by Marie Alford-Harkey
I’ve never watched the television show Duck Dynasty, but I’ve learned a lot about it in the last couple of days since the story broke that A & E suspended family patriarch Phil Robertson from the show for his anti-LGBT remarks. To sum up, it’s a reality show about a family that makes Duck Calls. The family’s Christian faith plays a large role in the show.
I read the entire GQ interview that got Phil Robertson in trouble. It’s quite interesting. There are two paragraphs in the interview where Robertson makes anti-LGBT remarks.
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.
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. Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers—they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right.
The first problem here isn’t anti-LGBT speech, it’s misogyny. What a woman “has to offer” according to Robertson, is a vagina, which he asserts is “more desirable” than a man’s anus. It’s just one quote, so I’m hopeful that Robertson understands that loving relationships are about more than body parts, whether they are same-sex or other-sex relationships.
Then Robertson goes on to name homosexuality as a sin, and equate it with bestiality, adultery, prostitution, drunkenness, slander, and swindling. Biblical scholars tell us that what is often translated as “homosexuality” in the biblical passages that supposedly say that it is a sin is not at all what we understand by the term today. Evangelicals Concerned does a great job of addressing this subject in depth, with citations from biblical scholars from across the theological spectrum.
Perhaps even more tone-deaf than Robertson’s remarks about LGBT people are his comments about black people. The GQ interviewer titles this quote “Phil On Growing Up in Pre-Civil-Rights-Era Louisiana.”
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.
Read that again. What Robertson implies here is that a) the fact that they were singing means that black people were happy hoeing cotton (undoubtedly for far less money than Robertson got paid for hoeing the same cotton), b) the fact that Robertson never heard a black person say something bad about a white person means they were happy hoeing cotton, c) that black people are mostly on welfare and entitlements, and d) that black people are no longer “godly” because they are now on welfare and entitlements.
A & E has suspended Robertson from Duck Dynasty for these remarks, which has generated its own media attention with petitions to reinstate him and memes like the one at the top of this post. Many of the people who are angry about A&E’s decision to suspend Robertson from the show are citing the principle of free speech. But free speech doesn’t mean freedom from the personal and societal consequences of that speech.
The personal consequences of Robertson’s remarks are that he has been placed on indefinite hiatus from the show. The societal consequences are all around us – in the media, in social media, at the dinner table, and likely from the pulpit this coming Sunday – Robertson’s remarks are being discussed, many are taking offense, and many others are defending him.
Of course, the consequences of free speech do not fall only on those who are anti-LGBT. Rev. Frank Schaefer has also suffered personal and societal consequences for his stand on LGBT rights. Until Thursday, Schaefer was United Methodist minister. He was put on ecclesial trial last month for performing the wedding of his son to another man in 2007. At that time, he was given a 30 day suspension in which he was to decide if he could promise not to officiate at another same-sex wedding. Knowing full well that the consequences would most likely be the loss of his ministerial credentials, he refused to do so. On Thursday, church officials defrocked him.
Free speech has resulted in negative consequences for both Robertson and Schaefer. But free speech can also counter racism, misogyny, and the perception that there is only one Christian point of view on sexual and gender diversity. There are literally thousands of Christians who support LGBT equality and celebrate sexual and gender diversity because of their faith, and who ground their commitment to anti-racism in their faith. Let’s exercise our freedom of speech to get that word out.