A Little "Reality" for the Duck Dynasty Debate

Phil Robertson, patriarch of A&E’s “Duck Dynasty,” got fired or sanctioned or hiatused or somethin’. Before we start organizing the boycotts or social media petitions or whatever, I think the show’s Christian fans — of which I am one — could use a reality check on a few notes:

1. It will be difficult to prove a case of censorship, marginalization, or oppression when you can’t walk into a mall, grocery store, Wal-Mart, or sporting goods store without running beard-deep into the Robertson clan’s gigantic faces and assorted “Duck Dynasty”-branded trinkets and googaws.

2. We ought to remember that the first amendment does not guarantee anyone’s right to have a show on cable television.

3. What Phil Robertson said about homosexuality to Gentleman’s Quarterly magazine is something nearly all so-called “gentlemen” used to believe, including the part where he said black people were happy before the Civil Rights movement and he never saw racism in Louisiana growing up. Yes, he said that. (Heck, the first time I was personally confronted with the harsh reality of racism against African Americans was in Louisiana, and I’d only been in the state a few hours.) Also, Phil Robertson has an adopted grandson who is biracial.

5. I sometimes wonder what believers in the 2/3 world would think if they knew Western evangelicals get uptight about this kind of thing. We need to watch our rhetoric. It of course will not serve us well to pretend like the cultural wind isn’t shifting — indeed, it’s already shifted — but we need to be sober-minded. The firing of a millionaire reality show participant isn’t just a first world problem — it’s a one-percenter problem. As the cultural winds shifted against the early church, the believers in the Bible did not protest so much as praise. And what they suffered — and what our brothers and sisters around the world daily suffer — make this concern pale whiter than Miss Kay’s dumplin’s.

This doesn’t mean we should bury our heads in the sand about genuine free speech and free exercise violations in our theoretically free nation; it just means we ought to be more circumspect than reactionary, more wise than whiny, more joyful than outraged. As “reality” just got the ironic quote-marks taken off of it, maybe this cultural shifting will serve towards a sifting of the “real” Christians from the real ones, the cultural from the Spiritual. Evangelicals need to get real.

UPDATE:

Based on the responses to this piece, apparently a few clarifications and corrections are in order.

1. I agree with Phil Robertson’s views on homosexuality. I’m not sure why it has been deduced otherwise, but apparently I need to make that clear.

2. I do not agree with A&E’s decision to suspend him from the show. This was not a point I cared to make in the piece, but I probably should have. However, I do think it is their right to employ whatever talent they believe best represents the message they want to send to their viewers. Just as it is your right to stop being a viewer.

3. I do not believe that homosexuality and race are parallel issues, and that is certainly not the point I was trying to make in #3 above, nor was I trying to say Phil is a racist. (My inclusion of the factoid about the adopted grandson was actually meant to be a “reality check” against that conclusion.) I was only trying to say, obviously very poorly, that evangelicals eager to defend his take on homosexuality should be aware of his words on race, which could be construed as racially insensitive. A few commenters took me to task about my summary of Robertson’s statement, pointing out he did not say “all blacks were happy during Jim Crow,” but only that the ones he knew were. Point taken; correction received. I should have summarized his statement more accurately. I could press a different point to question the legitimacy of the white guy speaking for the black experience at the time, but perhaps I should quit while I’m behind.

4. Point number 4 was boycotted by A&E. I have sent in Jimmy Carter, Desmond Tutu, Bono, and Pope Francis to advocate for its release, since they are the only Christians the liberal media will listen to.

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Jared C. Wilson
Jared C. Wilson is the Director of Content Strategy for Midwestern Seminary, managing editor of For The Church, Director of the Pastoral Training Center at Liberty Baptist Church, and author of numerous books, including Gospel Wakefulness, The Pastor’s Justification, The Prodigal Church, The Imperfect Disciple, and Supernatural Power for Everyday People. A frequent preacher and speaker at churches and conferences, you can visit him online at jaredcwilson.com or follow him on Twitter.

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