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.