What We Have Learned From The Duck Dynasty Controversy

It seems that the A&E Duck Dynasty controversy has come to a conclusion.  In the aftermath of this dispute, after all the words exchanged have been reviewed, what can we learn?  I believe that the public responses surrounding this recent chain of events reveal several observable trends and ideologies about us as a society.  Thus, the following theses presented below are based upon what I believe is the trending American ideology and ethos towards scripture, ethics, and what it values.        

Thesis #1: Society is unable to apply the simple rules of grammar to scripture.
In the debated GQ Interview, it is interesting to note that Phil’s Robertson’s controversial comments were basically a paraphrase of a passage in 1 Corinthians.  In response to Robertson’s paraphrase, many commentators online and on television reacted with a scholarly Biblical disposition giving critique to Robertson and the contents of his comments; individuals who most likely had not even bothered to read the scriptures with the basic rules of grammar.  Let me explain.  As previously mentioned, the main part of Robertson's quote in the GQ interview that caused offense was from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth.  In 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 Paul says that wrongdoers such as the effeminate (malakoi) and the homosexuals (apsenokoitai) will not inherit the kingdom of God.  Now, using the rules of grammar, we must note that homosexuality is not the only sin listed in the Apostle Paul’s list; homosexuality is listed with the sins of idolatry, adultery, thieving, greed, drunkenness, swindling, etc... In other words, it is important to remember that homosexuality need not be singled out in this vast sea of sin in the world. Rather, homosexuals need to join contrite: heterosexuals, males, females, children, elderly, rebels, self-righteous narcissists, Democrats, Republicans, greedy executives, church goers, thieves, teachers, plumbers, adulterers, IRS agents, white collar workers, blue collar workers, uncompassionate jerks, truth compromisers, North Americans, Africans, Europeans, Asians, and so forth, who are confessing that, “There is no one who is righteous, not even one; that we are by nature sinful and unclean and we are in need of forgiveness and the sufficiency of Jesus’ blood.” Really there are not different classifications of people; rather there are sinners who confess sin and sinners who don’t confess.  Indeed, homosexuality need not be singled out in the list resulting in the de-emphasis and/or exclusion of the other items in the list.  Conversely though homosexuality should also not be removed from the list, for by removing homosexuality from Paul’s list and stripping it from the category of sin we are compelled to be grammatically faithful and do the same to the other items listed in the passage of 1 Corinthians 6:9-10.  Otherwise stated, if homosexuality is endorsed, supported, and normalized should we not keep grammatical consistency and do the same for theft, greed, adultery, drunkenness, fraud, extortion, etc…  

Thesis #2: Society is relatively ignorant of what scripture says on the issue of homosexuality, especially within historical context
If homosexuality is not to be singled out and/or removed from this list, could it be that Paul isn’t talking about homosexuality; maybe the passage isn’t interpreted or translated correctly?  Examining the usage of the words malakoi and apsenokoitai are extremely valuable to the discussion and questions at hand for it reveals an important historical context for us to assess.  You see, in the Romans Empire during the time of Paul ‘active’ homosexuality conducted by a Roman Citizen was tolerated when the ‘passive’ recipient was not a Roman Citizen.   In other words, homosexual acts were not tolerated when the passive recipient was a Roman Citizen (i.e., it was not appropriate for a Roman Citizen to be penetrated in a homosexual way, but a Roman Citizen could penetrate a non-Roman Citizen).[1]  Thus, it could be said that the Roman Empire in the first-century had moral restraint on the ethics of homosexual activities.  Indeed, it was inappropriate for a Roman Citizen to engage passively in homosexual activity, but not actively.  Why is this important to understand?  It is important to understand because Paul, knowing the Roman Empire’s homosexual ethics, uses two distinct words in talking about and condemning homosexuality; he uses both the words malakoi and apsenokoitai in his 1 Corinthian list.  In other words, Paul not only condemns passive homosexuality (malakoi) as the Romans did, but he also uses the word apsenokoita to condemn active homosexuality.  Thus, Paul irrefutably rejects both the passive and active acts of homosexuality in his letter to Corinth.
In summary of both Thesis #1 and Thesis #2, Paul’s clear usage of the words malakoi and apsenokoitai within the culture of the first-century Roman Empire shows us undoubtedly that the Holy Scriptures stand against the acts of passive and active homosexuality as well as a plethora of other sins.  This is not a matter of interpretation, personal bias, hate, or a lack of tolerance.  Rather, using the basic rules of grammar and historical context, it is frankly the reality of the Bible; a reality that many people discoursing about these Biblical passages have failed to acknowledge and/or understand.

