The controversy of the week is the response of A&E Network to a recent article in GQ Magazine featuring an interview with Phil Robertson, the patriarch of the Duck Dynasty clan. Since the television show Duck Dynasty became a huge hit, much has been made about the Robertson family and their traditional Christian values. The Robertsons themselves have used their newfound fame as a platform to share their religious views and offer a Christian perspective on a variety of issues. I recently enjoyed watching an interview with Jase and Missy Robertson, where they shared how their Christian faith has strengthened their marriage.
But Phil Robertson shared his views on homosexuality with GQ magazine, and his comments were deemed offensive enough to cause the A&E Network to remove him from future Duck Dynasty episodes. Phil has offered a response for his comments, making it clear that he does not seek to judge or condemn people, but loves them. Still, it doesn’t look like he will be returning to Duck Dynasty anytime soon. And now the entire Robertson family has issued a statement suggesting they might not continue their relationship with A&E.
I’ve read the controversial comments that Phil made, and I must admit that I found them to be poorly expressed. Phil Robertson is not known for his eloquence, but I do wish he had been more careful in the way he expressed himself. I think when you are a well-known Christian offering your views on human sexuality, you need to heed the words of Jesus and be “wise as a serpent but harmless as a dove.” I’m not sure Phil met that standard. Still, Phil was asked a question in an interview and he has a right to share his views (a view that is shared by many Americans). I think A&E over-reacted by removing Phil from future Duck Dynasty episodes, but I recognize it is within their right to do so.
Had A&E simply released a statement making it clear that Phil Robertson’s views did not reflect the view of their network, this would have blown over rather quickly. But now we have a nationwide debate going on about religious freedom, free speech and hate speech. Perhaps it is a necessary debate, given the cultural realities that now exist. My guess is that this topic of conversation will come up at many family gatherings and social get-togethers during the holiday season. I hope that those of us who are Christians will find a way to offer our perspective without coming across as angry, harsh, or arrogant. We can disagree on these issues, and we can hold deep convictions about these issues, but we need to do our best to express ourselves in a loving way.
If you enter into conversation about “the Duck Dynasty Controversy,” here are a couple of issues to keep in mind:
Freedom of speech means the government cannot prevent someone from sharing his or her religious or political opinions. It does not mean a private company cannot fire an employee for expressing views that are inconsistent with the values of the company. A&E may be over-reaching and over-reacting, there may very well be a huge backlash (like what happened with Chick-Fil-A), but they are not violating law. It is a shame that Phil Robertson faces such strong consequences for simply answering a question in an interview, but no laws were broken.
Just because an opinion is stated rather poorly and expresses a view not held by a particular group of people, doesn’t necessarily make it hate speech. Many are condemning Phil’s comments as hate speech. Is it really hate speech to claim that you believe homosexual behavior to be a sin? Many would find Phil’s comments offensive, some would consider them ignorant, some might even find them hurtful. But his intent was not to offend or hurt, his intent was simply to express his religious views about human sexuality, a view that has pretty much been around for thousands of years. Phil did not say he hated those who are gay or lesbian, he did not say God hates them. Phil did not suggest that everyone should hate them. That would be hate speech.
Human sexuality is a complex issue and people of various religious convictions are not in agreement about homosexuality. I think it is wise for everyone to think carefully about the words we use when expressing our views, but let’s not call something hate speech just because it hurts our feelings or challenges our own opinion. One of the reasons why we cannot have significant conversations about religion, politics, and morality in America today is because too many are quick to point a finger, assume the worst about others, and conclude that because someone says something that offends me in some way, it must be “hate speech.”
To my friends who are gay or lesbian, I am sorry if Phil’s words were hurtful. I know this is not the first time you’ve felt the sting of such words. Christianity maintains two powerful truths that are difficult to reconcile: God loves us, and we are sinners. To consider a behavior sinful is not the same thing as calling it evil. And while you may have determined in your heart that under certain conditions homosexuality is not sinful, you are living in a world where there will be others who do not share your conclusion. This might hurt your feelings. But hurting your feelings is not the same thing as hating you. Phil does not hate you and the vast majority of Christians I know do not hate you. Those Christians who do hate you are just plain wrong.
To my friends who feel as though Phil is being persecuted for expressing his religious viewpoint, I would remind you that persecution is part of the deal (Jesus said so himself). Anytime you express a view that questions the morality of attitudes and behaviors that differ from yours, you will experience some level of consequence. However, if you choose your words carefully and express yourself thoughtfully, you might be able to build a bridge rather than create an incident.