My first encounter with the whole Duck Dynasty craze was when I was last in a Christian bookstore (still trying to get the taste out of my mouth), and I came across what I can only describe as a shrine to the show, and to Phil Robertson, one of its stars. And now, apparently, he has been suspended from the show by the network for his anti-gay comments expressed in an interview to GQ Magazine (something about anuses bad, vaginas good).
Now, Robertson’s views were hardly new, and certainly not new to the folks at A&E if they bothered to vet him, as this video plainly demonstrates.
It seems to me, then, that to really get at the heart of the matter we need to understand that there are a few things that this is NOT about. First, this is not about freedom of speech or the suspension of it. Anyone can say anything they want in this country without government interference (which is what freedom of speech protects). But four seconds’ thought should reveal that this has nothing to do with the Duck Dynasty episode, for the simple reason that Robertson wasn’t just speaking, he was speaking to a hugely influential international magazine in a planned, interview setting. And moreover, what he was saying was directed against a growing segment of the population. And further, it wasn’t the government that got involved to punish him, it was a private corporation that happened to be his employer, and to which he (almost surely) had made contractual promises not to engage in such speech publicly (Hashtag, Conservatives Don’t Get To Complain Here Because Last Time I Checked They Love The Free Market).
Furthermore, I don’t think this is an issue of tolerance — either Robertson’s lack of it towards gays or A&E’s lack of it towards him. The network clearly had no problem enriching this man in spite of his personal religious views on homosexuality, and in Robertson’s defense, most of his publicly-stated views are merely an echoing of what the Bible seems to teach pretty clearly.
So if it’s not about freedom of speech or about tolerance, what is it about?
In my view it’s about prudence and love. Does Robertson have the right to hold his positions? Of course. Does A&E have the right to suspend him for voicing them? Yes. But this whole fiasco could have been avoided if a little care and diplomacy had been exercised on Robertson’s part. He should realize that the entertainment industry of which he is now a part is comprised of many gay and lesbian people, people who are good and decent and caring members of society. And even though he has every right to believe what he wants about them privately, that right doesn’t necessitate or compel him to voice everything he happens to think every chance he gets to do so, as though the world is owed some precious access to his thoughts and feelings at every given moment.
In fact, what Robertson should have done is taken a page out of Pope Francis’s playbook. I mean, that kid has a knack for getting the most religion-hating liberals to absolutely adore him while they simultaneously and frustratedly admit that he is not altering the Church’s views on any of the hot-button topics under discussion. How does he do it? How has the pope just mastered this whole PR thing? Well, he basically says, “Look, you all know already what the Church thinks about abortion, and gay marriage, and birth control, so you probably don’t need me reminding of those positions every ten minutes like some smug a-hole. So if you don’t mind — and the conservatives in the crowd may need to excuse themselves to vomit — I’ma go embrace that boil-covered leper over there and treat him like a human being for the first time in his life (and I also plan to denounce savage capitalism a few times before lunch). Seacrest out!”
All this to say, some of us may celebrate the fact that our national airwaves will be one swamp-dwelling redneck lighter for the foreseeable future, and others may lament the triumph of the quote-unquote liberal agenda. But the bigger question is this: “How, in a culture that is growing more and more a-religious with the death of every old person, do those who do hold to some religious creed co-exist with those who do not share it?”
I mean, seriously, what’s the plan? Secession? Armed revolt? Stomping your feet? Whinging about Leave It To Beaver getting canceled? Because for my part (and unlike many of the contributors here I happen to be a religious guy), I would rather figure out how to humanize, and dignify, and love those who differ from me rather than seeing every circumstance in life as an opportunity to trumpet our differences.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know: I’m just a Marxist antichrist who was probably born in Kenya. . . .