The controversy between Phil Robertson, the patriarch of Duck Dynasty, and the A&E Network is creating quite a buzz. In a recent interview with GQ Magazine, Robertson responded to questions about homosexuality that set off a frenzy of tweets, Facebook comments, and news posts. In a controversy like this, how should Christians respond? Many will shrink away from the conversation, not ready or equipped to engage the culture around them. Others will meet like with like. Still others will form passionate rebuttals that cause us to stop and think.
Below is an article from a friend and colleague, Brian Nixon, who writes for ANS News, an International News Service. I found his argument good food for thought.
A&E’s Double Standard: Why We Need ‘Soul Freedom’
By Brian Nixon
Special to Assist News
ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO—There’s no doubt about it: we live in a pluralistic society. In its base form, the word pluralism is defined as “a system in which two or more groups, principles, or sources of authority coexist.” Put another way, there are as many voices, opinions, and worldviews as there are people living in the world. Each individual adheres to a set of beliefs based upon several factors: personal conviction, societal norms, psychological dispositions, upbringing, religious views, and the like. The list could go on and on. The fact is that pluralism is a reality in our world, particularly among those adhering to a democratic form of government. An overarching question raised within a pluralistic society is “how are people with varying views to interact and respond to opposing views?” Historic democratic principles state that the interaction between opposing views should be dealt within the forms of civility, mutual respect, and a listening ear, even if we disagree with one another.
So far, so good—at least if we’re living in a democratic society.
But when I hear that a large corporate network, A&E, has indefinitely suspended one of its stars, Phil Robertson, based upon personal comments he made about a group he disagrees with, I just scratch my head in disbelief. Where is the civility? Mutual respect? Democratic principles? I’m not sure if A&E recognizes its double standard. How can the network offend some groups through its unmitigated violence (Bonnie and Clyde), murder (Longmire), and sexist view of women (Rodeo Girls), and not dispense consequences to the actors and TV personalities from the shows that are offensive to certain other groups be it Christian or otherwise? A&E has an abnormal view of democracy, if you ask me. They want to silence particular worldviews, yet highlight others.
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating exclusively for Duck Dynasty; I’m not championing the broadcast. To be honest, I don’t watch the program. I barely know any of the characters. I’m not saying that everything Phil or any of the other folks say on the show is correct. But what I do know is that an individual should be allowed an opinion, articulating his or her belief with conviction, whether the boss or company agrees with them or not. As pointed out above, an individual person is one being in a Parthenon of other persons, one face among billions of other faces, each with unique characteristics and viewpoints. And in a Democratic society, each voice, each face, every idea, has room to speak, to show itself whether we agree with it or disagree with it. It’s a question of conscience and personal freedom. To silence a person for held convictions is an unwise action. What A&E is doing is a form of belief-censorship.
So what do we do if we disagree with an opposing worldview? We can voice our disapproval of a viewpoint, particularly from a biblical standard, discussing the pros and cons—intelligently and respectfully; and in the case of violent and unlawful actions and worldviews, put boundaries (the law) around the viewpoints so others are not physically harmed. But to cut off (or suspend) one’s voice because you disagree with it is likened to political and cultural censorship. And to my knowledge Phil’s comments were not illegal (yet), nor did he incite violence upon the group he referenced. Now people may disagree with him. It’s obvious A&E does, but to silence him is undemocratic. Phil is well within the parameter of voicing his personal beliefs, and shouldn’t be condemned for doing so.
And if a network corporation living and working within a democratic society punishes someone for exercising their freedom of speech, maybe the institution should re-think its place within that society, asking what principles it abides by.
But maybe this is what the corporate world is becoming: narrow-minded, intolerant, anti-religious, and illogical in its consequences.
I’m not sure when it happened in American society, but it appears that a handful of particular groups, such as Network TV, GLAAD, and political lobbyist factions have become the arbitrators of moral certainties. Groups like these are now defining what is right in their own eyes, finding those they disagree with, and then striking with vengeance.
But I’m not buying it, nor should the average person abiding by democratic principles. Phil Robertson has the freedom to express his thoughts, yearnings, and beliefs. So too, does A&E. But to silence or reprimand either of the groups is unacceptable. Both views should have a place on the table, allowing truth to have its way; and truth will triumph. As Jesus stated, “the truth (i.e., His truth) will set you free” (John 8: 31-32).
So go ahead, A&E, suspend Phil. As for me, I’m suspending all and any support of your type of cultural manipulation. You may silence one voice, but others will rise.
And by the way, one such voice that has spoken eloquently about this topic is Os Guinness. I highly recommend his book The Global Public Square: Religious Freedom and the Making of a World Safe for Diversity, as well as his book The Case for Civility.
As a summary of the book Global Public Square, I conclude:
“In a world torn by religious conflict, threats to human dignity and freedom are terrifyingly real. Some societies face harsh government repression, some experience brutal sectarian violence, while others in the West are divided by bitter controversies over religion’s place in public life. How then are we to live with our deepest religious and ideological differences?”
Os Guinness calls for “a bold reaffirmation of the priority of religious freedom for people of all faiths and those that have none, and calls on the U.S to transcend its endless and wasteful culture warring, and to regain its historic leadership of the issue.”
Guinness agues that the way forward for the world lies in promoting freedom of religion and belief for people of all faiths.
In particular, he calls for leadership that has the courage to act on behalf of the common good. “Soul freedom,” he says, “is not only a shining ideal, but also a dire necessity and an eminently practical solution to the predicaments of our time.”
Throughout The Global Public Square, Guinness presents the need to protect, globally and publically, our individual soul freedom.
How we need “Soul Freedom” today. Phil Robertson expressed it, so too should all people of faith, particularly those of us within the evangelical church who take the Bible seriously.
Skip Heitzig is the founder and senior pastor at Calvary Albuquerque. His teachings are heard across the country and around the world on The Connection. Skip and his wife, Lenya, and son and daughter-in-law, Nathan and Janaé, live in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Skip and Lenya are the proud grandparents of Seth Nathaniel and Kaydence Joy.