A&E’s hit show “Duck Dynasty,” a semi-reality comedy show following the antics of the Robertson family in Louisiana, has quickly become the biggest hit in reality TV history, according to the New York Times’ profile this week. The show has sparked a good bit of discussion among Christians not only because of its popularity and entertainment value, but also because the Robertsons are fairly vocal about their own faith.
I say “fairly,” of course, because the extent to which the family’s Christianity is displayed on the show has been a matter of some controversy. Thomas Kidd calls the show a portrayal of “cultural Christianity,” a Jesus-less, Southern, family-and-values life that is generic, unoffensive, and, Kidd charges, not specifically Christian in any meaningful way.
However, it seems that’s not how the Robertson family really think and live. The NYT piece quoted one of the show’s producers being emphatic that “The show is not about their beliefs.” Bobby Ross, Jr., writing for the Christian Chronicle, explains that the Robertsons, who are active in their Church of Christ congregation, are more vocal about Jesus in everyday life – and even while filming – than the final, edited version of each episode would lead viewers to believe. It is A&E’s decision to cut out Phil Robertson’s “in Jesus’ name” from the family-dinner prayer he offers up at each episode’s close, and to make things edgier by bleeping out some words said by Willie and Korie Robertson that weren’t actually expletives.
The Robertsons are in show business for the money it brings their family. They’ve been clear about that, especially in the NYT profile. But what the Times didn’t explain is that they are also up front about the platform the show has given them to talk about their faith in other venues. Phil Robertson is something of a traveling evangelist, frequently speaking to groups about duck hunting and about his own conversion experience. Other members of the family have been afforded speaking opportunities as well, where they can be more vocal about their Christianity.
Kidd recognizes this larger purpose, and says, “That’s a bargain I won’t question.” But it’s odd, still, that he would choose “Duck Dynasty” as an example of the cultural Christianity he finds problematic. After all, the show (despite its “reality” genre) is an artificial, produced, entertainment product made by non-Christians for a largely non-Christian audience. Kidd is right that cultural, Christ-less Christianity is a real problem, especially in the South, and it needs to be criticized. Repeatedly. But “Duck Dynasty” isn’t a real example of it, and it’s not as though the show is likely to make the problem worse.
In the end, “Duck Dynasty” is neither a good nor bad example of Christianity. It’s entertainment. Christians need to keep in mind how artificial even “reality” TV is, and not get too worked up when faith and values portrayed there do or don’t line up with the Bible. We can watch, be entertained, and thank God for the faithful presence of Christians in the entertainment industry, many of whom are doing considerable good off screen, shining the light of the Gospel in that influential corner of our culture.