Sunday, December 29, 2013

Right-Wing Defends Duck Dynasty's Phil Robertson

As mentioned in an earlier post, Phil Robertson of A&E's Duck Dynasty is in hot water due to his comments about African-Americans and gays in a GQ interview. As LGBTQ and racial justice advocates condemned his remarks, right-wing voices have rushed to defend him. When A&E suspended Phil Robertson from Duck Dynasty amidst the firestorm, Religious Right voices celebrated Robertson as a champion of free speech and Christian values.

First, the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) launched an online petition demanding that A&E reinstate Robertson and apologize for his suspension. NOM accused "gay lobby bullies" of attacking "one of the most popular Christians in America", and their petition slams A&E for allegedly silencing Robertson.
"As a Christian, Phil has simply stated his belief in the truth of the Bible, which considers homosexual acts to be sinful. A&E's executives may not believe in the Bible, and that is your right. But you have no right to silence the millions of Christians like Phil Robertson who uphold the word of God. You have succumbed to the demands of bullies like the HRC and GLAAD, which is disgraceful for an entity whose very existence depends on the free exchange of ideas."
Former Alaska governor and vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin defended Robertson as well. According to Pink News, Palin claimed on her Facebook page that "Free speech is an endangered species. Those "intolerants" hatin' and taking on the Duck Dynasty patriarch for voicing his personal opinions are taking on all of us." However, Palin later admitted that she hadn't read the GQ article in question.

Political leaders also defended Robertson. In a December 19th statement at the Office of the Louisiana Governor website, Gov. Bobby Jindal praised Robertson and his kin as "great citizens of the State of Louisiana" while looking askance at the "politically correct crowd".
“Phil Robertson and his family are great citizens of the State of Louisiana. The politically correct crowd is tolerant of all viewpoints, except those they disagree with. I don’t agree with quite a bit of stuff I read in magazine interviews or see on TV.  In fact, come to think of it, I find a good bit of it offensive. But I also acknowledge that this is a free country and everyone is entitled to express their views.  In fact, I remember when TV networks believed in the First Amendment. It is a messed up situation when Miley Cyrus gets a laugh, and Phil Robertson gets suspended "
According to the Daily Home and CNN, Alabama State Senator Jerry Fielding plans to introduce a Senate resolution supporting Phil Robertson during the upcoming legislative session. Robertson's comments were "supported by the biblical scriptures", Fielding told CNN. "We just don't want people running over people that believe in the Bible and standing up for Jesus and God and doing those things the Scriptures teaches us to do," Fielding insisted.

Buzzfeed reports that Illinois congressional candidate Ian Bayne sent out an e-mail to supporters praising Rosa Parks and Phil Robertson in the same breath. "What Parks did was courageous," Bayne said. "What Mr. Robertson did was courageous too."

The Duck Dynasty controversy even drew a popular restaurant into the fray. The Cracker Barrel restaurant chain initially removed Duck Dynasty merchandise from its stores, then placed the merchandise back in its stores when customers complained. According to WYFF 4, Cracker Barrel issued a statement to customers in which it apologized for offending them, adding that the company "respects all individuals right to express their beliefs."

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Phil Roberson's suspension was short-lived. In a statement published at the Hollywood Reporter website on December 27th, A&E indicated that Duck Dynasty filming would include Phil Robertson. A&E expressed its disappointment in Robertson's comments but celebrated Duck Dynasty as "a show about family".  
"[Duck Dynasty] resonates with a large audience because it is a show about family ... a family that America has come to love. As you might have seen in many episodes, they come together to reflect and pray for unity, tolerance and forgiveness. These are three values that we at A+E Networks also feel strongly about.

So after discussions with the Robertson family, as well as consulting with numerous advocacy groups, A&E has decided to resume filming Duck Dynasty later this spring with the entire Robertson family.

We will also use this moment to launch a national public service campaign (PSA) promoting unity, tolerance and acceptance among all people, a message that supports our core values as a company and the values found in Duck Dynasty. These PSAs will air across our entire portfolio."
It would seem that A&E is trying to pacify angry voices from both sides of the controversy, reinstating Phil Robertson while making public statements about tolerance. A&E's damage control, however well-meaning, does not erase Robertson's disturbing statements.

In the wake of the firestorm, Phil Robertson was unapologetic about his GQ comments. According to the Daily Mail, Robertson told his local Bible study group "I am a lover of humanity, not a hater," but concluded the gathering with an unrepentant prayer. "I will not give or back off from my path because you conquered death, Father, so we are not worried about all the repercussions," he asserted.

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The right's response to Robertson's comments is revealing. First, voices from the right have defended Robertson's comments about homosexuality while saying little about his assertions about world religions and African-Americans.What does this say about the religious and racial politics of the Religious Right? What does it mean his homophobic comments are defended, but his rose-tinted memories of the pre-civil rights era and contempt for world religions are left unaddressed?

Second, by celebrating Robertson's comments as demonstrations of Christian values, his defenders champion a right-wing version of Christianity. This interpretation of Christianity is defined in part by opposition to the other (gays, liberals, etc.) rather than values such as love, acceptance, and solidarity with the marginalized.

Finally, some of Robertson's defenders paint the controversy as a free speech issue, ignoring its deeper implications. No one is restricting Robertson's freedom of speech. The more pressing issue is how Robertson's comments reflect and reinforce bigotry, which is a real and pernicious force in society.

The Duck Dynasty controversy remind us that intolerance still exists in society, but it also says a great deal about Robertson's defenders. To enlighten minds on the right, we need to share a new narrative about why LGBTQ rights, religion, and race are vital issues.

To read additional news and commentary, visit the following links.

The Republican: Anti-gay Massachusetts minister Scott Lively defends 'Duck Dynasty' star Phil Robertson's likening of homosexuality to bestiality

Forward Progressives: Duck Commander, Fundamentalism, and the Missionary Position

Religion Dispatches: Duck Dynasty Patriarch, Hero of Christian Right

Time: Duck Dynasty Controversy: 5 Things You Need to Know

Huffington Post: Is the Duck Dynasty Outrage Really About Christian Values?

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