I don’t have cable any more. I never watch anything live. But if there’s one show I seem to catch when with people who have cable, it’s Duck Dynasty.
One of the reasons the Robertson family is on television to begin with is the subtle controversy of its “faith, family and facial hair” collective persona—they are aware of their own status as “Beverly Hillbilly” goofballs, endearing to millions, slightly offensive to millions of others. But compared to the loads of true junk on TV, they stand out as something of a wholesome presence, even to those who don’t care much for them.
For a while it was mostly their faith that gave them negative attention, and non-Christians that were offended—animal rights activists, secularists, feminists, Marxists, environmentalists. Occasionally, a small subset of “fundie” Christians would shake their heads at the opening of a Willie Robertson winery, the use of the word “crap” on TV, or even the wearing of camo to church.
But recently, even more Christians with more commonly held beliefs are growing uncomfortable with the public persona of the Robertson clan as it has been cultivated by the celebrity of their show. Fame does seem to have gone to their heads a bit, and absurdities are arising beyond the explosion of an overwrought franchise of bearded camo stuff.
It kind of started when Phil Robertson picked on homosexuality in GQ. Even if you viewed same-sex relations as sinful, you might have still been peeved by his tone.
Later, Phil went on Fox News, because he was apparently an expert on geopolitical discourse and international relations, and surmised that the best way to handle a phenomenon like ISIS is to adopt their own tactics: “Convert them or kill them.” It was no secret he was put on the show as a “faith” expert. This was presented as a distinctly Christian solution.
Then Willie made a cameo appearance in the contrived apologetic film God is Not Dead, which used two-dimensional caricatures to paint a world where all atheists are mad at God, and all a college student has to do is expose some personal vendetta. His appearance came at a trivializing time, congratulating a character and praising God as an antagonist dies in a car wreck.
Taking his film appearance to the next level, Willie signed on to executive produce Left Behind, a re-adaptation of the premillenialist story of the “rapture” version of scripture, in which a clumsy, literalist interprative blanket is thrown over the book of Revelation.
Given Willie’s identification with the Churches of Christ (to use the term denominationally), this is what most surprised me. Although opinions among historical Churches of Christ in America differ on topics like drinking, dancing, and even gambling, the belief that “rapture theology” is bogus is usually a unifying point. Churches of Christ are a studied people:
We tend to know
*that “Anti Christ” is plural,
*that Jesus wept over Jerusalem for a reason,
*that Jesus is only prophesied to return again once,
*that there will be one resurrection,
*that the church is the kingdom,
*that the church is the manifold wisdom of God, not a backup plan in case the Jews rejected Jesus,
*that Revelation as a genre does not fit in the “completely literal prophecy of events that will occur in 2,000 years and can be predicted using secret codes” category,
*that Jesus is reigning now.
So why would I still choose to watch Duck Dynasty? Why would I not boycott it?
I would still watch the show because on the show I see a family that is very real and very genuine, trying to live out Christian family living against a the world devouring family values. As a family, and as community members, they do a good job of showcasing faithful living—especially for a family on TV. They’re not perfect, and even on the show they have their blunders, but their presence is, I believe, more positive than negative. This is a family that, despite its quirks, is downright wholesome and loving, a family that doesn’t fit a white-pickett-fence mold of being happy happy happy, and doesn’t have to. They sit down at the table to eat and pray together, and few families do that today.
This is what I see. Do they have too much money? Yes. Are the patriarchs out of touch with politics and peacekeeping; countering culture; and Biblical eschatology? Often. Are they crass and clumsy in giving their opinions at public venues? Yes. Has fame gotten to their heads? A bit.
But I don’t see this on the show like I do outside. In fact, I would be happy if we never saw them again on Fox News, behind Hollywood chairs, or on Dancing With the Stars. But could watch them sit down to the table on A&E any day.
Phil is a faithful spouse and a firm believer, but he could polish up his outreach to the Left. Willie is a sound businessman with a kind heart, but he could brush up on his “end of times” theology and his Hollywood contracts. And they all could stand to spend less on leisure, even if its just for a good episode.
I don’t watch Dancing with the Stars. I don’t want to see God is Not Dead or Left Behind. I only watch Fox News when I want to laugh. But if you asked, I would still watch that silly but wholesome show about a real family, however scripted their adventures, who love God and love one another. Give me more families like that on TV, and maybe I’ll grow more picky about which ones to watch.
Sometimes people in my own family will make a statement out of touch with the spirit of scripture, or even endorse something that makes me grimace. If you asked them, they’d say I sometimes do too. But who we are as a family transcends those moments of ignorance and weakness, as should every family. Unfortunately, when you gain celebrity, those other moments tend to define you to the public. I would want to have a serious conversation with the Robertsons about some of their expressions and views, but I would also want to pass the fried duck with them at the table as an honored guest.
I don’t blindly endorse the Robertsons. They are not figureheads. They are only examples. Considering the amount of fame they’ve garnered, I think they’ve actually held it together very well. Nobody’s in prison. Nobody’s in rehab. Nobody has a sex tape. In fact, if you know the history of Phil in particular, you know the family has come a long way from a darker time into light.
To the Robertsons I would say this: Be a family, and show TV viewers how it can be done. As a fan of the show, that is all I ask of you. That and a Bible study on the book of Revelation.