NASHVILLE (BP) — In an unusual win for social conservatives, a man reprimanded for expressing biblical views in a magazine interview has been reinstated in his role atop one of television’s most popular shows.
After culture commentators and citizens of seemingly every stripe weighed in on “Duck Dynasty” patriarch Phil Robertson’s controversial remarks, A&E announced it will resume filming the reality show with the entire family.
“While Phil’s comments made in the interview reflect his personal views based on his own beliefs, and his own personal journey, he and his family have publicly stated they regret the ‘coarse language’ he used and the mis-interpretation of his core beliefs based only on the article,” A&E said in a statement Dec. 27 regarding an interview of Robertson in GQ magazine. “He also made it clear he would ‘never incite or encourage hate.'”
A&E expressed disappointment with Robertson’s statements and reiterated they do not share his views, “but Duck Dynasty is not a show about one man’s views. It 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,” the statement said.
A&E consulted with the Robertson family and “numerous advocacy groups” before deciding to let Robertson back on the show.
“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,” A&E said.
Just 10 days earlier, A&E said it had placed Robertson “under hiatus from filming indefinitely” after the network learned of his comments describing homosexual behavior as sinful in the GQ article. In that announcement, A&E said its networks have always been “strong supporters and champions of the LBGT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender] community.”
In a statement to Fox News Dec. 28, the Robertson family said it was “excited to keep making a quality TV show for our dedicated fans, who have showed us wonderful support. We will continue to represent our faith and values in the most positive way through ‘Duck Dynasty’ and our many projects that we are currently working on. The outpouring of support and prayer has encouraged and emboldened us greatly.”
After Robertson was placed on hiatus, the family had said they could not imagine resuming the show without him.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who had spoken out in support of Robertson during the hiatus, said he was “glad to hear that the folks at A&E came to their senses and recognized that tolerance of religious views is more important than political correctness. Today is a good day for the freedoms of speech and religious liberty.”
“The left is going to have to get accustomed to the fact that it does not have a monopoly on free speech and is not the only group who is permitted to voice its opinion in the public square,” Jindal said in a statement. “The left may control Hollywood, but they don’t control the hearts and minds of a majority of Americans.”
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, said the attacks on Robertson “revealed to the American people that the push to redefine marriage is less about the marriage altar than it is fundamentally altering America’s moral, political and cultural landscape.”
“A&E Network’s reversal in the face of backlash is quite telling to the American people who are growing tired of GLAAD and cultural elites who want to silence people and remove God and His word from every aspect of public life,” Perkins said.
Refusal to back down
Robertson and his family are being commended by social conservatives for not cowering to A&E’s pressure to conform to the gay agenda. Robertson allowed a reporter for the Daily Mail to sit in as he led a Bible study at his home church, White’s Ferry Road Church, a Church of Christ congregation in West Monroe, La., Dec. 22.
During a prayer at the end of the Bible study, Robertson reportedly said, “I will not give or back off from my path because You conquered death, Father, so we are not worried about all the repercussions.”
Robertson, in his trademark homespun style, told the Bible study group he’s not afraid to admit he has sinned sexually and has been forgiven by Jesus just as homosexuals can be.
“I am just reading what was written over 2,000 years ago,” Robertson said, according to the Daily Mail. “Those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom. All I did was quote from the Scriptures, but they just didn’t know it. Whether I said it, or they read it, what’s the difference? The sins are the same, humans haven’t changed.
“If you give them the bad news, they’ll start kicking and screaming. But you love them more than you fear them, so you tell them,” Robertson said. “A lot of times they don’t even wait for you to finish and say, ‘But there’s a way out, do you want to hear the rest of the story or what?'”
Robertson said he has grown accustomed to negative reactions when he states his beliefs, as people frequently walk out when he speaks at gatherings. But Jesus was perfect and people nailed Him to a cross, Robertson said, “so please don’t be surprised when we get a little static.”
Cracker Barrel’s mistake
In a public relations mishap that left observers puzzled, the Cracker Barrel restaurant chain announced on Facebook Dec. 20 that it had “removed selected products which we were concerned might offend some of our guests while we evaluate the situation” — Duck Dynasty products.
“Cracker Barrel’s mission is Pleasing People,” the chain said.
But Cracker Barrel’s main clientele were not pleased, posting comments on Facebook — amid pictures of biscuits and green beans — indicating they strongly disapproved.
Two days later, Cracker Barrel reversed course, admitting they had “offended many of our loyal customers.”
“You told us we made a mistake. And, you weren’t shy about it. You wrote, you called and you took to social media to express your thoughts and feelings,” Cracker Barrel said. “You flat out told us we were wrong. We listened. Today, we are putting all our Duck Dynasty products back in our stores.”
Race relations comments
In the same GQ interview that started the firestorm, Robertson made some controversial comments about growing up in pre-civil-rights-era Louisiana.
“I never, with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person. Not once,” Robertson said. “Where we lived was all farmers. The blacks worked for the farmers. I hoed cotton with them. I’m with the blacks, because we’re white trash.
“We’re going across the field…. They’re singing and happy. I never heard one of them, one black person, say, ‘I tell you what: These doggone white people’ — not a word! … Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues,” Robertson told GQ.
Fred Luter, the first black president of the Southern Baptist Convention and a pastor in New Orleans, disputed Robertson’s memory of race relations before the Civil Rights movement, according to the Associated Press Dec. 24.
Luter told AP there was nothing happy about segregation or “being hung in a tree because of your race,” and he said blacks were definitely complaining, if not to Robertson. Luter did, though, defend Robertson’s quotation of 1 Corinthians 6 that caused the uproar, stating he did not consider the remarks on homosexuality hateful.
Now that the Robertson supporters have had their say and the show will resume filming this spring with the entire family, some cultural observers are analyzing the lessons that should emerge from the frenzy.
Mark Coppenger, a professor of Christian apologetics at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., wants evangelicals to consider whether they “have Phil’s back” or are “a bit anxious to put space between ourselves and his rustic speech.”
“Being cool has been a big concern for evangelicals,” Coppenger wrote for the Southern Baptist TEXAN Dec. 23. “We know we’re not that far removed from our pulpwood-truck-driving, coal-mining, revival-planning, aisle-walking forebears who peopled a world of housewives and other teetotalers walking under the serene gaze of Sallman’s ‘Head of Christ’ portrait.”
While some Christians unashamedly jumped at the chance to defend Robertson, others feared his delivery style would further marginalize Christians as backward, Coppenger noted.
“For the church, when it is serious about its gospel, scriptural business is inescapably a public relations disaster,” Coppenger concluded. “And woe to us if we ever hope to shake that legacy.”
Brent Bozell, a conservative media analyst and founder of Media Research Center, said the overwhelmingly anti-Christian Hollywood elites should realize why Robertson is popular with so many Americans.
“He evinces a culture and a worldview,” Bozell told Newsmax TV. “It’s not because people are duck hunters. It’s because they like him. They like the things he believes in. They like the things he says. That’s why he’s so popular.”
Don Beehler, a public relations consultant in Franklin, Tenn., compared the backlash surrounding the Robertson remarks to the overwhelming displays of support for Chick-fil-A last year when its president spoke up for traditional marriage.
“People of faith have rights, too, and many are fed up with the clear teachings of the Bible being labeled as hate speech by individuals who either refuse to engage in conversation or lack the capacity to substantively discuss such issues, preferring instead to simply shut down expressions of alternative points of view,” Beehler wrote on his blog Dec. 21.
Erin Roach is assistant editor of Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).