Thesis #3: Society is not yet ready to label the Bible intolerant
The third thing that we have learned from the Duck Dynasty controversy is that individuals are not yet willing to label the Bible as intolerant.  In watching a debate on a news channel, it was interesting to note that one of the participating persons in the debate stated that Phil Robertson’s statement to GQ was simply his paraphrase of 1 Corinthians.  In other words, the person in the debate attempted to remove Phil Robertson from the equation and pitted the LGBT supporter against the Bible.  The follow up question was, “If Phil was intolerant, unloving, and insensitive while simply quoting the Bible, what do you believe about the Bible?  Is the Bible intolerant, unloving, and insensitive?”  To my amazement, there was a great deal of back peddling done by the LGBT supporter in the debate.  Interestingly though the back peddling continued until the issue of ‘interpretation’ was brought forth.  In other words, the LGBT supporter in this television debate was not willing to apply the same labels placed upon Phil, upon the Bible.  Generally speaking, I believe that society is not yet ready to label the Bible intolerant.  In order to resolve the tension though, individuals who are offended by the message of Christians quoting the Bible will maintain that the offensive message is one of illogical interpretation of the Bible and not the plain and clear message of the Bible.  How long will this tactic last?  I am not sure.  Could there be a time in the future where these rationales will no longer work and the Bible is categorized as intolerant?  Maybe this will happen.  If it does, then at least society will be taking the Bible at face value.       

Thesis #4: Tolerance is not the chief god in our culture, the dollar is
The final thing that we have learned from the Duck Dynasty controversy is that, even though loudly acclaimed, tolerance is not the chief god in our culture, but rather loses out to the all-important dollar.  Yes, we are inundated with the message that tolerance in America is the highest ideal and virtue, while intolerance is the mark of evil. This is especially evident when discussing homosexuality. Over the last several years we have witnessed the public retribution towards those in the media who have criticized homosexuality by affirming the Bible’s message.   The vengeance towards Chris Broussard and Craig James, ESPN Sport commentators who critiqued homosexuality, are two simple examples of the result of violating America’s worship of tolerance.  However, is tolerance the chief god of America at this time?  The Duck Dynasty controversy has revealed that this is not the case; there is another god that trumps tolerance and that is ‘the dollar’.  Yes, through the Duck Dynasty controversy we have learned that while tolerance may be 'Queen,' American culture bows in worship at the 'King’s' throne—the almighty dollar.    What is more important than being politically correct and tolerant?  Answer, $500 million dollars (Note: Bloomberg has recently reported that the Duck Dynasty Empire amounts to some $500 million).  Indeed, A&E reinstated Phil Robertson and Cracker Barrel put Duck Dynasty items back on the shelves because America’s capitalistic system responded poorly to the network’s initial response and indeed we see that when ‘money talks’ the servants listen.  Thus, the ideology of tolerance is surely a powerful force in society, but it is simply not as powerful as the influence of ‘the dollar’. 

          Even though I confess that I have not watched the Duck Dynasty show and probably won’t ever get around to watching it any time in the future, I am grateful for the individuals on this reality show, for through their convictions and Phil Robertson’s interview with GQ we have learned more about our society and its ideology towards scripture, ethics, and what it values.       

[1] Bruce W. Winter. After Paul Left Corinth (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2001), 110-120.

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