Phil Robertson's comments have distracted us all from Christmas, New Years, and the impending NFL Playoffs, all of which I see as a travesty. It's an interesting and multi-layered intersection of faith, culture, gotcha journalism, and the Deep South.
In the interest of moving on to other things, I thought I'd offer three (hopefully) short observations.
First off, A&E's decision is odd, to say the least. They air a number of reality shows, including Storage Wars and Rodeo Girls, all of whom are full of colorful characters. They fired Phil because his comments aren't in line with their own values. Does that mean that the rest of their reality stars are in line with their values? Are we supposed to believe the rest of the Robertson family believes differently than Phil?
What we're witnessing here (and, oddly enough, in the firing of Alec Baldwin from MSNBC) is a new kind of cultural and sexual orthodoxy. If you violate it, you're fired. Zero tolerance.
Frankly, I think A&E will have to roll this decision back. Duck Dynasty is their cash cow right now, and the response of fans on both the right and left seems to demand it. We'll see.
Second: What Phil said – both about homosexuality and Jim Crow – was stupid. To be fair, if you follow anyone around 24/7 with cameras and recorders you are going to catch them saying some stupid things but that neither excuses nor diminishes the stupidity of his comments. Yes, he quoted the Bible, and I won't dispute the truth of that verse for a second. But he also implied (in a crass, vulgar way) that same-sex attraction is a simple choice. He can't comprehend why a man would choose a man over a woman. This betrays a profound misunderstanding of homosexuality. Addressing this very issue, Al Mohler said, “We’ve lied about the nature of homosexuality and have practiced what can only be described as a form of homophobia.” Like Phil Robertson, many Christians are 'grossed out' by homosexual practices, dismissing them as perverse choices. But same-sex attraction is much more complex. As Mohler said, “We’ve used the ‘choice’ language when it is clear that sexual orientation is a deep inner struggle and not merely a matter of choice." Phil's core beliefs in the Bible should be defended. His crass caricature of Homosexuality should not.
In addition, he made several comments about growing up in the Jim-Crow-era South that implied that Jim Crow wasn't that bad. He says, "Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.”
Read charitably, one could believe that in Phil's neck of the woods, this was true. I'll give him the benefit of the doubt. But there's a lot that's troubling in there, even so. First off, one would have to have their head under a rock in order to be unaware of the lynching, marching, beating, and murdering that occurred under Jim Crow. Even if it didn't happen in your neighborhood, it happened. To imply it "wasn't that bad" is just plain weird. The Robertsons might have had solidarity with their African American neighbors because they were all poor, but the Robertsons also had no fear of the lynch mob, no fear of white sheets and torches in the night.
Third: Christians have rushed to defend Phil because he's "one of us." I don't doubt Phil's faith, and I'm thankful that so many have been encouraged by their show. (I've never seen an entire episode.)
But when "one of our own" says something foolish, (like radically oversimplifying same-sex attraction or whitewashing [PUN!] Jim Crow), we aren't obligated to agree with them in the interest of protecting the faith. We don't need infallible spokespeople, especially in evangelicalism. As my grandfathers would say, "We ain't got no Pope."
We ought to be able to simultaneously critique A&E for its inconsistency and critique our brother for being crass, oversimplifying same-sex attraction, and making foolish comments about Jim Crow.
The problem, of course is that doing so requires being nuanced and refusing the primary emotion of the internet (OUTRAGE!), and this doesn't tend to get reposts and retweets. The other problem, I suppose, is that Phil is a Christian celebrity, and a likable one at that. I wonder if this reaction doesn't reveal as much about celebrity culture as it does about culture wars. And so the rage rolls on.
Okay, I'm done, and at under 600 words. Now… Let's talk playoffs. How 'bout them Colts. They're going to make a run, just watch.
Oh, wait. One more thing. I'm going to moderate comments very closely on this post because, like A&E's censorship of Phil, it's my blog and I have the right to refuse to post you if you're a troll. (Not that Phil's a troll…)