Phil back in his college days—apparently .conforming to a different set of expectations.
Phil and I are about the same age. He’s just a couple years older than I am. But during the course of each of our stays on this planet, we’ve reached very different conclusions about God’s intent for our lives—if what he’s reported to have said turns out to be his true belief.
I spent half my career in television. So I’m well aware that there’s nothing real about reality TV. And I was already disturbed by how hugely popular these shows are—where (with a few exceptions) producers goad already marginal human beings into really creepy behavior. The corporate sociopath in New York I reported to at one of the television stations where I worked, once told me, “You never lose money by underestimating the intelligence of the American public.”
I hate admitting he may be right.
But Duck Dynasty seemed the rare exception. I watched it once at my brother’s house. The family portrayed on the show appeared to genuinely love each other. And didn’t scream obscenities are each other. Then Phil opened his mouth without an editor at the ready to mold him back into a lovable patriarch.
But it’s not really the coarse, idiotic stuff that reportedly came out of Phil’s mouth on multiple occasions that most bothers me. BIgots will always be with us. I struggle instead, with millions of people flocking to the defense of someone who said something hateful. Is it really about free speech? Did those same folks rush to defend the free speech rights of the Dixie Chicks over their comments about President Bush?
Phil is certainly not the first to cherry pick the bible in support of bigotry. We spent the month of November in Augusta, Georgia—which also happens to be where Woodrow Wilson spent much of his childhood. The home the future president lived in it now a museum, and on our tour we learned that Wilson’s father was the pastor of the Presbyterian church in Augusta. And an ardent supporter of the Confederacy. He regularly used his sermons to reassure his congregation that slavery was in full compliance with biblical teaching.
I’m one of those who thinks Phil should be able to say what he wants. But I also think what he said should have evoked a universal collective gasp from society. Why didn’t it?
Louisiana’s Lieutenant Governeur Jay Dardenne issued a statement supporting Robertson (after all, he’s head of Louisiana’s tourism effort and Duck Dynasty has been huge boon to that industry.) But while he carefully distanced himself from what Phil had a say about happy black folk back in the good ole days—the same was not true for his comments on gay folk.
Jay wants to be Louisiana’s next governor. And I actually think he’d be a good one. But you don’t get elected governor of Louisiana by supporting equal rights for gay people. Why might that be?
I think I figured out why some years ago when I taught a class in interpersonal communication at a community college. In the midst of a discussion on “finding common ground,” one of my students raised his hand.
“Conservatives don’t believe in that,” he said. “When you’re right, why would you change your position?”
I was speechless. How could anyone be that certain they’re always right?
And therein lies the root of the problem here.
There is a principle in communications studies called “uncertainty reduction theory.”
The theory posits that we all wired to be uncomfortable with uncertainty. It’s meant to apply to personal relationships, but I see it in a broader context.
In the old days the most effective method of reducing uncertainty was to acquire new information. But now in the internet age, that paradigm has completely shifted.
Today we’re overwhelmed with information, much of it in direct conflict. So how do we reduce uncertainty in this environment?
By adopting a narrower view of the world.
I admit I’m a bit jealous of that student and others who’ve managed to make life seem simpler with this strategy. (I came to like and respect this man as the semester progressed. He had an autistic son and a number of other life challenges that threatened to overwhelm him. He once told me how dismayed he was because he couldn’t sort out what to believe.) I live in a world of grays…and can fully understand how comforting it would be to let Fox News (or MSNBC) tell you what to believe politically. Or to let Pastor Wilson interpret the bible for you.
We’re uncomfortable with what we don’t understand. So we flock to the comfort of the herd’s mentality. And the whole “gay thing” can be pretty scary. I know it was for me.
I was terrified. Terrified that if I came out, I would be abandoned. Alone.
Today gay teenagers commit suicide at a rate three times higher than other teens. I was long past my teenage years when I came out—and I too would have committed suicide, had it not been for the intervention of some amazing people who love me unconditionally—and from the God of my understanding. Who also loves me unconditionally.
That’s why this fear and ignorance has to stop—now—with our generation. Phil’s and mine.