Let’s see. Where should we begin on this oh-so-bizarre morning?
What will it be, Pope Francis, Santa Claus or Duck Dynasty?
Pope Francis, Santa Claus or Duck Dynasty? As my favorite French History professor at Baylor University used to say, with a world-weary and exasperated sigh: “What a world.”
First, let me offer a few relevant confessions on my part.
I would like to echo the following Twitter comment by one of the scribes who often hangs out in my favorite coffee shop here in our neighborhood on Capitol Hill. Yes, this man is a bit of an elite Yankee, but he is what he is. Ross Douthat works for The New York Times. So, sue him.
A&E is ridiculous. Robertson is ridiculous. America is ridiculous. Merry Christmas, and may God have mercy on us all.
— Ross Douthat (@DouthatNYT) December 19, 2013
I’m good to go with all of that, except for the “Merry Christmas” reference — since we are still in Advent, after all. Douthat must be one of those post-Vatican II Catholics (just kidding).
Another confession: I have never watched a single episode of “Duck Dynasty,” although I have tried to do so several times. It’s just not my style. Frankly, when it comes to the masculine virtues I favor Jane Austen’s Captain Frederick Wentworth over the the guys in the duck crew. I also lived in the mountains of Tennessee for six years (and plan to live there again someday) and I’ve never even watched a NASCAR race on television. I do, however, like barbecue. A lot. I also like ZZ Top and Eastern Orthodox bishops, so I’m OK with the beards.
There, I needed to get all of that off my chest. Now, I can confess that there is one element of the Duck Dynasty media storm that fascinates me.
Let’s try, for a minute, to ignore duck patriarch Phil Robertson’s reflections on genitalia — although I rather think that if he had rapped that stuff with a strong backbeat, it would have viewed as a kind of elderly Eminem thing. You know, Eminem has to keep his street cred. Elite media folks from places like Harvard and Yale tend to respect street cred way more than they do swamp cred.
No, I want to join the once and always GetReligionista M.Z. Hemingway in thinking that the key to this particular duck blind spot is found in this chunk of Robertson GQ prose:
“We’re Bible-thumpers who just happened to end up on television,” he tells me. “You put in your article that the Robertson family really believes strongly that if the human race loved each other and they loved God, we would just be better off. We ought to just be repentant, turn to God, and let’s get on with it, and everything will turn around.” …
“Everything is blurred on what’s right and what’s wrong,” he says. “Sin becomes fine.” …
“Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men,” he says. Then he paraphrases Corinthians: “Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers — they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right.”
The big words are “sin” and, of course, “sinners.” Yes, that whole sin subject is encoded in the familiar tmatt trio riff. You can look it up.Thus, as M.Z. noted at The Federalist, it’s crucial that the Associated Press television-beat report on the duck controversy stated the matter in the following terms:
LOS ANGELES (AP) — “Duck Dynasty” patriarch Phil Robertson is off the hit A&E reality series indefinitely after disparaging gays as sinners akin to adulterers and swindlers, the network said.
In his GQ interview, Robertson was asked his definition of sinful behavior.
“Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there,” such as bestiality, he said.
GQ said he then paraphrases a biblical reference: “Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers — they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right.”
Thus, here is the crucial point that journalists must grasp, according to M.Z. (and I say, “Amen”):
Some people hold the doctrinal view that homosexuality, adultery and swindling are sinful. Others hold the doctrinal view that homosexuality, adultery and swindling are not sinful. If you’re talking about whether something is or is not a sin, you’re talking doctrine. In this regard, it’s not just Phil Robertson who is talking about his personal doctrinal views. Some self-awareness is in order.
Further, one of the most important points of Christianity is the forgiveness of sins. Christians talk about sin a lot. From Genesis to Revelation, it’s a major theme. For the last 2,000 years it’s been a major theme. While the current media climate tends to have a rather narrow view of sin (the only sin is believing in sin), this is in contrast with historic Christianity. Again, some self-awareness is in order.
As several journalists on that Playbook panel noted the other day, there is a growing awareness in our culture that many elite members of the chattering classes need to get out of their bubbles every now and then and perhaps even listen to more of the voices — both profane and profound — that are found in the rest of American life.
Or, as one of the most elite voices among the elite once put it, while describing the need for cultural and intellectual diversity in his newsroom:
First and foremost we hire the best reporters, editors, photographers and artists in the business. But we will make an extra effort to focus on diversity of religious upbringing and military experience, of region and class.
Of course, diversifying the range of viewpoints reported — and understood — in our pages is not mainly a matter of hiring a more diverse work force. It calls for a concerted effort by all of us to stretch beyond our predominantly urban, culturally liberal orientation, to cover the full range of our national conversation. …
This is important to us not because we want to appease believers or pander to conservatives, but because good journalism entails understanding more than just the neighborhood you grew up in.
Yes, “amen.” What. He. Said.
That was Bill Keller back in 2005 (click here for .pdf), when he was editor of The New York Times. It’s easy to write words such as these, but harder for journalists to heed them — which would require true tolerance and real diversity.
So what’s the takeaway here? Truth be told, there are lots of Americans who live in neighborhoods (and swamps) in which people still talk (at times in crude terms) about “sin” and even believe that sex outside of marriage can — as many religions have taught for centuries — be called “sin.” That’s the cultural heresy at the heart of this media firestorm.