In spite of its “wild popularity,” I did not hear of Duck Dynasty until its star, Phil Robertson, came to help the local Field and Stream store celebrate its grand opening this past summer.  For a couple of days, there was a parking problem in the area as crowds showed up, mainly to see Phil.  In fact, I didn’t even know his name at the time.  Then, when the Cardinals and Red Sox played the World Series, and the comment was made about the “Duck Dynasty beards,” I sort of got the idea.

I’m not really much of a fan of reality television, so I never really watched Duck Dynasty.  As it turns out, there is an element of Christian faith involved with the show.  Phil Robertson is a professing, or as I prefer to say, a confessing Christian, and the character of the others on the show, related to their Christian faith, is expressed pretty openly.  Well, that’s a good thing.  Perhaps those at the A&E Network who came up with the idea of putting the show on television thought that might be a drawing card.  It wouldn’t be the first time Christian faith was used to make money on television, though perhaps not exactly in this way.

Now there’s a controversy raging, on social media and in water cooler office conversation if nowhere else, over A&E’s suspension of Robertson from the show over remarks that he made which they consider offensive.  Robertson’s comments included expressing a personal interpretation and application of his Christian faith as it relates to the issue of homosexuality.  That would generate enough controversy on its own, given the celebrity status involved, but A&E’s suspension of Robertson from the cable-popular show has opened the door for charges of suppression of his right to free speech, and charges that he is being singled out and persecuted for his faith.  And it is being cited as yet another example of what some people see as an ongoing effort to eliminate Christian expression from the public arena.

Though I’m not really much of a fan of the show, in fact I’ve never watched a single episode, I completely support Phil Robertson’s right to publicly express any interpretation of his Christian beliefs that he chooses, in any forum in which he chooses, and I believe his right to do so is protected free speech guaranteed by the constitution.  Period.

That, however, is not quite the end of the conversation on this issue.  Read on, friends.

The constitution is a document which protects the stated first amendment rights of citizens from government repression.  The government hasn’t done anything to interfere with Robertson’s right to free speech.  He made his remarks, and he’s free to make as many more as he chooses, wherever and whenever he chooses. As far as the government is concerned, it is none of the government’s concern.  As far as A&E goes, that is an entirely different matter.

The A&E Network has a vested interest in Duck Dynasty.  It’s their program, and I would guess that there is a contract the size of a book that governs everything related to it, from how the characters are developed and portrayed, to the size and location of the dressing rooms and the snacks provided on the set.  In exchange for what he does, Robertson and the rest of the cast receive payment for their services in amounts that are measured in millions of dollars.  And whether or not we happen to agree or disagree with A&E’s position on either homosexuality or how its employees and cast members of its programs express themselves on the subject, they also have a right to their opinion, and to the determination of how it is expressed by those who represent their network and the programming that it carries.

Rather than jumping to an immediate conclusion, taking sides, and waving a flag for the new “Stand with Phil” campaign, I think some sober judgment and analysis is warranted, especially from Christians, regarding the way Mr. Robertson chose to express his views in public.  I’m sure the way he spoke, and his choice of words and phrases was in keeping with the character of the Duck Dynasty image that he portrays, but his crude and graphic language was inappropriate for a public audience that includes a lot of children.  If you look at everything he said on the subject in context, his opposition to homosexuality was based on human physiology, with the “Christian faith” aspect of the issue tacked on as an afterthought.  I’m not going to copy his words here, you can find them anywhere on the internet.  You might want to take a look at that before you jump on the “Stand with Phil” bandwagon.

But that wasn’t all he said.

There were some remarks made about African Americans that, frankly, sound like a throw back to the days of Uncle Tom’s Cabin.  You probably need to read those, too, before you decide to “Stand with Phil.”  The implication that African Americans were happier in the days before they earned civil rights and received welfare benefits was insulting, not to mention incredibly insensitive and offensive, and I’m not going to add the qualifier “to African Americans,” because, frankly, there’s no excuse for not having a depth of understanding that allows anyone to understand that kind of insensitivity.  Robertson’s celebrity status still doesn’t qualify him, as a Caucasian, Southern male, to determine the level of happiness or satisfaction with the status quo of persons of African American descent.

