Duck Dynasty, Free Speech, and Word Choice

Duck-Commander-LogoThe 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.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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17 thoughts on “Duck Dynasty, Free Speech, and Word Choice

  1. Mark,

    This was well written and I have to say this will help me in expressing my views on this subject. Thanks for providing me the tools to survive this PC environment. Jason

  2. Well presented Pastor Mark. Do you think he would still have been under scrutiny if he recited or stated his agreement with the Biblical Truth in 1 Corinthians 6;

    9 Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men[a] 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

    Sexual Immorality

    12 “I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but I will not be mastered by anything. 13 You say, “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food, and God will destroy them both.” The body, however, is not meant for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. 14 By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also. 15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never! 16 Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, “The two will become one flesh.”[b] 17 But whoever is united with the Lord is one with him in spirit.[c]

    18 Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body. 19 Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.

    Most unfortunate but, Christians today wish to pick and choose what parts of the Bible and Truth they will follow or even agree with. Most Pastors will not even address these subjects from the pulpit or sermons. I believe events as big as Phil’s choice of words have invited an opportunity to find the Truth, (who is Jesus Christ Himself), and the power of His amazing love to look beyond sin and accept everyone. Many don’t understand sin and it’s consequences when deemed proper or personal choice and no need for forgiveness and His mercy and grace. I just with he would have quoted scripture and stood in 100% agreement. In my sinful nature God instructs me in Book of Romans – “God’s Wrath Against Sinful Humanity” There is no two ways to understand this except for repentance. Sorry for the rant, but I respect you for your incredible courage to address this issue and your incredible wisdom.

  3. This is why we love our church. This was so eloquently stated. After reading so much junk on FB from both sides of this story it was refreshing to hear such a level and thoughtful comment. Thanks again

  4. This statement is well thought out. There are many of us in the US that agree with Phil’s comments. A&E simply overreacted to the Gay and lesbian community by yanking him off the show. But money is money and A&E needs the Robertson’s more than The Robertson’s need A&E. There are many networks that would gladly take their show. A&E are the losers on this one…

  5. I find it interesting that A& E knew his stand on his beliefs before all this erupted, but I believe everything happens for a purpose. I believe there is more to this than speech, I believe it has more to do with $$$$$. Even the gay community has spoken up in favor of free speech. You are so right about loving others but not loving the sin. Let us remember the Bible says God’s word will never become null and void reguardless how much some may try to change Christian beliefs. I just feel we as Chrisitians are being called to stand up for right now more than ever. Thank you Mark for all your insight. Pat

  6. Pastor Mark,

    I can only echo the praise from other comments for (as usual) a tempered, well-reasoned treatment of a thorny subject. As someone who grew up in “The Buckle of the Bible Belt” (Nashville, TN) but went to college at one of the most militantly secular schools I know (American U. in DC) I’ve always sought middle ground between the extreme right- and left-wings. But I also noticed early on what some have expressed during this “Duck” episode: that many on the left are tolerant of anything…except others who are even slightly less tolerant. Offensive non-religious speech is fine, but offensive speech that is religious in nature is abhorrent. Granted, the church has many centuries of sins to atone for, and caution is warranted. And you have very graciously and tactfully pointed out how Phil Robertson falls more than a little short of being the best spokesperson for the Christian faith.

    I don’t know if you can address this question here, but it’s frankly very frustrating for me–as a Christian–to see the faith and the Bible dragged into culture wars it has no place being. When marriage and sexual preference come up (as they do almost weekly in American politics and pop culture) my first thought is often that the Bible really isn’t the place the right wing wants to be pointing to for role models and examples is it??? Noah and his daughters…really? Rebekah helps Jacob receive Isaac’s blessing through fraud…really??? David and Bathsheba and Uriah…really??? It seems the one true role model we have – Christ himself – never spoke on the subject, except to chastise those who would rush to judgement. It seems Jesus reserved his greatest righteous fury for hypocrites and those who would defile the temple. As for marriage, Jesus tells listeners to leave their families and follow Him. And Paul elsewhere in Corinthians (7:9) seems against marriage altogether unless it is the only way to tame uncontrollable lust. Again, growing up as I did in an evangelical home, I’m not at all comfortable with same-sex marriage, but seeing all the tremendous pain in so many straight marriages, I certainly don’t think we have a right to monopolize it either! In all seriousness, where does this idea come from that the Bible explicitly promotes marriage at all?–let alone that it is only for one man and one woman?

    Again, thanks for wading into treacherous ground with such thoughtful words…

    • You raise some good points, Rob. Bible students must always wrestle with which parts of the Bible are a reflection of how the faith is lived out in ancient culture versus more modern culture. We must also try to wrestle with when something being written about in the Bible is “descriptive” (this is how they did it then) rather than (prescriptive) this is a universal principle to always be applied. In the area of sexuality, most Bible students would argue that prohibitions regarding sex outside of marriage are prescriptive. But Biblical commands such as “greet one another with a kiss” and “cover your head when you pray” are descriptive. When the Bible was written, marriage was more of a social contract, and while husband are told to love their wives, there isn’t a great deal of detailed commentary in the Bible about how to have a great marriage.

