As a teacher of religious studies, one thing that has stuck out to me during the recent Phil Robertson (the patriarch of the “Duck Dynasty” clan) controversy is the seeming ignorance regarding the source of several of the quotes attributed to Robertson. This article, for example, purports to compare “some of Pope Francis’ remarks about gay people and Robertson’s quotes,” putting three quotes from each side-by-side along with a picture of each figure, including the one below:
The problem, of course, is that the quote on the left is not Robertson’s at all. It is a quotation of 1 Corinthians 6:9–10. Remarkably, two of the three quotes attributed to Robertson in the HuffPo piece are not Robertson’s words at all but rather direct quotes from the New Testament (the other coming from Rom 1:24–32). There is, of course, no mention of that fact in the piece, which leads me to wonder whether the authors are ignorant of that fact or whether they have simply chosen not to mention it.
The same is true of TMZ’s supposedly shocking exposé of a video of Robertson purportedly calling “gay people shameful, perverse, heartless, faithless, senseless God haters … destined for the burning pits of hell.” The controversial words of that video (which are included in one of the three pictures mentioned above) are not in fact Robertson’s own but come from Romans 1:24–32. TMZ conveniently (or ignorantly) ignores this fact, as did numerous media outlets, again including HuffPo, which simply reported:
TMZ posted a video Thursday of Robertson unleashing an anti-gay sermon on a crowd at Pennsylvania’s Berean Bible Church’s Wild Game Supper in 2010. In the video, the Duck Commander king can be seen dressed in camouflage, thumping a Bible, talking about sexual deviants and the lack of morality in America.
Again, no mention that Robertson was reading or quoting Romans 1 throughout the clip, interrupting his reading with the occasional comment about how relevant this passage seems to be to modern America in his view.
It’s also worth noting that Pope Francis presumably agrees with these quotes from the apostle Paul, which have long guided Catholic tradition in this area; he has simply changed the rhetoric surrounding the issue to emphasize that the Church does not and (at least in terms of doctrine) has never reduced people to behavior or desires but rather holds that a person is more than his/her sexual preferences or choices. Robertson, of course, said much the same thing, though far less eloquently than the philosophically-trained Pope, in his GQ interview.
How exactly the Pope interprets these passages is unclear, and that’s the discussion that would be more valuable here. Instead of ripping Robertson for quoting these passages, the more worthwhile discussion concerns Robertson’s interpretation and application of these passages in the modern day. But instead, numerous media outlets have irresponsibly misattributed these quotations with the presumed aim of demonizing Robertson without such a discussion. The way many have latched onto Pope Francis’ rhetorically attractive but still firmly traditional quotations without acknowledging that he continues to uphold traditional church teaching (the “only” in the above quote is significant) is similarly problematic.
It’s also worth noting that A&E has known Robertson’s views on these matters from the beginning (especially interesting given the background of the creator of the Duck Dynasty show) and is almost certainly thrilled about all this extra publicity. Robertson is “suspended indefinitely,” but will surely rejoin the show—which will experience a ratings spike—before too long. As with the Chick-Fil-A controversy of 2012, such manufactured controversies only serve to enrich those involved in the controversy. Thus, even in such serious matters, consumerism and big business are the true winners.