I fully support Phil Robertsons right to free speech, especially when it comes to expressing his Christian faith.  But I also believe that there are consequences which must be considered in advance.  There are times when the right to free speech requires thinking before acting, and when remaining silent is the best way to exercise that right.  This would have been one of those times.

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About LS

I'm 56, happily married for 25 years, B.A., M.A., career educator with experience in education as a teacher and administrator, native Arizonan living in Pennsylvania, working on a PhD and a big fan of the Arizona Wildcats, mainly in football and basketball.

3 responses

  1. Jack Matthews says:

    Well said. And you were tactful! The guy spoke his mind and I support his right to do so. I also agree with his position on homosexual behavior. I think he should have kept his opinion about black people to himself. But A&E is a private company, and what they decide to do with someone they have under contract, and whom they are paying a fortune, is their business and their right. Maybe suspending a popular character from one of their more popular programs isn’t a wise move, but I’m sure they have a contract, and the controversy is only going to generate more attention, from which A&E will benefit.

    If Christians put as much energy into ministry and missions as we do into stuff like this, we’d be a lot better off. Ultimately, the media will find plenty of silliness in all of the social media outrage going on to make Christians look pretty bad. Why contribute more material to their effort?

  2. K Gray says:

    It seems everyone got up this morning and wrote an “I Don’t Stand with Phil and Here’s Why” post/column – or “Think before you stand with Phil” – so apparently that’s a common reaction after thinking it through a bit. I’ve never seen the show and did not read the GQ interview from which the comments were excerpted. I see Chris Hayes cracking up at his MSNBC show guest graphically suggesting that Mr. Robertson try a homosexual practice, which ironically occurs right after Mr. Hayes notes – about DD — that the First Amendment doesn’t guarantee anyone the right to a cable TV show if they say graphic and vile things. I also read this ignorant gem in Yahoo news: “Robertson was suspended indefinitely from Duck Dynasty on Wednesday, after he lumped gays in with ‘drunks’ and ‘terrorists’ during an interview with GQ. He also opined that gays ‘won’t inherit the kingdom of God.’ ” So it seems crudeness and ignorance abounds. I keep TV off most of the day.

  3. Lee says:

    I don’t watch much television, either, unless its a classic movie I want to see, or the morning news show so I can get the local weather. Oh, and TV Land, sometimes, especially if Andy Griffith or M*A*S*H is on. I will occasionally watch one of the cable news programs, especially those that get their facts straight and make an effort to provide a realistic perspective. Those are rare, and aren’t found on FOX or any of the major networks.

    Duck Dynasty is what it is, and that is a reality television show with an off-beat theme that has an attraction for a niche audience that is estimated at about 14 million each week, huge by cable standards (FOX News has about 10 million, MSNBC and CNN about 8 million) but small potatoes by overall media measurements. However, it is enough to reap multiple millions in revenue, and brand a whole set of products which also reap multiple millions in profits. The Christian faith and moral values aspect of the show is, IMHO, used as a tool to attract viewers, sell products, and act as a platform to set up public appearances and speaking engagements. The bottom line is money. A boycott will not hurt A&E. They own the rights to the brand and the program, and I’m sure their contract spells everything out. If the Robertson’s want to take the program to another cable network, they’ll probably have to come up with a pretty sizeable check that will be a major boost to A&E’s cash flow.

    I want to be clear in any discussion I have on this subject, Phil, and anyone else on the show, has the right to express themselves as they choose, especially when it comes to their faith, A&E notwithstanding. It’s probably fair for A&E to let them know up front if the contract they have and the image they want to portray place any restrictions on that before leveling a suspension. But let’s be honest and realistic. Reality television is about money, and when money is involved in these kinds of amounts, things like this happen. Phil will be fine. So will A&E.