So suddenly social media is going mad over some guy I’ve never heard of, from a show I’ve never heard of, on a channel I’ve never heard of, but apparently he no likes the gayz and I should be bothered.
Firstly, let’s just look at this guy. Did anyone honestly believe that Phil Robertson was a card-carrying liberal before he opened his trap to GQ and dispelled all those illusions? I very much doubt it. (And yes, that’s cultural stereotyping and believe me, I’d love to be wrong, but the fact remains in this instance, I’m not.)
And what did he actually say?
“Everything is blurred on what’s right and what’s wrong… Sin becomes fine. Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men… Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers—they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right.”
It’s the bestiality thing that’s got people upset, of course. If I’ve seen one person screech that Phil correlated homosexuality with bestiality, I’ve seen a thousand. But did he? Or was he talking about (his perception of) sin in general? He includes casual sex — gay and straight — after mentioning bestiality. He denounces a whole list of people in that short speech, and the Corinthians quote tells us exactly where he got his beliefs from: the Bible.
Which is what has got the other side whipped up. The right are arguing that this is another instance where the ‘gay lobby’ have jumped all over a Christian for simply speaking his beliefs, and worse — we’ve got him fired from his job. Again, if I’ve seen one person screech about First Amendment rights and free speech, I’ve seen a thousand.
Ladies and gentlemen of both sides: calm the duck down.
Let’s be clear: this is not a First Amendment issue. Firstly, Phil wasn’t suppressed from speaking his mind — indeed, quite the opposite, he was given a public platform on which to do so. Secondly, the First Amendment relates only to the government suppressing speech; a TV channel can decide to do whatever the hell they like. In a capitalist market, companies out to make money are going to monitor the words and actions of their spokespeople (be they direct employees or actors/subjects of a TV show broadcast on their channel). A&E have the right to hire and fire whoever they want, and to protect and maintain their company image — whatever they want that image to be. And, let’s face it, this situation in reverse has happened a million times in the past without anyone batting an eyelid.
Nor, however, is this homophobic hate speech. The man was asked about his beliefs and he answered honestly. This isn’t homophobia, which is defined as an intense and irrational dislike of homosexuals, because to Phil, it’s perfectly rational. According to his interpretation of the text by which he tries to live his life, homosexuality is a sin.
There is no reason why he is not entitled to think that.
You and I might disagree with him, but he has the right to follow whichever faith he wants (or not follow one, if he wants), and he has the right to interpret that faith’s teachings in whatever way he wants, and he has the right to say what he believes. Equally, I have the right not to follow that faith, not to believe its teachings, and to think that Phil’s ideas are wrong.
If you’re holding out for a world where everybody agrees on everything all the time, you might as well kill yourself now, because it ain’t ever gonna happen. We need to learn to accept and embrace our differences, learn to get on with others without necessarily believing all the same things all the time. I have friends — good friends — from every walk of life, every background, every faith structure. There are people in my life whose religious beliefs I think are crazy, and who in return think I’m an unrepentant sinner, but we still get along. We can still be friends. We just agree to disagree on some things.
And here’s where I think Phil redeemed himself.
“We never, ever judge someone on who’s going to heaven, hell. That’s the Almighty’s job. We just love ‘em, give ‘em the good news about Jesus—whether they’re homosexuals, drunks, terrorists… You put in your article that the Robertson family really believes strongly that if the human race loved each other and they loved God, we would just be better off.”
Phil’s gonna believe what he’s gonna believe, but what is he doing with that belief? Is he advocating the imprisonment or execution of those he considers sinners (homosexuals among them)? No. He’s not even advocating social ostracism. There are far, far worse people out there in the world, people who are twisting faith and centuries-old texts to suppress, punish, criminalise, and — yes — even murder people for their sexuality. It’s happening all over the world and as anti-gay organisations in America lose ground in their home nation you can bet your ass they’re going abroad and they’re infecting other countries with their venom. Phil, by contrast, thinks some people are sinners but believes it’s not his place to judge and he should love ’em anyway.
I’ll take that. I’ll take it a hundred thousand times. Happily.