When you make an outspoken, irascible patriarch into a television star, he is going to say outspoken, irascible things. And so “Duck Dynasty” dad Phil Robertson gave his views on homosexuality as a sin in an interview with GQ, using plain, sometimes crude language. He also made some comments about race relations and poor people that many found offensive. A&E, which airs the hugely popular and lucrative television show, has removed him from the series and his family has said that they will not go on without him.
A lot of people have a lot to say about this. Fans of the show and supporters of Robertson’s view of the Bible are objecting. People who don’t like to let bigoted statements by people in the public eye go unresponded to are objecting to his remarks. Presidential hopefuls are speaking out in hopes of getting the support of evangelicals.
Let’s be clear. This has nothing to do with freedom of speech. The First Amendment prohibits government restrictions on speech. If a television personality makes an offensive remark, it is not offensive to point that out. If a corporate entity like a television network makes a business decision that the offensive comment has made the person who said it a liability that may result in the loss of advertisers or viewers, that is not censorship. It is the free exercise of business judgement and the exercise of free speech by the owners of the program and the network. Claiming a religious belief as the basis for one’s views does not grant automatic protection from criticism by others. Many beliefs grounded in religious views in the past, like segregation and slavery, are no longer considered acceptable. And I trust that Mr. Robertson, who also made some strong statements about other religions, recognizes that people who have different faiths — or no faith — are entitled to express their views on his remarks.
Mr. Robertson’s free speech has not been impinged on in any way. He can say whatever he likes. But freedom of speech does not carry with it either the right to make that speech on television or to avoid the consequences of the exercise of free speech by those of us who will express our objections to his homophobic and bigoted views.
If the Robertsons leave A&E and wish to continue to be on television, it is likely some other station will pick them up. With a net worth of $80 million, they can buy their own television time if they want to.
The worst possible outcome from this controversy is if people on any side conduct themselves with anything less than the utmost civility and respect. Those who wish to support Mr. Robertson’s right to express his views or agree with his interpretation of the Bible should remember that humility and grace better exemplify the teachings of Jesus than shrillness and invective. Those who are offended by his comments should remember that their side is not helped by shrillness and invective either. Insult is not argument. Hostility never persuaded anyone. I like this post from Chris Boeskool, where he says many wise things, including:
This is NOT religious persecution. I cannot stress this enough. He did not get suspended for his religious beliefs. He was suspended because what he said was completely offensive. There are plenty of Christians (many of my friends, in fact) who believe that being gay is a sin and marriage should only be between a man and a woman, yet they could have still answered those questions with love and humility. Someone might use Bible verses to claim that interracial relations are an abomination and say “Anyone who commits the sin of miscegenation is heading straight to Hell” and call it freedom of religion, but really…. It’s just old school hatred. Hatred is not a Biblical belief.
And lastly (and most importantly), imagine that there is a gay person reading the things you are writing. Because guess what…. There will be.Please don’t separate the ISSUE from the PEOPLE. Imagine that there is someone reading the words you are writing who is trying to get a sense of what this Jesus guy is all about. Imagine a person reading your words who is just as sure of their same-sex attraction as you are of your opposite-sex attraction. Imagine that person has only ever heard hatred coming from people who call themselves Christians, and he or she is just about ready to give up. Imagine looking into a person’s eyes and saying the hate-filled things you are getting ready to write, instead of looking into computer screen. Maybe even imagine one of your kids has come out to you, and he or she is reading your words. And then finally, think of a time that you have been wrong about something in the past, and imagine that this issue of “how sinful it is to be gay” might be one of those times.
The Robertsons have said that they will ponder this as they focus on loving their neighbor and on prayer. Good idea for all of us.