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Phil Robertson’s Happy Happy Happy Day

Dear A&E:

I was delighted a week ago when I learned you put principles ahead of profits when you announced you were suspending Phil Robertson from the popular “Duck Dynasty” show on your network because of his racist and homophobic comments in an interview with GQ. I was not surprised by the backlash you received, and sadly, not surprised that you have now caved in to that backlash and reinstated him.

Josh Barro of Business Insider boiled things down nicely in three simple points:

If you’re defending Robertson, here’s what you’re defending:

  1. Robertson thinks black Americans were treated just fine in the Jim Crow-era South, and that they were happy there. “I never, with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person. Not once. 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.”
  2. Robertson thinks the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor because they didn’t believe in Jesus. “All you have to do is look at any society where there is no Jesus. I’ll give you four: Nazis, no Jesus. Look at their record. Uh, Shintos? They started this thing in Pearl Harbor. Any Jesus among them? None. Communists? None. Islamists? Zero. That’s eighty years of ideologies that have popped up where no Jesus was allowed among those four groups. Just look at the records as far as murder goes among those four groups.”
  3. Robertson hates gay people. Robertson in 2010: “Women with women, men with men, they committed indecent acts with one another, and they received in themselves the due penalty for their perversions. They’re full of murder, envy, strife, hatred. They are insolent, arrogant, God-haters. They are heartless, they are faithless, they are senseless, they are ruthless. They invent ways of doing evil.”

You may want to send these bullet points around via the corporate email to everyone at the network, so that you all are on the same page.

The problem with these three points for you and your family of networks, however, is that the viewpoint they express is demonstrably factually wrong, as well as being offensive and abusive.

I’ve got two words for Phil about the “singing and happy” blacks in the South that he hoed cotton with: Emmett Till. Till’s funeral took place when Phil was 9 years old. Of course, 14 year old Emmett was lynched over in Mississippi, not in Louisiana. But historian Keith Finley of Southeastern Louisiana University knows a thing or two about lynchings in Louisiana:

From 1882 to 1936 alone, an estimated 4,673 lynchings took place across America. Of that number, at least 389 occurred in Louisiana, of which 333 were committed against African Americans; only Georgia, Mississippi, and Texas witnessed more lynching violence during the period. For a time, the top four lynching counties in America were Ouachita, Caddo, Bossier, and Morehouse parishes in north Louisiana. Even these shocking numbers fail to tell the whole story, however, since many lynchings went unreported or were treated as regular homicides instead of racially charged mob activities.

*pulls up the map*

Well, what do you know — the parish seat of Ouachita is Monroe (which together with Duck Commander’s town of West Monroe comprise the “twin cities” of northeast Louisiana), and Vivian (where Phil was born) is in Caddo parish. Maybe, just maybe, living in the national center of lynching taught these happy, singing blacks to keep their heads down, their mouths shut, and their smiles on, as a matter of personal safety. (Alvin McEwen has some personal recollections about this . . .)

Then there’s #2. Phil might be surprised to learn that there were Christians in Japan long before they lived in Louisiana (see “Xavier, Francis”), and Japan has had several Christian prime ministers, including two prior to World War II. Over in Germany, sadly, there were plenty of Christians who either were devout Nazis or collaborated with them, though other Christians opposed them and paid with their lives (See “Bonhoeffer, Dietrich”). Christians have no immunity from evil. If this is news to the corporate leadership at A+E Networks, you might want to check with your History network minions and perhaps they can fill you in.

And #3? Phil’s “they received in themselves the due penalty for their perversions” is code language — he’s talking about AIDS, and it being God’s punishment of gays and their indecent acts. Funny, but at the height of the AIDS epidemic in the US, the population with the least risk of contracting AIDS was the lesbian community. Why, in Phil’s thinking, does God punish gays but let lesbians off the hook? “Women with women, men with men” but only the men get punished?

Josh Barro got plenty of hate mail, and I’m sure you did as well. If the mail you got was as thoughtful as Barro’s, it’s hard to read your statement on your change of heart regarding Phil’s suspension without laughing. According to the Chicago Tribune, you said this:

“As a global media content company, A&E Networks’ core values are centered around creativity, inclusion and mutual respect,” A&E said in a statement released late Friday in the midst of the holiday season.

“We believe it is a privilege for our brands to be invited into people’s homes and we operate with a strong sense of integrity and deep commitment to these principles.”

I’m not seeing creativity, inclusion, and respect in Phil Robertson’s viewpoints. I see narrowmindedness, bigotry, and hate. These are not family values, no matter how nice the prayers at the Robertson dinner table and how little swearing and drinking their family does. Does the Arts and Entertainment network really want to put their brand behind beliefs like his?

As an American, Phil Robertson has a constitutional right to hold his beliefs and to express them, but despite the shouting of many of his supporters, you don’t have a constitutional obligation to give him a platform on which to promote them. If he wants to think and talk this way, let him buy his own network.

Unless, of course, he already bought yours.


The Rev. Peterr


h/t to the Boston Public Library for the image of the “Jim Crow Jubilee” sheet music, complete with drawings of happy singing black folk. Used under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

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I'm an ordained Lutheran pastor with a passion for language, progressive politics, and the intersection of people's inner sets of ideals and beliefs (aka "faith" to many) and their political actions. I mostly comment around here, but offer a weekly post or two as well. With the role that conservative Christianity plays in the current Republican politics, I believe that progressives ignore the dynamics of religion, religious language, and religiously-inspired actions at our own peril. I am also incensed at what the TheoCons have done to the public impression of Christianity, and don't want their twisted version of it to go unchallenged in the wider world. I'm a midwesterner, now living in the Kansas City area, but also spent ten years living in the SF Bay area. I'm married to a wonderful microbiologist (she's wonderful all the way around, not just at science) and have a great little Kid, for whom I am the primary caretaker these days. I love the discussions around here, especially the combination of humor and seriousness that lets us take on incredibly tough stuff while keeping it all in perspective and treating one another with respect.

And Preview is my friend.