Photo Credit: Art Streiber
It comes as no surprise that Phil Robertson won't back down. The Duck Dynasty patriarch was suspended from his own A&E reality series after making some anti-gay comments in GQ magazine. Robertson's Biblically-based views about homosexuality, and the network's knee-jerk reaction, have incited a media firestorm, with fans rallying behind Robertson and critics demanding his removal from the show. The rest of the family has already spoken out in support of Robinson. Now, Phil is finally opening up to the media.
Robertson, 67, invited the Daily Mail to attend one of his Bible studies in West Monroe, La. During a prayer, Robertson declared, "I will not give or back off from my path because you conquered death, Father, so we are not worried about all the repercussions."
"Sexual sins are numerous and many. I have a few myself," Robertson told his church group and the Daily Mail reporter. "So what is your safest course of action? If you’re a man, find yourself a woman, marry them and keep your sex right there. ... Jesus will take sins away, if you’re a homosexual he’ll take it away, if you’re an adulterer, if you’re a liar, what’s the difference? If you break one sin you may as well break them all."
In other words: what Robertson said to GQ is deeply enmeshed with his religious beliefs. He's not going to change or apologize. The ball is in A&E's court, to decide whether to cancel their most popular show. (And if they do, other networks are reportedly eager to pick it up.)
Right now, the Robertson-versus-A&E battle is being played out in the media as a simple red-versus-blue issue. The right sees the Duck Dynasty backlash as a violation of free speech and freedom of religion, propelled by liberal media bullying.The left sees Robertson as a symbol of American culture's worst traits: intolerance, willful ignorance and hatred of people who are different.
But there's a lot more going on here, and we're just beginning to understand how deeply charged this debate really is. For example, as this blog points out, a lot of the hatred toward Robertson has to do with stereotypes about bigoted Southern "rednecks." Many of his defenders are people who have felt oppressed by this very stereotype, while many of his critics see his entire culture as "backwards" and inferior. What they're talking about isn't Robertson himself, but the simplified image of his family that's been marketed by A&E.
Religion, and our understanding of what religion means, also plays a huge role in this controversy. Robertson's feelings about homosexuality are tied directly to his Conservative Christian beliefs. They're not, as this article notes, his "personal views." His controversial views are part of a larger belief system. Robertson has always been presented on the show as a Conservative Christian, which is a major part of his life and his popularity. These views on homosexuality shouldn't surprise the network, or fans, because they go hand-in-hand with everything else Robertson believes. It's an uncomfortable truth that a lot of Christians believe that homosexuality is a terrible sin. Robertson isn't an unbalanced hatemonger, as far as we know; he's just faithful to a set of beliefs that a lot of Americans hold. To ignore this is to ignore the reason why so many people are standing behind him.
Finally, there's a whole other set of comments in Robertson's GQ interview that many people are ignoring: his statements about race. In the profile, the duck hunter claims that black people were never mistreated in the Jim Crow South, and black workers were "singing and happy" before the Civil Rights Act was passed. One could argue that this misreading of history is just as offensive, if not more so, than his views on homosexuality.
So there are a lot of reasons why people have such strong feelings about Phil Robertson right now. Even Charlie Sheen has weighed in, with a semi-coherent Twitter rant insulting Robertson's show and calling his statements "abhorrently and mendaciously unforgiveable." At some point, it will all blow over. But whether Duck Dynasty will remain standing is still a big question.