Tonight I took to Twitter to say that A&E’s suspension of Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson is ridiculous. If the reports are true that the reality TV star’s suspension was due to his stated views on homosexuality then I hardly think silencing him can be called open-minded. In fact, it’s the sort of censorious cultural fundamentalism that is neither “progressive” nor “pluralistic.”
Let me stipulate that I’m not really much of a fan of reality television. I think it’s largely inane and not worth watching. But I don’t think that means it ought to be pulled off the air. That’s why there’s an “off” button on the remote control.
Admittedly, A&E didn’t hire Robertson to be Charlie Rose or George Will. They hired him to be comedic and sometimes shockingly homespun. Now, I thought his reported anatomical comparisons were ill-advised and crude. But that doesn’t seem to be where the controversy lies.
The comments that seem most offensive to people are his moral assessments of sex outside of conjugal marriage, which were more or less just a recitation of the Apostle Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 6. As Christians, we believe that Jesus is lord over sexuality, and he says that sexuality is expressed rightly only in the marriage of a man and a woman. That’s not new. We also think we’re all sinners, and that God calls us all to repentance. That’s not new either.
We’re a divided country on sexual issues. That’s why every news cycle brings more controversy. Why not engage one another, and have the debates in a civil fashion, without attempting to silence one another. I don’t agree with David Letterman’s views on divorce and cohabitation, but I don’t want him suspended for voicing them. I’ll bet I don’t agree with MTV’s Nev Schulman of the popular Catfish show on sexual ethics, but it wouldn’t put me in the fetal position under the table to hear him voice them.
Let’s have the sort of cultural conversation that allows us to seek to persuade each other, not to seek to silence one another with intimidation. That’s what real diversity is all about.
A generation ago, preachy censors wanted the Beatles and Elvis Presley off the air because they were too “subversive” to be heard. We roll our eyes at such now. And that was when there were only three or four television options. Now, I’m not sure I could find Duck Dynasty on television in quicker than ten minutes because A&E is situated among hundreds of cable options. If I don’t like that he’s gutting a deer in front of his granddaughters, I can turn the channel. If I don’t like that he goes to a church with a different view of baptism than mine, then I can go on the Internet and say why I think he’s wrong. And if you don’t like his religious views on sexuality (views held also by Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and evangelicals as well as by many Orthodox Jews, Muslims, and the Dalai Lama), you’re free to say why you think he’s wrong. And you’re free to change the channel.
Let’s have genuine diversity, meaning let’s talk honestly with one another about what we believe and why. Muting one another isn’t what debate is for in a free society. It’s what remote controls are for.