“This discourse has brought into focus that there are significant bodies of people who have competing world views in America,” says Chris Stone, founder of Faith Driven Consumer, a Raleigh-based nonprofit that sponsored the “I Stand with Phil” Internet petition that drew 260,000 signatures. For A&E, that meant executives had to “deal with the fact that there are millions of Christian Americans who say, ‘Hey, you’re talking to me, and you’re disenfranchising me.’ [Their] opinion has to be included in America’s rainbow of diversity, and it has to be included in the conversation” with regards to “power, inclusion and mutual respect.”
But as executives and fans took to Christmas tables, conversation turned at least in places not to Duck Dynasty’s political implications or opportunity for advocacy group grandstanding, but to the fact that the show fairly hews to the Arts & Entertainment ethos: Perhaps not artsy, but ultimately family entertainment that makes people laugh and think, if not fantasize, about American opportunity and freedom.
Self-admittedly liberal and urban writers – including GQ reporter Drew Magary who penned the blow-up piece – have romanticized the rural Christian lifestyle, suggesting that Phil Robertson and his clan may have gotten the American idea right.
Phil Robertson and Duck Dynasty had up to this point straddled America’s cultural rifts deftly, if not always artfully, creating a kind of modern-day “Cosby Show” where Americans are given a warm, welcoming glimpse into how the other half lives.
A former Louisiana Tech football standout, Phil’s a self-made man, a reborn sinner, a clan leader who carries respect, and a bit of awe and embarrassment from grandkids wide-eyed at the words that come out of his mouth. A strongly upturned thumb and exhortations of “Yep,” and “happy, happy, happy,” are his catchphrases.
Phil may be the patriarch, but is hardly the star of the show. Duck Commander CEO Willie Robertson, the second-eldest son, sometimes plays the buffoon but is better known for his exasperated forgiveness of his younger siblings.
Jase Robertson is the smart-alecky middle brother with a thirst for anything “redneck” and adventurous. His best line so far may have been: “You can talk any redneck into a challenge. That’s why so many rednecks die in strange ways.”
Jep Robertson is the youngest and, understandably, given his two loudmouth brothers, the quietest son, but the one best beloved by matriarch Kay.
While lots of attention is also given to kids, grandkids and wives, as well as rotund and well-bearded Duck Commander employees, Si Robertson is the star. The lanky, loose limbed Vietnam vet has an ever present glass of ice tea and specializes in hilarious retorts that border on the bizarre, if not downright perplexing.
That viewpoint also walked Phil Robertson into what some would call a reporter’s trap, asked offhandedly , in his living room, how he defined sin. That’s when Phil went on a roll:
“Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there,” Robertson began. “Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men.”
Then he proceeded straight to Corinthians: “Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers – they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right.”
(Less widely publicized were observations about Southern blacks during Jim Crow, where he said the blacks he worked alongside seemed happy.)
The backlash was strong and immediate, in large part because Robertson has a TV pulpit that reached 14.8 million people, record cable viewership that has already shook cable economics to the core.
“His personal views in no way reflect those of A&E Networks, who have always been strong supporters and champions of the LGBT community,” wrote the partly-Disney-owned network after hearing about Phil’s GQ commentary. “The network has placed Phil under hiatus from filming indefinitely."
Robertson never apologized, but did tell his West Monroe, La., church last Sunday, at the height of the Duck Dynasty flap, that, “I am a lover of humanity, not a hater.”
In its statement A&E explained its reaction to put Phil on “indefinite hiatus” and also explained what prompted the Christmastime reconciliation.
To be sure, Mr. Stone of Faith Driven Consumer agrees that “reflecting on Christ” and his teachings during the holidays may have helped both sides cool the rhetoric and move the ongoing conversation between Christians and progressives forward, if only by a beard’s length.
In that spirit, A&E says, “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.”
The network also says it’s agreed to work with the Robertson clan in other ways to promote tolerance.
This article, Phil Robertson reinstated: How Christmas saved 'Duck Dynasty' (+video), is syndicated from The Christian Science Monitor and is posted here with permission.