  7. I have to wonder, when asked that question in the interview, what was he supposed to do? Lie? I think the person asking the questions must have known what his view was & asked anyway putting him on the spot. Good for him for being honest regardless of what any outcome might have been. Reminds me of when the pharisees were questioning Jesus, trying to trap him

  8. When someone criticizes homosexuality, the homosexual propaganda army mobilizes and fires large salvos of hate speech at the person who criticized them. Could that be because they realize that they are wrong and do not like hearing in public that they are wrong? Yes.

    Note that Chick-fil-A did not criticize anyone; they only stated their beliefs. The homosexual propaganda army mobilzed with the intention of putting Chick-fil-A out of business. The average citizens of this country (who aren’t as average as the hate mongers would like you to believe) mobilized and flooded Chick-fil-A with business. The Chick-fil-A stock is a “buy”.

    I, for one, will now watch every episode of Duck Dynasty (I didn’t before). I will be pressing A&E hard – very hard – to bring back Phil Robertson – the honest man.

    I will be pressing Duck Dynasty sponsors to act responsibly, and not politically correctly. (The gap has widened greatly between politically correct behavior and responsible behavior.)

    Want to know what hell is like? Stick with the PC hater crowd and you will soon be there.

  9. I thought this blog post interesting.

    Everyone’s a Biblical Literalist Until You Bring Up Gluttony

    …Or divorce, or gossip, or slavery, or head coverings, or Jesus’ teachings on nonviolence, or the “abomination” of eating shellfish and the hell-worthy sin of calling other people idiots.

    Then we need a little context.

    Then we need a little grace.

    Then we need a little room to disagree.

    I got to thinking about this after I was criticized last week for my post about loving gay kids unconditionally. Some folks were very upset that I had the audacity write an entire blog post about putting a stop to LGBT bullying without including a Bible-based condemnation of LGBT people, or at least a theological discussion around the issue of homosexuality and Scripture.

    Bible verses were quoted. Open letters were written. End Times predictions were made. Pillows in my home were thrown record distances.

    It’s funny. Yesterday, in Sunday Superlatives, I included a quote from Mark Twain in which he referred to a snake oil salesman as an “idiot,” but no one left an angry comment warning me of hell based on Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5:22 that “if you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court; and if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell.”

    Nor did anyone raise any biblical objections regarding gluttony a few weeks ago when I casually mentioned overdosing on Sweet Frog frozen yogurt (strawberry, with a pile of chocolate chips, Oreo crumbs, and chocolate animal crackers on top, if you must know), or about materialism when I shared pictures of our new car. (Hey, for some people, a brand new Honda Civic is pretty flashy.)

    And in spite of the flood of emails I get each week condemning my support of women in ministry, I’ve never received so much as an open letter criticizing my refusal to wear a head covering, even though my Web site is full of photographic evidence of what the apostle Paul calls a “disgrace” in 1 Corinthians 11:6.

    We may laugh at these examples or dismiss them silly, but the biblical language employed in these contexts is actually pretty strong: eating shellfish is an abomination, a bare head is a disgrace, gossips will not inherit the kingdom of God, careless words are punishable by hell, guys who leer at women should gouge out their eyes.

    Heck, you could make a pretty good biblical case for gluttony being a “lifestyle sin” that has been normalized by our culture of “Supersized” portions and overflowing buffet lines, starting with passages like Philippians 3:19 (“their god is their belly”), Psalm 78: 18 (“they tested God in their heart by demanding the food they craved”), Proverbs 23:20 (“be not among drunkards or among gluttonous eaters of meat”), Proverbs 23:2 (“put a knife to your throat if you are given to appetite”), or better yet, Ezekiel 16:49 (“Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.”)

    Yet you don’t see weigh-ins preceding baptisms or people holding “God Hates Gluttons” signs outside the den of iniquity that is Ryan’s Steakhouse.

    And we haven’t even touched on materialism, or the fact that on the day I stuffed my face with froyo, 30,000 kids died from preventable diseases and many more went hungry.

    It seems the more ubiquitous the biblical violation, the more invisible it becomes.

    So why do so many Christians focus on the so-called “clobber verses” related to homosexuality while ignoring “clobber verses” related to gluttony or greed, head coverings or divorce? Why is homosexuality the great biblical debate of this decade and not slavery, (as it once was) or the increasing problem of materialism and inequity? Why do so many advocate making gay marriage illegal but not divorce, when Jesus never referenced the former but spoke quite negatively about the latter?

    While there are certainly important hermeneutical and cultural issues at play, I can’t help but wonder if something more nefarious is also at work. I can’t help but wonder if biblical condemnation is often a numbers game.

