By now, enough has been said about Duck Dynasty to make Sir Tim Berners-Lee sorry he invented the Internet.
Kristen Howerton of Rage Against the Minivan shared what I felt was the best response so far. Also worth considering: a valid question from Time about A&E’s suspension of Phil Robertson and this Atlantic piece arguing the “real scandal” is what Phil said about blacks who lived during the Jim Crow era. Also, Preston Sprinkle demonstrates what a conservative response to this controversy ought to look like.
So I have just one thing to add, and it’s about this response, which circulated on Twitter:
Phil Robertson and the Pope both have the same opinion. One gets fired, and the other gets Time Magazine’s Man of the Year. Merica.
— Cloyd Rivers (@CloydRivers) December 19, 2013
On one level, just about every word is true. Both men believe sex between two individuals of the same gender is sinful. Pope Francis was named Time Magazine’s Person of the Year. And while Phil was suspended rather than fired, many would say it comes to the same thing.
But all that’s beside the maddeningly obvious point, because those making this argument haven’t bothered to ask: why was one named “Person of the Year” while the other was suspended from his own TV show?
If you believe anti-conservative bigotry is the driving force behind Phil Robertson’s suspension from Duck Dynasty, you owe it yourself to ask why the gay community and its supporters have responded so differently to these two men.
The difference is that Francis’ first—and, to date, only—comments about gay people have focused on their inherent dignity and worth. Which is in marked contrast to his predecessor, who characterized homosexuality as having “a strong tendency toward an intrinsic moral evil.”
Pope Francis made waves in 2013 by saying, “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?”
It wasn’t just a one-off comment. He also went on to say this in an interview with America Magazine:
A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality. I replied with another question: ‘Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?’ We must always consider the person.
Nobody’s under any illusion that the pope will alter Catholic doctrine on sexuality. But he HAS modeled a radical shift in the church’s posture toward gays.
If you want a sense of what that means for people in the gay community, take a look at The Advocate, an LGBT magazine — which also named Pope Francis their Person of the Year for 2013.
Phil Robertson chose a different path. He used his platform to express revulsion at the mechanics of gay sex, thereby reducing people to a sex act. His comments reveal a diminished view of their humanity.
If he had simply said, “I believe the Bible teaches sex should be between a man and a woman,” I doubt anyone would’ve batted an eye. Certainly no one would have been surprised at a devout, openly religious southern family patriarch expressing this conviction.
The difference between Pope Francis and Phil Robertson comes down to this. When the pope looks at a gay person, he sees a human being. Phil’s comments in GQ suggest that when he looks at a gay person, the first thing he sees are reproductive organs being put where he thinks they shouldn’t.
And that’s a problem. Because whatever you believe about homosexuality, people are so much more than who they sleep with or who they’re wired to be attracted to. Pope Francis gets that, even though he maintains a conservative view of sexuality.
Finally, the contrast between the patriarch and the pope exposes the lie in thinking that Christians are just being persecuted for their beliefs. After all, naming someone “Person of the Year” is a pretty odd way of persecuting them, don’t you think?
If Christians are going to be persecuted — and really, there is so very little of that in this country — then it’s time we were persecuted for something worthwhile.
Diminishing someone else’s humanity is not one of those things.