Matthew 19; and in Romans 1 the Apostle Paul denounces homosexuality as a hallmark of a degenerate culture. The point here isn’t that you have to believe any of this, but many Christians do believe it and feel morally bound to believe it.

Instead of acknowledging this tension, however, A&E, GLAAD, and their supporters have responded with disingenuous expressions of shock and horror.  And it matters that it's disingenuous, because if they actually acknowledged that there is a genuine conflict between orthodox Christianity and homosexual sex (along with several forms of heterosexual sex) they would have to confront head-on the fact that calling for a boycott or pressuring for Robertson's suspension tells orthodox Christians that their religion is no longer acceptable, and that’s not a very politically correct thing to do. Right now, they are trying to weasel out of it by characterizing Robertson as a backwoods bigot who takes his moral cues from Deliverance rather than from a straightforward reading of the Bible and the historic teachings of the Christian religion. 

Speaking on the issue of tolerance, mega-church pastor and bestselling author Rick Warren observed:

Our culture has accepted two huge lies.  The first is that if you disagree with someone’s lifestyle, you must fear them or hate them.  The second is that to love someone means you agree with everything they believe or do.  Both are nonsense. You don’t have to compromise convictions to be compassionate.

Tolerance is not the same thing as acceptance, and acceptance is not the same thing as an endorsement. The message A&E’s decision sends is that the network will not tolerate someone who conscientiously objects to homosexuality on religious grounds. The implication of that message is that 45 percent of Americans should, in principle, be prepared either to sacrifice their jobs or  recant their beliefs and endorse a lifestyle to which they are opposed, conscience be damned. To the extent that we embrace that implication, in television and in other American industries, we're also embracing an identity as a nation that forces conformity while calling it tolerance.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/12/the-genuine-conflict-being-ignored-in-the-i-duck-dynasty-i-debate/282587/