It had never happened before. When big, powerful TV executives ask a star to apologize for what they deem inappropriate comments or behavior, the star simply complies. A team of publicists is assembled, the star does the obligatory apology tour for the press and promises never to do or say what he did or said again. Ever.
But the TV gods never met a man like Phil Robertson. Or his family. When they decided to place the patriarch of the Duck Dynasty clan on a non-suspension suspension for his comments to a GQ magazine writer about homosexuality, the executives at A&E created a problem.
Because this family believes in a bigger God. The same God that roughly 70 percent of Americans believe in. The Robertsons take their faith seriously, and one of the more important elements of that faith involves putting no god before theirs. Not even the suits at the big network.
It is such an important notion in Christianity that there are commandments about it in the second book of the Bible. I guess the executives at A&E never got that far.
If not, didn’t they at least see the movie version with Charlton Heston?
Here’s a quickie theology lesson for those executives: The Ten Commandments are pretty important rules for followers of Christ. And for Jews, too. The first four commandments are all about man’s relationship to God and how God must be first in our lives.
Not network executives or ratings. God.
Those commandments are the reason dictators throughout history haven’t much cared for Christians and Jews.
The executives at A&E weren’t aware of the Fifth Commandment, either — the one that talks about honoring your father. When they decided to punish Phil Robertson, they should have been ready for the immediate response from his sons: We stand by our dad.
This is a family that honors their father and understands that without his commitment to them, there would be no Robertson family, let alone a Duck Dynasty.
If only we had more fathers respect their commitments, this country would be in much better shape.
Indeed, that’s been the appeal of Duck Dynasty from the beginning: the culture of family that Phil Robertson created. The culture of family the show celebrates. His family sticks together. They tease and mock each other. They fight, play, and work together. They even eat together.
It’s the secret wish of almost everyone I know — to be a part of a big, loving family. And it seems harder than ever to pull off, given the pace of modern life. Given the temptations around us to put other values above family.
In that GQ article that caused all the fuss, we learned a lot about Phil Roberston. Yes, he described his position on homosexuality not very artfully, but it is no different in the end from what most Christians believe about it, that it is a sin. And that is enough these days to get yourself in a lot of trouble with gay activists.
But here is, as Paul Harvey liked to say, the rest of the superb GQ story by Drew Magary that most Americans never read. And it is a heck of a tale.
Phil Robertson grew up poor as poor can be in the northwest part of Louisiana, where, as the writer pointed out, “Cajun redneck culture and Ozark redneck culture intersect.” His father was tough as nails, his mother a manic-depressive. Roberston was a star quarterback in high school and as a scholarship athlete played for one year at Louisiana Tech. But he never played a second year, because duck-hunting season and football season overlapped. The young man who replaced him at Louisiana Tech was none other than Terry Bradshaw, because, as Drew Magary wrote, “that’s how these kinds of stories go. “
Robertson spent his days after college working a series of dead-end jobs and his nights chasing girls, getting drunk, and popping pills. At one low point, he had to flee the state of Arkansas after beating up a bar owner and his wife. Kay Robertson persuaded them not to press charges, in exchange for a sum of money that amounted to most of their then-meager life savings.
In his mid 20s, GQ reported, a “piss-drunk Robertson” even managed to kick his wife and three kids out of the house. “I’m sick of you,” he told Kay.
That’s a story that repeats itself every day in America, with tragic consequences.
Luckily for Phil and his family, he stopped worshipping Jim Beam and chose to follow Jesus Christ. Phil turned to God and turned his life around. And the lives of his wife and boys.
That, too, is a story that repeats itself every day in America.
Robertson soon founded a company that created a contraption that was able to replicate with remarkable accuracy the sound of a real-life duck. It was bad news for ducks everywhere but great news for duck hunters. And the Robertsons. They made a DVD about the family duck hunts, which led to a show on the Outdoor Channel, which led to Duck Dynasty, and fame and fortune.
Right from the beginning, though, this was no ordinary reality-TV family. The Robertsons were not the Kardashians. During their negotiations with A&E, Jase Robertson told the GQ reporter, “the three no-compromises were faith, betrayal of family members, and duck season.”
