Understanding Phil and Everyone Else

One of the great things about living in Haiti is being separated from all of the absurd drama that US Americans like to create over very trivial things. Don’t get me wrong, Haitians sure know how to create their own drama over absolutely nothing, but in the US, the amount of time spent allowing issues of celebrities, reality television, and pop culture to influence the way we think and fuel our ability to care about something, is enough to make me want to ask for a refund on my citizenship. I enjoy being entertained just as much as anyone. No one should be surprised that even from Haiti I check the Project Runway website every week just to keep up to date. But I appreciate being able to choose what tidbits of American pop culture I get to experience without having to be bombarded by the faux importance that it surrounds us with when I’m stateside. Unfortunately, this week, however, even in Haiti, I haven’t been able to escape all of the hoopla over this Duck Dynasty crap. Gays in Uganda are being sentenced to life in prison, India’s passing anti-sodomy laws, a journalist in Russia said gays should be burned alive in ovens, and right down the street in Jacmel, homosexuals are in danger of being killed for their lifestyles, yet all that is covering my “news” feeds are debates about Phil Robertson’s comments and how they somehow relate to American’s privilege of getting to say what they want to say and their other privilege of getting to love who they want to love, two privileges that most people in the world don’t enjoy. Yet because the long lost cousin of the Oak Ridge Boys said a few things in a magazine and then got booted off a network because of it, suddenly these two things are all that matter to us in the US and we have to spend our time debating how the two aren’t compatible to each other.

Granted, it seems the controversy has already started to blow over as we search for something else to argue about and I’m a bit late to the conversation already. Because ever since the debate started, I’ve been trying to talk myself out of getting into it. I’ve been trying to convince myself that there are much more important things for me to invest my time and energy into than something so inconsequential that nobody will ever actually agree on and even if they did it wouldn’t matter. It’s the same thing I had to do when the whole Mileygate twerk thing happened. I was able to keep my mouth shut about Miley, but I’ve finally caved on this Duck Dynasty issue and decided to spend a few minutes to write down my thoughts. Maybe they’re something that someone else has already said, if so, then I apologize for wasting another 10 minutes of your time on this issue. I haven’t read what everyone else is saying, I’ve just noticed that they’re saying things. I did, however, read what Phil Robertson said in the original GQ article, as well as A&E’s statement on the dismissal, which should be the only two entities that this even concerns. Yet somehow it has become everyone’s problem. And as I write, I’m still a little ashamed that I’ve allowed it to matter to me. Phil Question

What stuck out to me were not the awful things that he said about gay people. He’s certainly not the first to ever say such things nor should anyone be surprised that such things would come from behind that beard and all of that camo. Also, we shouldn’t be surprised that after he used his platform as a well liked reality star to express his beliefs on a divisive issue, that the network would use their power to make a statement on the issue according to their corporate beliefs. That’s what we do in the US, we use all of the power, liberties, and resources that our nationality affords us to push all of our beliefs around into big muddy messes. What stuck out to me from Robertson’s comments were how he framed his statements in reference to his own desires.  I don’t need to rewrite what he said, I think everyone knows by now.

Phil Robertson isn’t an intolerant bigot that hates gays and ducks, nor is he a modern day martyr being discriminated for his religious views, he’s just a guy that finds a woman’s vagina “more desirable” and doesn’t understand how anyone else could think otherwise. That’s not his fault.  I think jeans and t-shirts are more desirable than head-to-toe camouflage, but that’s just me. It seems to me that it’s more desirable not to live with enough facial hair for birds to nest in, but that’s just me (maybe it makes hunting for them easier).  It seems to me that if we’re gonna judge, it’s more fun to judge someone for the choices that they make rather than what they naturally find desirable, but that’s just me. We’re all different and I understand that. I can even understand why Robertson would make some of the comments that he did. While reading them I was actually reminded of a paper I wrote back in a college English course on the topic of homosexuality that made some very similar arguments about the puzzle piece like logic to male and female body parts as he made in his interview. My personal views on the topic have greatly evolved since then and I would now be very ashamed of some of the things I wrote in that paper. But it was part of the process to help hash out in my own head what I really do believe and I’ve always had a tendency to play Devil’s advocate. Unfortunately in this particular debate each side thinks that the other is the Devil.

