Unaccustomed as I am to writing about current events as they unfold, I can only suggest a few takeaway lessons from the l’affaire Robertson, as he might put it. As I have been able to reconstruct the events, A&E put Phil Robertson on hiatus from the reality show Duck Dynasty for making disparaging comments about homosexuality in GQ magazine. The memorable words of T.S. Eliot in the Four Quartets come to mind — “Humankind cannot bear very much reality.” This goes particularly for toney producers of reality shows, who are unaccustomed to having one of the swamp people emerge from the fens to inform them, denizens of a sophisticated and urbane cosmopolis as they are, that the human body was given just one sex organ and the poochute is not it. They got a little too much actual reality from one of their reality stars and so they went all Eliot on him.
Three lessons then. That should be sufficient, at least for the time being.
1. If we want to act like we understand what it means to live in a free country, and if A&E is privately owned and operated, then we have to cheerfully acknowledge that they have every right to refuse to broadcast people they don’t want to broadcast. Not only so, but the flip side of this is that conservative Christians who dislike what they are doing to Robertson have every right to stop watching their stupid shows. If we don’t want a privately owned Hobby Lobby to be forced to act contrary to their conscience, we shouldn’t force A&E to act contrary to what’s left of theirs.
2. Social discipline is inescapable. This is another one of those not whether but which situations. It is not whether there will be enforcement of social norms, but rather which social norms will be enforced. In this case, A&E is defending the tenets of a worldview that wants to posture as though they are champions of diversity while simultaneously cracking down on the first appearance of it on their network. This illustrates, as few other things could, the inescapability of worldview enforcement. Somebody is always going to tell somebody else “no.” As Lenin once put it, in his clear-headed way, “Who? Whom?” We should not fault A&E for defending the doctrinal purity of their denominational network. What we should fault them for is not understanding that this is what they are in fact doing. But, returning to point 1, they do have the constitutional right to remain as muddled as ever.
3. I thank the Lord for the clear-headed and straightforward way Phil Robertson quoted a Bible he was not ashamed of. In this, he puts a lot of Reformed theothinkers with large foreheads into the shade. One redneck out in public just went and said it. He didn’t refer it to a study commission. He didn’t circumlocute the heck of it. He didn’t get well-known authors to blurb the comments he was about to make (for many of them, had they been asked, would have declined to do so). He didn’t check in with the feelings of Rachel Held Evans beforehand. He just went and said it.