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Monday, December 30, 2013

Truth, Consequences, and Duck Calls

Before you read my thoughts on the DUCK DYNASTY brouhaha that’s been polarizing folks on the left, right, and everywhere in between, please read the actual GQ article that started this firestorm. You can’t express an opinion with a shred of credibility when your “knowledge” comes from media sound bites – conservative or liberal outlets alike. Sorry, but that’s just uninformed and, frankly, ignorant. Once you’ve actually read the article on which A&E’s initial and subsequent reactions have been based, feel free to continue on and I’ll share my own two cents.

Phil Robertson is a 67-year-old Caucasian male, born and bred in the deep south of Louisiana. His mother suffered from mental illness, his father was a “roughneck”. He was the fifth of seven children who grew up dirt poor – meaning no electricity, no toilet, bathtub, or indoor plumbing. His family was too poor to shop in proper grocery stores, so they lived off the land – planting and harvesting fruits and vegetables and hunting for meat. High school football afforded him a full ride to Louisiana Tech, where he was approached to play professionally for the Washington Redskins, an offer he declined because football conflicted with hunting season. He went on to earn a Bachelor of Science Degree in Physical Education and a Master’s of Arts in Education. When he was 18-years-old, he started dating a 14-year-old girl named Marsha "Kay" Carroway; they were married two years later when she was 16 and he was 20. They went on to have four sons and have been married for over 50 years.
For seven years between the ages of 21 and 28, Robertson ran afoul of some personal demons that included excessive drinking, drug use, and violence (assaulting an Arkansas bar owner and his wife before fleeing the state). The young Mrs. Robertson was essentially left to raise their young sons alone. To cope with her husband’s hard living, she turned to the Bible. When Robertson eventually hit his rock bottom, he also turned to religion to use as his own crutch out of that life of harmful excess. He was “born again” in his newfound religion and began what would become the lucrative Duck Commander kingdom that eventually spun off into a reality TV show that introduced this unlikely American success story to the wider pop culture audience.

So, why the history lesson in Robertson’s rags-to-riches family history, you ask? Sometimes it’s important to “consider the source”, as the old saying goes, and framing someone’s opinions within the boundaries of that person’s background is akin – at least in my mind – to the full context surrounding a quote or sound bite.
Alright, so now that Robertson is framed as a fully-realized human being – complete with a background, some personal triumphs and some personal failures – instead of the bearded redneck caricature most know him as, let’s look at the actual GQ article. Better yet, let’s dissect the troubling quotes themselves.

“It seems like, to me, a vagina – as a man – would be more desirable than a man’s anus. That’s just me. I’m just thinking: There’s more there! She’s got more to offer. I mean, come on, dudes! You know what I’m saying? But hey, sin: It’s not logical, my man. It’s just not logical.”

So what’s Robertson saying here, in his crude and elementary (despite – somewhat inexplicably – holding a Master’s degree) way? He’s saying that as a heterosexual male, he doesn’t “get” the appeal/desire/mechanics associated with one aspect (the intercourse aspect) of gay sex. He’s coming at the concept from a place of inexperience and personal ignorance, much in the same way some gay men I know approach the very notion of heterosexual intercourse. The result – from both camps – is “Eeeew! I just don’t get that!” Sorry, I’m not offended by this statement. He adds the qualifier that this type of sexual activity – to him, based on his religious beliefs – is a sin. Again, although his opinion may be narrowly formed through a strong biblical interpretation, it’s just that. His opinion, nothing more or less.

He then goes on to say the following:

“Everything is blurred on what’s right and what’s wrong. Sin becomes fine. 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. 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.”
Ok, here’s where Robertson crosses a line, in my humblest of opinions. First, I absolutely support Mr. Robertson’s right to say this; it’s guaranteed in the Constitution. If his freedom of speech had been violated – as many, surprisingly, are ignorantly shouting from the rooftops – then he would have lost his freedom for saying it (i.e. gone to jail, been criminally charged), which he was not. But people are – again, surprisingly – confusing the notion of “freedom of speech” with “no consequences for what you say”. Let’s make this as simple as we can: You can walk into your boss’s office and call him “a big, fat prick of epic proportion”. Your freedom to say that is guaranteed in our Constitution. You will not go to jail for that nor would there be any threat to your personal freedom for making such a declaration. But your ass will likely be fired for saying it. Yes, boys and girls, today’s word is: CONSEQUENCE. As defined by Merriam-Webster, a consequence is “something that happens as a result of a particular action or set of conditions.” Our various freedoms guaranteed by the United States’ Constitution are not consequence-free.

In any event, back to the offensive quote at hand. To recap: Yes, he has the right to say this. Yes, his opinion is based on a biblically-based, personal religious belief and his freedom of religion is also guaranteed by the Constitution. But let’s look at this now from the point causing the most division between otherwise like-minded individuals. Robertson equates loving, committed relationships between two consenting, same-gender adults to adultery, idolatry, male prostitution, greed, drunkenness, slander, and swindling. He clearly states that homosexuality is on par with bestiality…human sex with animals. His statements are heinous and ugly. To say that my loving, committed relationship is on par with sex with a dog is dehumanizing, and the last time I checked, dehumanizing others isn’t a tenet of Christianity. This quote is both insulting and degrading to tax-paying, law-abiding LGBT citizens, human beings who deserve equal rights and protection as such under the civil laws of this country.
For those of you watering down Robertson’s quote to the more tepid “love the sinner, hate the sin” sentiment, I call unequivocal bullshit. That’s not at all what he’s saying; otherwise, he would simply say that. He’s pretty clearly comparing gay relationships to sex with animals, for fuck’s sake. He’s putting gay relationships on par with cheating others and greed and slander and prostitution. Elsewhere in the article he lumps gay people in with "drunks" and "terrorists". 