That’s why the A&E executives will never get an apology from the Robertsons. Because people of faith should not have to apologize for what they believe in. Even if they give an answer now and then that is less than artful — or even insulting.
Ironically, there was a day not too long ago when network executives thought it best for gay people to keep quiet about their lifestyle. It would have ruined careers, and shows.
It was a tragedy that actors such as Rock Hudson had to live a lie their entire adult lives out of fear they might be “outed” and lose everything. It’s a type of cruelty one can’t imagine, being compelled to lie to the world, and even families and friends, about such a fundamental aspect of your life — your sexuality.
That Ellen DeGeneres can be who she is, and what she is, and do a great show for all to enjoy, and do it with class, style, and wit, is a testament to how far we’ve come as a society. And how tolerant we’ve become. She has many Christian fans. I know, because I’m one of them.
I also happen to be one of those Christians who believe she should have the right to get married. That the state should be the state, and the church the church, and that we should not punish each other or boycott each other for who we are. And what we think.
If anything, a new brand of intolerance is rising from certain gay activists hell-bent on bullying Christians into suppressing their core beliefs — or else. They are also showcasing their own narrow-mindedness by judging a man’s entire life through the narrow prism of their own agenda. And one bad sound bite. (Conservatives, too, have been guilty of this same practice; think Bill Maher after 9-11, and the Dixie Chicks during the Iraq War.) I was thumbing through a book recently about John Wooden, the legendary coach of UCLA’s great basketball program. On the subject of integrity, he had this to say: “The five people who first come to mind that best reflect integrity are Jesus, my dad, Abraham Lincoln, Mother Teresa and Billy Graham. The order of the last three really doesn’t matter.”
There they are, the two most important influences on one of the most influential coaches and exemplary men of the 20th century — Jesus, and his father.
Today, Wooden would get roped into an interview with some reporter, get asked what the Bible says about homosexuality, give the “wrong” answer, and get fired from his post for “hate speech.”
Is that the gay activists’ idea of progress?
But back to Phil Robertson and that article in GQ. The writer wasn’t expecting his time killing time on the Robertsons’ 20,000-acre stretch of Louisiana floodplain to affect him as it did. Here was Drew Magary’s remarkable confession:
The ecology here has been so perfectly manipulated that it feels as if two giant hands reached down from the sky and molded the land itself, an effect that I’m sure would please Phil. Whatever you think of Phil’s beliefs, it’s hard not to gaze upon his cultivations and wonder if you’ve gotten life all wrong.
Magary wondered about his own life, and his own priorities, and if they may indeed need to be reassessed:
I shouldn’t be sitting around the house and bitching because the new iOS 7 touchscreen icons don’t have any [f***ing] drop shadow. I should be out here, dammit! Killing things and growing things and bringing dead things home to cook! There is a life out in this wilderness that I am too [chickens***] to lead.
The reporting from Magary ended as gracefully as it began, with the two men leaving the wilderness after a day together.
We hop back in the ATV and plow toward the sunset, back to the Robertson home. There will be no family dinner tonight. No cameras in the house. No rowdy squirrel-hunting stories from back in the day. There will be only the realest version of Phil Robertson, hosting a private Bible study with a woman who, according to him, “has been on cocaine for years and is making her decision to repent. I’m going to point her in the right direction.”
As we reflect on all matters at the turn of the new year, maybe we should think about how lucky we all are to live in a country as rich, diverse, and beautiful as ours. One that allows the Robertson family and Ellen DeGeneres to live their lives freely, and to make a living without fear of reprisal for simply being who they are, and for believing what they believe.
And as some among us seek to cleanse the world of sound bites and speech that hurt our feelings and sensitivities, maybe we can reflect on Thomas Jefferson’s great words on the subject: “It does me no injury for my neighbors to say there are 20 gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my legs.”
For a New Year’s resolution, let’s stop breaking legs and destroying the livelihoods of people for the mere act of disagreeing with us. Or saying something we don’t like.
We are better than that. And tougher.
— Lee Habeeb is the vice president of content at Salem Radio Network and a senior adviser to AmericaStrong. He lives in Oxford, Miss., with his wife, Valerie, and daughter, Reagan.