Christianity on trial in Duck Dynasty controversy

America may be on the verge of a long-needed discussion over the limits of discourse on homosexual acts. Phil Robertson, patriarch of the family that stars in Duck Dynasty, the most popular program in the history of cable television, was interviewed by GQ Magazine, and was asked what in his mind is sinful:

"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."

The Hollywood Reporter chronicles the nearly immediate reaction

A&E has placed Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson on indefinite hiatus following anti-gay remarks he made in a recent profile in GQ.

"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 seriesDuck Dynasty," A&E said in a statement. "His personal views in no way reflect those of A+E Networks, who have always been strong supporters and champions of the LGBT community. The network has placed Phil under hiatus from filming indefinitely."

Rather inaccurately, THR claims:

The news comes after Robertson compared homosexuality to bestiality in an interview with the magazine.

First of all, Robertson spoke of homosexual behavior - i.e., acts. He took care not to characterize homosexuality per se as sinful. This is quite consistent with Christian doctrine of loving the sinner while hating the sin. That crucial point obviously eludes The Hollywood Reporter. But there is a second serious distortion in the Hollywood Reporter summation:

The only comparison involved was that both are sins. As is adultery, as is swindling and a number of other sins mentioned by Robertson. THR might as well have stated "Roberson compared homosexuality to adultery," but that would not have sparked the same level of outrage. And the goal here is to generate outrage, so as to make expression of disapproval of homosexual acts an absolute taboo.

In other words, Christians should no longer be allowed to express their belief in the sinfulness of homosexual acts, without suffering expulsion from the media forum, the early twenty-first century American version of the public square.

This is going to get very interesting indeed. The fourth season of Duck Dynasty is already in the can, and presumably will be shown, as A&E has an enormous financial stake in the resulting ratings and ad revenue. Will the gay community demand that Phil be excised from the episodes already shot? If he is an object of hate, almost certainly some will. How, then, will A&E respond?

What will be the response of other members of the Robertson family? Are they likely to want to remain in the employ of A&E for future seasons? I have no idea what their contractual obligations are, but if the dispute accelerates, certainly they will be offered places on non-mainstream outlets willing to tolerate orthodox Christian sentiments.

Then there is the matter of all the Duck Dynasty merchandise on sale, including clothing, CDs, and other matter, which makes a lot of money for Walmart, Target, and many other retailers. Will gay activitsts demand that it be taken off the shelves? How likely is that to succeed?

Will cooler heads prevail in the gay community, realizing that Christians ought to be allowed to have their two millennia-old beliefs respected in the public square? That would be the optimal outcome, but I don't really predict it will happen, as things now stand.

Because the nation is on the verge of Christmas (note the first syllable), political news is dying down, and families are reuniting. I spent part of yesterday afternoon (a far larger part than would normally be the case) picking up a relative at the airport, which was jammed with family members traveling to be with their relatives. It is very likely that many of these families will talk about the Robertson contretemps, for they have come to embody family life.

Stay tuned, this is going to be one interesting and important national conversation.

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