Christianity,  Culture,  Entertainment

What Phil Robertson Got Wrong…and Right

I have an article over at the ERLC blog explaining “What Phil Robertson Got Wrong…and Right.” Among the main things that he got wrong were his expressions about race. While I disagree with what Robertson says on this point, I am inclined to think that the generous interpretation of Rod Dreher and Joe Carter are nearer the mark on this matter than others have been. In any case no matter what our quibbles are with some of the things he said, Robertson was right on point in his assessment of the moral status of homosexuality. That’s the issue that caused A&E to let him go, and it is still the central cause of the current uproar.

You can read my full article here.


  • Andrew Orlovsky

    The GQ article obviously did not state the questions which Phil made his controversial quotes. Its likely he was specifically asked about his personal experience growing up rather than his views on segregation. He never said segregation was a good thing. While he may not have articulated his views well, he does have a point. Segregation definietly needed to stop, but some of the other social policies that emerged in the 1950s did more harm than good. In the 1950s, the black marriage rate was actually higher than among whites. Now a astonishingly 72% of blacks grow up without fathers (and whites are fast catching up), and the government seems to be incentivizing having children out of wedlock. As someone who was a little boy once, I can’t imagine anything more oppressive than not having a Daddy and the statistics don’t lie either, as men without fathers are much more likely to crimes (especially rape and domestic abuse, which feminists sadly try to blame conservatives for) and to drop out of school and end up in poverty. I believe America’s currenly culture of fatherlessness will be looked upon as once of the great sins of history along with slavery and segregation.

      • Andrew Orlovsky

        Maybe “oppressive” was not the right word, but I find it very ironic that our society claims to be so “enlightened” compared with past ages, while we deny fathers to so many our children at a level unprecedented in history. The men who walk away from the mother of his child and the women who leave the father of her child and then use the courts to force him away are both to blame for this epidemic.

        • Winnie Scott

          My son joined the French Foreign legion to hide from his dad. His name was changed, new passport, new language, etc. And when a young recruit complained of being disciplined, he would only shrug and say “you never met my dad.” I know so many men who never fully recover from that early trauma of having a “dad.”

          My own dad was an orphan raised in the deep south by a grandfather who would preach to blacks in chain gang camps. Sometimes my dad told jokes and stories with his deep south accent, and made us chuckle, but other times he hung his head and mourned the unjust killing of so many. He was 7 old when he moved north but he never forgot how the blacks were mistreated.

          No Christian should pretend not to know the history of their own country.

  • Curt Day

    Just a couple of comments. First, I think A&E disciplined Robertson more for the sake of their image than for the sensitivities of their audience. Certainly I abhor Robertson’s statements. But the problem with A&E’s discipline is that it ends up hiding the racism that needs to be brought out and dealt with. In all likelihood, most of us have some racism in our views and attitudes. If we severely punish every person who makes some sort of racist statement, we end up trying to cover up those attitudes. Racism should never be tolerated. But it is how we don’t tolerate racism that is the question not asked here. Should we make people too afraid to make a mistake in talking so that their racist attitudes stay inside them, which is what severe punishments will do, or will we look at the occurrence of racist statements as opportunities to intervene for the benefit of the speaker as well as the audience?

    Second, Robertson’s statements about Blacks could very well be the result of a limited exposure to the world. When our exposure to the world is limited, we assume too much about ourselves and our own culture while gaining ignorance about the world of others. Attending a conservative church has taught me that some conservative Christians prefer it’s a small world after all to avoid being exposed to nonChristian world views. But perhaps we can reduce the number of insensitive and inaccurate statements born our of ignorance if we push ourselves to be thoroughly exposed to the worlds of those who are different.

    • Andrew Orlovsky

      The limited exposure idea is exactly correct. Robertson specifically said he did not see much racism in the very rural area where he grew up. He didn’t deny the racism was occuring in other parts of the south. For all we know, Robertson could have mentioned that he was disgusted by that racism, but the author of the GQ article, who clearly had an agenda of smearing Robertson, could have convienently left it out.

  • Bill Griffin

    As usual you’ve written a brilliant article Denny. Personally, though I wish you would drop Phil Robertson’s name from it. It would seem to me that Robertson is really no different than most people who speak their minds but aren’t on a national platform. For those dissecting his words as though it’s some sort treatise seems a bit on the silly side to me. Part of the reason they’re famous to begin with is that seem to be regular people and many resonate with that. It’s when we elevate their opinions that we get into a wee bit of trouble. At least them are my two sense about this whole thing.

