My Facebook feed has been lit up with people responding to the suspension of Phil, the patriarch of A&E's popular Duck Dynasty reality show. For full disclosure ... I watch this show and enjoy it. Sarah James turned me on to it and I find the family to be inexplicably endearing. They all have a great sense of humor about themselves and I appreciate the clearly loving family dynamic. They live a lifestyle that is completely different from mine, yet I find them somehow relatable and refreshingly normal. So I was disappointed to read what Phil had said, and to hear of his suspension, even though I understand why A&E made that decision.
However, I have also been disappointed to hear so many Christians respond to his suspension by defending him as representing Christian values, and by perpetuating a narrative that Phil is being persecuted for his faith. Let's talk about the First Amendment issue for a second. The first amendment gives us freedom of speech. It does not give us freedom from accountability for our speech. It ensures freedom from imprisonment ... it does not dictate what an employer has the right to address within the workplace. And thank goodness -- can you imagine a society where employees could say any hateful thing with no repercussion? Whether you like A&E's decision or not, this is not a First Amendment issue, and it's a little frightening how many people believe that it is, including some of our elected officials. Phil Robertson's freedom of speech has not been threatened ... he can continue to talk about whatever he wants to talk about without fear of being thrown in jail. But A&E, as a business, has the right to decide that he is no longer a good fit for representing their brand.
Now, regarding the idea that Phil is being persecuted for his faith -- I think it's really important to look at what he actually said rather than jumping on a bandwagon of religious persecution. I don't believe that Phil was suspended for his faith. Phil has been preaching Christian values for a long time. Literally preaching. Here's a video of him giving a sermon at Saddleback Church. He and his family have been incredibly vocal about their Christian beliefs, both on the show and in countless interviews. His vocal views about his faith have never put him in jeopardy of losing his job and I would argue that this is still the case. It's not a belief in Jesus Christ that got him into hot water. It's the way he framed homosexuality as a societal ill and LIKENED IT TO BESTIALITY.
"Everything is blurred on what's right and what's wrong. Sin becomes fine... Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men,"
To me, this moves from talking about personal views into homophobic territory. But there's more:
"It seems like, to me, a vagina -- as a man -- would be more desirable than a man's anus. That's just me. I'm just thinking: There's more there! She's got more to offer. I mean, come on, dudes! You know what I'm saying? But hey, sin: It's not logical, my man. It's just not logical."
To reduce a person's sexuality to an oversimplified and graphic question of where to put the penis is dismissive and homophobic. And honestly, I don't think it represents most Christians' views on homosexuality. Even most conservative Christians believe that same-sex sexual attraction is not a sin in and of itself. But Phil depicts gay people as deviant, and that's a big problem. And if his words above represent "Christian values" then we need to have another look at Jesus.
But Phil's problematic rant didn't stop there. He later included Nazis and Islamists in a list of reasons the world is suffering, and also made some really ignorant remarks about black people:
"I never, with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person. Not once. Where we lived was all farmers. The blacks worked for the farmers. I hoed cotton with them. I'm with the blacks, because we're white trash. We're going across the field... They're singing and happy. I never heard one of them, one black person, say, 'I tell you what: These doggone white people' -- not a word!... Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues."
I don't even know where to start with this one. Comparing black people to white trash is cringey, but suggesting that black people were happier during segregation? That because Phil never heard a black person publicly complain BACK IN THE ERA OF LYNCHING means that they must have been satisfied with the state of things? This is so racially tone-deaf that it reminds me of the time Paula Deen romanticized the slaves as being "like family." Not to mention, the subtext of his remarks is that black people nowadays are entitled, unGodly, discontented welfare recipients. So when I see people as "standing with Phil" based on their Christian values, I really have to ask ... how does an apologist for our country's ugly Jim Crow legacy represent Christian values?
As a Christian, Phil's views on gay people and on black people do not represent me, and I'm embarrassed by those who are holding him up as a martyr or an example. I get that Phil is dear to many ... he's a likable guy and a very public Christian. But that doesn't excuse his ignorant remarks, nor does it mean that he gets a pass from accountability.
Regardless of where we fall in the "is homosexuality a sin" debate, as Christians, our greatest charge is to LOVE. I don't feel that Phil's remarks were loving to gay people or to black people. And I don't believe the blind support he is getting from Christians is very loving, either.
For some alternative views of Christian values as they relate to the LGBT community, check out the Not All Like That project.