And herein lies the crux of why it has come to matter to me. Not because one side is right and the other is wrong or because any great injustices were caused, but because it has exposed the very disappointing deficiency of understanding that we suffer from in our society. Phil Robertson just can’t understand how one man could love another man. His critics just can’t understand how one man in such a public position could say such things against an entire group of people who are already targeted by enough hate. And everyone on both sides just keeps arguing about things that none of them can understand and allow their beliefs to trump the human need to search for that understanding. Meanwhile in the world, and even right in the United States, LGBT individuals are suffering a series of injustices far, far greater than that of one reality star’s lack of understanding. But no one takes to Facebook to defend them. There aren’t any support groups being formed to stand with the victims of hate crimes the world over that would ever have the number of members of pages supporting either Phil Robertson, A&E, GLADD, or any other party in the controversy.

And my writing this blog post about it all probably isn’t even helping. It might just be adding one more voice to the clatter that in the end doesn’t matter. It might be distracting me from making an effort to spread a greater understanding of one another and of the capacity of love from right here where I am, a place where the dangers to those truly affected by these issues is a life or death situation. As I see all of the e-controversy emerge I can’t help think about what Robertson would do if he was in Port-au-Prince last month in the middle of the anti-gay demonstrations in the streets that led to the death of two men where angry protestors shouted the same Bible verses that he sited in his GQ article while they killed the men? Or if he was walking through the streets at the same time that a group of young men killed a gay teenager in Jacmel last month as they equated his lifestyle to bestiality, just as the Duck Dynasty star did in the magazine? What would he say if he was asked, as a pastor, to officiate the funeral of one of the thousands of LGBT individuals in the US that commit suicide every year? If he saw people dying just because they desire different parts of a human than he does, then would he try to understand, even if he never agreed?

No matter what side we’re on, could we all just agree to quit refusing to search for understanding, because it’s hurting us more in the long run. It’s making us look like fools in the face of the rest of the world who is daily dealing with the true depth and gravity of this issue that we would reduce it to some shallow debate over a reality star’s rights. I understand Phil Robertson and where he’s coming from with what he said, perhaps more than I would like to admit. I also understand those who were so offended by his comments. I understand those wanting to defend freedom of speech and I understand those wanting to promote tolerance and love. And yes, I can even understand Miley and why she would twerk. What I can’t understand is how we’ve grown to become a society where we allow issues to pollute our ability to be human and we have allowed our reality to be constructed within spaces void of real feelings or perspective. What I can’t understand is how we’ve allowed the sanctity of our entertainment industry to take precedent over the preciousness of human life.

I pray and write so that hopefully one day the castles we’ve built to protect our own points-of-view break from the pressure we’ve put on them and our priorities begin to shift. Then maybe we’ll really start to see each other. Then maybe we can really start to understand one another.


  1. Thank you, Lee. You said much of what’s been bouncing in my brain. I haven’t gotten too caught up in all the hoopla swirling around this because it is just insane to me to waste precious energy on the inane circus that’s been created when as you so eloquently stated, there are REAL problems related to LGBT worldwide that are way more important than this. Nevertheless, thanks for reminding us what IS important. Big HUG to you. which for some reason just made me think of Big Gay Al on South Park, but that’s another story….

  2. Merry Christmas Lee!!! This one of your better writings of late. I am still hoping you will find time for a visit to us. Business never seems to go away. Hope you are pleased with your school.

  3. Hi Lee….Spot on…Just imagine being a United Methodist in the US in the middle of the Duck Dynasty “discussion” plus the “firing” of a UM pastor for officiating at the marriage of his gay son….Yup, it’s been a hell of a week…

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