  • Esther O'Reilly

    Robertson’s perspective is what we used to call “living history.” It’s obviously going to be limited because it’s just one man reporting what he saw. But that’s still valuable. It’s a data point that shouldn’t be discounted just because it clashes with the prevailing narrative. And frankly, I found his ultimate point rather insightful. Perhaps there is some truth to the fact that pre-entitlement era black culture was a far godlier, humbler, and nobler thing than what we see today in the wake of that seismic cultural shift. This is not to justify what black people of Robertson’s generation suffered. Quite the contrary, it’s a recognition of the fact that great character is often borne of great tribulation. It should give contemporary black Christians pause before they complain of whatever “micro-aggressions” the culture is encouraging them to dream up today. The entitlement, micro-aggression mentality is petty and shallow, and it cheapens the memory of people who suffered real cruelty, real tragedy. This insistence on clinging to the idea that the country, or the white race, or the world “owes” something to black people is stunting spiritual growth. One could argue that the black people of Robertson’s time had a far more profound spiritual understanding, a deeper walk of faith, because they were deeper people.

    • James Stanton

      Your post of full of generalizations about what black people believe or think is owed to them. How can you lecture about blacks clinging to an idea that the white race owes them when you won’t let go of your own biases?

      • Esther O'Reilly

        I’m only repeating what many black leaders and black people have spelled out very clearly for themselves, over and over again. They’re not self-conscious or secretive about it, so why should the rest of the world be? If you’ve never encountered the entitlement mentality in the black culture, you’re insulated from reality. Of course, there are individuals who have the dignity to rise above that mentality. Unfortunately, they’re frequently despised and rejected by their own. Witness the hatred and loathing towards men like Thomas Sowell and Clarence Thomas, inter alia.

        • James Stanton

          There is no such thing as an entitlement mentality that is endemic to a people group. It can’t be measured. The majority of people in the USA who receive welfare assistance are non-urban whites. The percentages, however, are higher among African-Americans and Latinos yet are close to their percentage of the total population. Does this really tell us anything?

          Persisting in holding a grudge against others will only prolong grudges that those people hold themselves. It’s not very good ground to stand on.

            • James Stanton

              Michael, the source I looked at indicated a number half that. I still concede the point as theres no doubt that the percentage is higher. Still the majority of welfare benefits are going to whites yet this does not mean that poor whites have an entitlement mentality.

              • Michael Sweet

                James – I understand now. I was just questioning your statistics.

                My opinion, of which I have zero ability to prove (call it a hunch), is that the overwhelming majority of us Americans have an entitlement mentality. But this mentality has nothing to do with race or economics – we just think the world owes us something. But I can be pretty cynical, too.

          • Esther O'Reilly

            I don’t hold a grudge against anyone. I would like nothing better than to see the black slums pull themselves out of the mess they’ve gotten into. It breaks my heart every time I see another fatherless black boy or single black mother with a baby tugging on her sleeve. The vicious cycle of the ghetto is one of America’s great tragedies. But so many of these wounds are self-inflicted, and it doesn’t do the black community any favors to pretend they’re not.

  • Johnny Mason

    I think people are reading way too much into what Phil said regarding his “racial” comments. No where does he say segregation or Jim Crow were good, or that blacks were better off with those systems in place. He doesn’t even mention Jim Crow or segregation. It is customary to think every word that comes out of white guy in reference to black people is racist, but I see no racial animus here. He says nothing negative and, in fact, everything he says is complimentary (i.e. God-fearing, happy, etc). Plus, we have no context of the conversation they were having. It seems everyone is so afraid of being labeled a racist, that they must instantly distance themselves from anything that might possibly be misinterpreted as racist.

    • James Stanton

      Johnny, I don’t think those comments are racist either. However, it does convey an unfamiliarity with the experiences of black people in the Jim Crow era. Blacks in those days were not free to dissent or express their grievances. The suggestion presented by Phil is that blacks were better off (spiritually and morally) in those days and this opens up a whole different discussion.

  • Chris Ryan

    First off, I commend you Denny on a very well written piece. It was thoughtful, it was balanced, it was sensitive, it was pastoral. In short it was everything that I come to this blog to get. Moreover I know bringing up the racial issue isn’t easy.

    My introduction to the sinful insidiousness of racism came in high school. I had an evangelical cross country coach in high school I was quite close to & in a moment of sharing he confided in me, “I know I have racist views. But while I believe in a hot & fiery Hell and in a God of judgment, I also believe in a God of mercy & I believe He will forgive me for my racism.” He said that in the context of describing why he was treating a black teammate poorly. And after that talk he continued right on; he even attempted to get the kid expelled. To this day I regret the fact that I didn’t have the courage to stand up & report this to anyone in authority.

    Saying that you’re unaware of racism in Jim Crow La would be like a WW2 German saying they were unaware of anti-semitism. How can you be unaware that blacks had separate water fountains, restrooms, and schools? Some Germans didn’t know abt the concentration camps, but the anti-semitism was blatant. Similarly Robertson may not have known abt the lynchings in La, but the racism was palpable. So these views have to be treated like we would treat Holocaust denial. And the sooner we confront it, the sooner we can realize our evangelical potential. Monroe, Bossier, that whole area of La is just plain beautiful. Let’s keep it beautiful.

  • James Bradshaw

    Here’s what I want to know:
    1) Why was Phil Robertson in GQ?
    2) Does A&E think Duck Dynasty has a particularly sizable black and/or gay following that Phil’s remarks would “alienate” viewers?

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