Of Ducks and Dynasties

Posted on December 21, 2013 by

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In the end, I agree with Phil Robertson, but I also think A & E is right to put him on hiatus or to cancel Duck Dynasty if it chooses to do so. But, if A & E does pull the plug on the most popular show on cable television, the decision will reveal the network’s cynical view of faith. Let me explain.

The interwebs may burst into flames if the Duck Dynasty controversy heats up any more. For those who might be Tibetan monks, or in the womb, A & E, the tv network, has put Phil Robertson, the patriarch of the duck call-making clan, on hiatus for remarks he made regarding homosexuality. The initial source, a GQ article by Drew Magary, quotes Robertson making very blunt statements about sin and salvation. As Magary makes clear, for the Robertsons Duck Dynasty is just a platform from which they hope to share the gospel. I have watched part of one episode of Duck Dynasty, so I am not able to comment expertly on the extent to which Robertson’s comments mesh with the show’s content. Based on this article, I am assuming that faith, as portrayed on the show, is more generic or broadly Christian.

While I would not express my beliefs in the same way Robertson does, I agree with him that sin is a significant problem in our society, as it is in every society. I also agree that homosexual behavior is sinful according to the Bible, and to pretend the Bible says something different is simply to destroy the text. However, as Robertson also notes, there are many forms of sin, and to focus on homosexuality misses the point of sin’s comprehensiveness.

A & E is taking a beating on this issue, at least according to my Facebook feed. Walmart has sold out of its Duck Dynasty merchandise, and GLAAD is suffering from a severe backlash because of its public condemnation of Robertson’s comments. There is no way to know how this plays out, but it feels a little like the recent Chick-Fil-A kerfuffle that did little to damage the company and, perhaps, strengthened its brand among conservatives.

Given all of this, A & E SHOULD fire Robertson and cancel the show if either have compromised the network’s values. If A & E wants to be wildly protective of the homosexual community, this is an appropriate response. A & E is not the government, so there are no constitutional issues at work here. Robertson’s rights are still in tact as long as his contract contains the appropriate language that gives A & E the right to fire him for conduct it deems detrimental.

Yes, the show is extraordinarily profitable for the network, but if it cannot abide by these beliefs, profit should not be decisive unless we want business entities that have no soul. Yes, it is possible that A & E has many other programs that project dubious values, but in the end, it is A & E’s decision to project whatever values it wishes. Just like Chick-Fil-A, A & E can choose to promote whatever agenda it wishes. If people don’t like that agenda, they can quit watching, just like they can quit eating chicken sandwiches. In this narrow sense, I don’t care what A & E does.

My biggest gripe with A & E is that it bought and sold a ‘soft’ Christianity from the Robertsons, probably for marketing purposes. From what I can tell, each episode ends with a family meal and prayer is prominently featured. It also seems painfully obvious the Robertsons are devout Christians, but the show’s portrayal is of a genial faith that does not judge, but is welcoming, open, and entertaining. From A & E’s perspective, this made for good tv. The network is turned off, however, from orthodoxy in the raw, from the kind of faith that actually claims beliefs and clings to them. A & E wants a comfortable, undemanding Christ who just wants to hang out. The network is not so wild, it seems, about a Christ who condemns and divides. Why? Christianity that comes full of commitments actually challenges the pervasive moral autonomy that defines our age. The Robertson clan is just the latest example of this phenomenon.

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