This is not ok.
It’s horrible to be a gay person and read that, and I’m equally offended and – quite honestly – surprised by the number of my close friends and colleagues who are tossing this off so casually. We live in a society where gay kids take their own lives because they are made to feel ashamed of who they’re hardwired to love on this Earth. DUCK DYNASTY is viewed by 14 million people. It’s broadcast into 14 million homes where (if you use the 10% rule) 1.4 million gay teens could be exposed to this line of rhetoric. It doesn’t matter what Mr. Robertson’s intentions or background are – that doesn’t excuse or negate the potential consequence of his words on an impressionable, uncertain, questioning LGBT kid.

One close friend, whom I’ve grown to love dearly, has stated that she loves the show and will continue to watch it. She expressed the view that if she were to boycott everything and everyone who expressed their faith-based beliefs that her life just wouldn't be much fun and she would be quite lonely. Well, this particular friend has two teenage sons, both smart and handsome and talented. I will only hope that neither of these two young men has privately come to the knowledge that he may be gay or even questioning his burgeoning sexuality. And, if one or both of them are, I’m going to hope that this friend’s love and kindness that I know to be in abundance in her home is stronger and holds more influence over either of these boys than the immense popularity of a duck-calling redneck who tells one of these boys that his love for another boy is akin to sex with a horse and that his feelings for another boy is the same as cheating others, avarice, and prostitution.
Yes, dear friend, this country was indeed founded upon Judeo-Christian principles. But let’s face the hard truth and reality: That’s nothing to always be proud of. We burned women alive, bound to wooden stakes, in the name of those Christian roots. We enslaved men and women of color and treated them worse than animals all the while finding a good, solid Christian biblical basis for doing so. We suppressed the rights of women to work and be productive in society, to vote, to receive an education based on what was written in that “good book”. We used righteous Christian condemnation to deny loving interracial couples the civil right to marry. As Drew Magary rightly points out in the GQ article, Robertson is “conveniently ignoring centuries upon centuries of war, bloodshed, and human enslavement committed in the name of Christ.” Christianity has been proven to be on the wrong side of history countless times. It was only when rational, intellectual people applied some critical thinking skills (aka using the brains that God gave them) and were then brave enough to stand up and voice their opposition did we strike those things down as a society in the name of cultural evolution…things that are still written as big ‘ole finger-wagging no-no’s in the Bible.

In all the drama that ensued following the GQ interview, Robertson – through A&E – released this statement:

“I myself am a product of the 60s; I centered my life around sex, drugs and rock and roll until I hit rock bottom and accepted Jesus as my Savior. 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.”
Again, I’d like to give Mr. Robertson the benefit of the doubt on this, but for an educated man with a Master’s degree to seemingly not understand that comparing a loving relationship between two human beings to screwing an animal is anything but respectful is dubious at best.  

Does Phil Robertson mean to be hateful? No, but neither do all people who go to jail for killing someone intend to commit murder. His hateful words are the oral equivalent to manslaughter – and while not perhaps intentional, the result is the same.  Christianity saved Robertson’s life, so it’s a logical progression that he’d only want to pay all that personal salvation forward. This is not uncommon among the most fervent of Evangelicals; try working in a nursing home and listening to the weekly Bible Study groups who come in to proselytize the elderly. As part of these weekly gatherings, some member of the church group inevitably shares his or her story – and the stories of drug and alcohol addiction, promiscuity, and runaway vices would curl your toes. These folks take the idea of sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll to an entirely new level before they’re “born again” in religious faith. They've done more "sinning" over the course of half or even a third of their lives than you or I will ever do over the entire course of ours. Yet, interestingly, because they’ve descended into the depths of personal darkness and found – through organized religion – their way out, they become experts on everyone else’s sins. They can point them out, categorize, and denounce them all in the running time of a single episode of DUCK DYNASTY – and then wrap up all that condemnation with a tidy “But we’re not judging you.” Really?  Slap my ass and call me ‘Sally” but comparing my loving relationship to horse-fucking and politely informing me that I’m going to burn in the pits of hell for it sure does sound like a judgment to me. I’m happy that religion acts as a lifesaver for some of these hard-living partiers seeking the straight-and-narrow; I’m even happier that I live in a country that was founded on a separation of church and state so that my civil rights aren’t strangled by that same lifesaver.

Phil Robertson has the right to practice his religion and say whatever he damn well pleases. I wouldn’t think for a minute of denying him that inalienable right as an American. But, as a well-liked pop culture figure, his words hold power and the ability to influence. And that influence is harmful and – however unintentional – hateful. A strong message should be sent to A&E that this message is unacceptable. As for my friends who are too inconvenienced to boycott and silently (and effortlessly) protest such hate by merely changing channels, I’ll simply say that I wouldn’t ever wish upon you hearing over and over again from “Christian” sources how your love is comparable to bestiality.

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