    Though it affects more of us than we tend to realize, statistically, homosexuality affects far fewer of us than gluttony, materialism, or divorce. And as Jesus pointed out so often in his ministry, we like to focus on the biblical violations (real or perceived) of the minority rather than our own.

    In short, we like to gang up. We like to fashion weapons out of the verses that affect us the least and then “clobber” the minority with them. Or better yet, conjure up some saccharine language about speaking the truth in love before breaking out our spec-removing tweezers to help get our minds off of these uncomfortable logs in our own eyes.

    We see this in the story of the religious leaders who ganged up on the woman caught in adultery. She was such an easy target: a woman, probably poor, disempowered, and charged with the go-to favorite of the self-righteous—sexual sin. When they brought her to Jesus, they were using her as an example to test him, to see how “biblical” his response to her would be. (See Deuteronomy 22:23-14.) Jesus knelt down and scribbled in the sand before saying, “He who is without sin can cast the first stone.” They dropped their stones.

    While self-righteousness avoidance certainly affects our selective literalism , we also have good reasons for not condemning one another for the more ubiquitous biblical violations (again, real or perceived) in our culture.

    It’s hard for me to flatly condemn divorce, for example, when I know of several women whose lives, and the lives of their children, may have been saved by it, or when I hear from people who tell me they would have rather come from a broken home than grown up in one. We have a natural revulsion to the idea of checking people’s BMI before accepting them into the Church, especially when obesity is not necessarily reflective of gluttony (often, in this country, it is a result of poverty), and when we know from our own experiences or the experiences of those we love that an unhealthy weight can result from a variety of factors—from genetics to psychological components—and when some of our favorite people in the world (or when we ourselves) wrestle with a complicated relationship with food, whether it’s through overeating or under-eating.

    Again, it’s a numbers game. It’s hard to “other” the people we know and love the most. It’s become a cliché, but everything changes when it’s your brother or sister who gets divorced, when it’s your son or daughter who is gay, when it’s your best friend who struggles with addiction, when it’s your husband or wife asking some good questions about Christianity you never thought about before. Our relationships have a tendency to destroy our categories, to melt black and white into gray, and I don’t think God is disappointed or threatened by this. I think God expects it. It happened to Peter when he encountered Corneilus and Philip when he encountered the Ehtiopian eunuch. Suddenly it became a lot harder to label your friends “unclean” or “unworthy.”

    After all, when God became flesh and lived among us, the religious accused him of hanging out with “sinners” (even gluttons!) never realizing that this was the whole point, that there were only “sinners” to hang out with.

    Of course, all of this raises questions about when it’s right or wrong to “call out” sin, and I confess I’m no good at sorting that out. I’m as hypocritical as the next person, judgmental of those I deem judgmental, self-righteous, indulgent, a gossip, too careless with my words, too quick to get angry at certain people with certain theological views, too easily seduced by money and notoriety and…my favorite things in the whole entire world…AWARDSI LISTS! ACCOLADES!

    I too need reminding that, for all my big talk about a “Christocentric hermeneutic,” more often than not, I’m following a “Rachelcentric hermeneutic” when I read the Bible, complete with my own biases, preferences, insecurities, and opinions guiding how I “pick and choose.” (Oh I can wield every Bible verse that challenges Calvinism like a knife, but I’d rather not talk about how I’m actually applying the Sermon on the Mount to my life or what I really think about enemy-love.)

    Should we stop discussing which biblical instructions apply today and how we ought to apply them? Certainly not. Should we remain silent when the vulnerable are oppressed and exploited or when injustice and immorality pervades our culture? No. Do we abandon our convictions about what the Bible says is sin? No, not even when we disagree on that. Are rhetorical questions overused in blog posts? Yes.

    But it’s good to remind ourselves now and then that just as Southern slaveholders had a vested interest in interpreting Colossians 3:22 literally, so we tend to “pick and choose” to our own advantage.

    And when we make separate categories for the “real sinners,” when we reduce our fellow human beings to theological issues up for constant debate who cannot even be told they are loved without qualifiers, when our hermeneutic conveniently renders others the problem and us the heroes, maybe it’s time to sit across a table and get to know one another a little better, to break up some categories and make some new friends. Maybe it’s time to drop our stones for a while and pass the bread.

    …healthy, whole grain, organic bread, of course.

    *Updated: I closed the thread because there were just too many comments to keep up with! Thank you so much for reading and for keeping it (mostly) civil. 🙂

  10. Pastor Mark, I am grateful that wise men walk among us. You are “wise as a serpent but harmless as a dove”. Your words teach, bringing me peace of heart. I admire you for being courageous in tackling this polarizing subject. Thank you

  11. So true. I appreciate your comments. The issue with religious views is that they are so very close to the heart of us all. I find that the more I study the Bible and the life of Jesus, the less I am tethered to judgments of others. I prefer to think that we are to show love to all.