An interview can get you into big trouble. Remember General Stanley McChrystal? He was the commander of all U.S. forces in Afghanistan until he gave an interview to Rolling Stone magazine in 2010 and criticized his Commander in Chief. Soon thereafter, he was sacked. This time the interview controversy surrounds Phil Robertson, founder of the Duck Commander company and star of A&E's Duck Dynasty. Robertson gave an interview to GQ (formerly known as Gentlemen's Quarterly), and now he has been put on "indefinite suspension" from the program.
Why? Because of controversy over his comments on homosexuality.
Phil Robertson is the plainspoken patriarch of the Duck Dynasty clan. In the GQ interview, published in the January 2014 issue of the magazine, Robertson makes clear that his Christian faith is central to his identity and his life. He speaks of his life before Christ and actively seeks to convert the interviewer, Drew Magary, to faith in Christ. He tells Magary of the need for repentance from sin. Magary then asks Robertson to define sin. He responded:
"Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men,” he says. Then he paraphrases 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.”
Christians will recognize that Robertson was offering a rather accurate paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 6:9-10: "Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God."
To be fair, Robertson also offered some comments that were rather crude and graphically anatomical in making the same point. As Magary explained, "Out here in these woods, without any cameras around, Phil is free to say what he wants. Maybe a little too free. He’s got lots of thoughts on modern immorality, and there’s no stopping them from rushing out."
Phil Robertson would have served the cause of Christ more faithfully if some of those comments had not rushed out. This is not because what he said was wrong; he was making the argument that homosexual acts are against nature. The Apostle Paul makes the very same argument in Romans 1:26. The problem is the graphic nature of Robertson's language and the context of his statements.
The Apostle Paul made the same arguments, but worshipers in the congregations of Rome and Corinth did not have to put hands over the ears of their children when Paul's letter was read to their church.
The entire Duck Dynasty enterprise is a giant publicity operation, and a very lucrative enterprise at that. Entertainment and marketing machines run on publicity, and the Robertsons have used that publicity to offer winsome witness to their Christian faith. But GQ magazine? Seriously?
Not all publicity is good publicity, and Christians had better think long and hard about the publicity we seek or allow by our cooperation.
Just ask Gen. McChrystal. In the aftermath of his embarrassing debacle, the obvious question was this: why would a gifted and tested military commander allow a reporter for Rolling Stone such access and then speak so carelessly? Rolling Stone is a magazine of the cultural left. It was insanity for Gen. McChrystal to speak so carelessly to a reporter who should have been expected to present whatever the general said in the most unfavorable light.
Similarly, Phil Robertson would have served himself and his mission far better by declining to cooperate with GQ for a major interview. GQ is a "lifestyle" magazine for men, a rather sophisticated and worldly platform for the kind of writing Drew Magary produced in this interview. GQ is not looking for Sunday School material. Given the publicity the interview has now attracted, the magazine must be thrilled. Phil Robertson is likely less thrilled.
Another interesting parallel emerges with the timing of this controversy. The current issue of TIME magazine features Pope Francis I as "Person of the Year." Within days of TIME's declaration, Phil Robertson had been suspended from Duck Dynasty. Robertson's suspension was caused by his statements that homosexual acts are sinful. But Pope Francis is riding a wave of glowing publicity, even as he has stated in public his agreement with all that the Roman Catholic Church teaches, including its teachings on homosexual acts.
Francis has declared himself to be a "son of the church," and his church teaches that all homosexual acts are inherently sinful and must be seen as "acts of grave depravity" that are "intrinsically disordered."
But Pope Francis is on the cover of TIME magazine and Phil Robertson is on indefinite suspension. Such are the inconsistencies, confusions, and hypocrisies of our cultural moment.
Writing for TIME, television critic James Poniewozik argued that Robertson's error was to speak so explicitly and openly, "to make the subtext text." He wrote:
Now, you’ve got an issue with those of us who maybe just want to watch a family comedy about people outside a major city, but please without supporting somebody thumping gay people with their Bible. Or a problem with people with gay friends, or family, or, you know, actual gay A&E viewers.
By speaking so openly, Robertson crossed the line, Poniewozik explains.
A&E was running for cover. The network released a statement that attempted to put as much distance as possible between what the network described as Robertson's personal beliefs and their own advocacy for gay rights:
We are extremely disappointed to have read Phil Robertson’s comments in GQ, which are based on his own personal beliefs and are not reflected in the series Duck Dynasty. His personal views in no way reflect those of A&E Networks, who have always been strong supporters and champions of the LGBT community.
So, even as most evangelical Christians will likely have concerns about the way Phil Robertson expressed himself in some of his comments and where he made the comments, the fact remains that it is the moral judgment he asserted, not the manner of his assertion, that caused such an uproar. A quick look at the protests from gay activist groups like GLAAD will confirm that judgment. They have protested the words Robertson drew from the Bible and labeled them as "far outside of the mainstream understanding of LGBT people."
So the controversy over Duck Dynasty sends a clear signal to anyone who has anything to risk in public life: Say nothing about the sinfulness of homosexual acts or risk sure and certain destruction by the revolutionaries of the new morality. You have been warned.
In a statement released before his suspension, Phil Robertson told of his own sinful past and of his experience of salvation in Christ and said:
My mission today is to go forth and tell people about why I follow Christ and also what the Bible teaches, and part of that teaching is that women and men are meant to be together. However, 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.
Those are fighting words, Phil. They are also the gospel truth.
Drew Magary, "What the Duck?," GQ, January 2014. http://www.gq.com/entertainment/television/201401/duck-dynasty-phil-robertson [WARNING: explicit language used. Citation is here for the purpose of documentation.]
James Poniewozik, "Why Phil Robertson Got Suspended from Duck Dynasty," TIME, Wednesday, December 18, 2014. http://entertainment.time.com/2013/12/18/duck-dynasty-phil-robertson-suspended/
Catechism of the Catholic Church, Paragraph 2357. http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p3s2c2a6.htm#2357
Megan Townsend, "A&E Network Places Star on Indefinite Filming Hiatus Following Anti-Gay Remarks," GLAAD, Wednesday, December 18, 2013. http://www.glaad.org/blog/ae-network-places-star-indefinite-filming-hiatus-following-anti-gay-remarks
AJ Marechal, "Duck Dynasty: Phil Robertson Suspended Indefinitely Following Anti-Gay Remarks," Variety, Wednesday, December 18, 2013. http://variety.com/2013/tv/news/duck-dynasty-ae-suspends-phil-robertson-following-gay-remarks-1200974473/
Photo credit: A&E Network