Okay, before everyone gets their panties in a bunch over the title, let me first get this out; what Duck Dynasty patriarch, Phil Robertson said about both gays and the pre-Civil Rights era black community was offensive. There's no way around it no matter what you believe. Still, there's been a lot of debate on Facebook over this subject that has some folks getting quite heated.
I couldn't work up to a good heat on it because..well, I'm just so disappointed in Phil. You see, despite my love of all things intellectual, I got snared into watching the show by my best friend (who loves reality tv), and it became a guilty pleasure. I just love uncle Si, Jase (with whom my newest great nephew now shares a name), and Phil, whose old-fashioned views on women's roles didn't offend me because I happen to have been raised by conservative parents (which thankfully did not rub off on me. Imagine their surprise that they ended up raising TWO liberal daughters!).
It's because of my conservative parents that I recognize in Phil Robertson an old man who is a product of his generation and upbringing. That's not to say that his beliefs couldn't have evolved along the way if he so chose, but he never left the bayou too far behind him when he stepped out briefly into the world, and it shows because he obviously chose to go right back to it.
Despite the fact that he is wrong (and I'll explain why in a moment), he's entitled to his beliefs and even entitled to speak them out loud. That's what freedom of speech and freedom of religion means; our own rights to our own opinions as long as we're not trying to force them onto others. As far as I know, Phil hasn't sponsored any legislation to force others into accepting his views. He has spoken publicly only to like-minded individuals who have invited him to do so. Even GQ Magazine invited him to speak his mind, and speak he did.
The backlash, however, has nothing to do with Robertson's right to freedom of speech or religion. The backlash from the Duck Dynasty network host, A&E, is all about the contractual and business agreement between an employer and an employee. If, as an employee, you misrepresent or in any way damage the image of the company you work for, that employer has every right to suspend or fire you. It's about the bottom line, and not your individual rights which don't come into play when you are an employee. Phil Robertson and his family are employees of A&E. A&E does not wish to be seen as discriminatory to any portion of their viewing audience, hence, the indefinite suspension of Phil.
Then there is the backlash from the three groups Phil offended; the gay community, the black community, and those loyal fans of the show who are offended by his disappointing views on the subject of the first two groups. These folks have demanded blood, but did that go overboard? Is Phil really such a bad guy or is he like every other conservative old dad or uncle in American families? Every family has their one (sometimes more than one) person who holds unpopular viewpoints. God knows I still argue with my step-dad and my mom over theirs, but I also know the good they do. I know they raised me, got me through the hardest times in my life, and helped me conquer a debilitating illness. I know that they love me even if and often when we don't agree. I see this in Phil. So should we be so punitive in our backlash? Is there no moment of enlightenment to be found here?
I'm not the one to answer that. It's up to Phil, and here is why. In his apology, he says "I would never treat anyone with disrespect just because they are different from me. We are all created by the Almighty and like Him, I love all of humanity. We would all be better off if we loved God and loved each other." The problem with his words is that he did exactly what he said he would "never" do; he disrespected someone who was different from himself by casting them into the role of evil-doers citing that their way of life is a sin. Methinks Phil has arrogantly and erroneously made himself an expert on what God's plan is for people who are different from him. He is second-guessing God and not even thinking about the fact that his own ability to practice the tolerance and love preached by Jesus has been tested and that he failed. Now, I'm not a person who believes in religion, myself. I cool with faith, but "religion" is just man-made rules. there's no definitive evidence that God wrote himself a book. If this is so, didn't he then write several books both before and after the bible? Which religion is correct? Are any of them correct? I certainly don't think so as so many fall short of the teachings of Moses, Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha, Confucius, and L. Ron Hubbard. Further, there is no mention of homosexuality in the Ten Commandments or even listed in the seven deadly sins. You'd think if being gay was such a mortal sin it would at least make it onto that list. Nope.
Phil read one small line in the bible and decided it must be true. Well, a lot of things are written in the bible that are questionable. Even the Pope himself said that if a person is gay, has a loving heart and seeks God, who is he to judge? If the highest priest in the world can say that, how does Phil Robertson place himself above the pope? That is an arrogance that defies logic. (Let's hear it for Pope Frank; the only pope that has ever earned my respect.)
Further, his comments went on to cite that he never witnessed any black American acting or saying he/she was unhappy during the Jim Crow south era; that they were all just singing in the fields as they hoed cotton. Hmmn, imagine that. A black person NOT sharing how unhappy he might be about having no right to vote or even walk the street without fear of being attacked to another WHITE man! He made it sound like since he, himself, didn't see all the bad happening that it must not have happened; must not be true.
Comments like that stem from ignorance, and I'm sorry to say, bigotry. But the title of this piece is In Defense of Phil, so here goes. Phil Robertson has every right to hold unpopular and even bigoted views. He has the right to share those views with others who feel the same. I'm hoping that in light of the firestorm brought on by the unfiltered expression of his constitutionally protected views that he might find a little enlightenment as to why he is simply wrong. That moment won't come from anyone shouting at him or even from me expressing my own constitutionally protected views. That kind of lesson is only learned when one has an open heart, and seeks to face his own fears (because homophobia is just fear, albeit a dumb one), and to accept that just because he didn't see something happen doesn't mean it didn't happen. I mean, there are massive history books that address the issues of slavery and the entire civil rights movement. Phil is an educated man who just needs a little more educating.
Finally, I am experiencing that feeling where you discover that someone you respected is far less than what you thought. It feels like losing a friend. I like the Robertson clan, and I hope that this becomes a defining moment that leads to something good, a better understanding on one side, and the practice of tolerance and understanding on the other side.
There won't be any winners in this one. A&E can't win either way. They're damned if they do and damned if hey don't deal with it. The Robertson's image is now tarnished in the eyes of many, and those who were offended don't get anything of worth out of this, either, because suspending Phil or even cancelling the show won't change Phil's views, and isn't evolving to a higher plane the ultimate goal? That will only happen if the offended stop frothing at the mouth long enough to take the high road. Focus on the best result and not immediate gut reaction.
All sides should have he opportunity to sit down and have a frank discussion without malice or anger. That is what I would like to see happen here.