A&E's suspension of Phil Robertson from its hit "Duck Dynasty" show has mobilized thousands of frustrated fans, many of them Christians, to take to social media and online petitions to bring the beloved character back to his reality television universe.
As of press time, over 107,000 individuals had signed a Change.org petition demanding the cable news network keep the family intact on television. An IStandWithPhil campaign had over 169,000 signatures asking A&E to "demand [the views of a faith-driven consumer] views be treated with equality and respect in America's rich rainbow of diversity."
Beyond the campaigns and action steps that spread rapidly through social media following his comments to GQ magazine that homosexuality is a sin, some Christians used their platform to ask other Christ followers to critically think about how to engage in a "culture war."
Brian Miller, a law student at George Mason, argued on the Institute of Religion and Democracy's blog, that this experience had helped him realize the importance that tone played when discussing beliefs in the public square.
"It's really important to recognize that standing up for your beliefs in the public square does not require you to be coarse or crass," Miller told The Christian Post. "I know that it's difficult to be a very orthodox and conservative person and not face ridicule in the public square ... but not everything that happens is necessarily worthy of defense."
Miller, who describes himself as a "very, very conservative" Anglican from the south and who admitted to being suspicious of the "'affirm and avoid' approach to orthodox teaching on homosexuality taken by such prominent evangelicals like Tim Keller, and the 'gracious to a fault' approach taken by Pope Francis," said that this episode had actually made him reconsider his critique.
"It wouldn't be a compromise of their beliefs or their raw genuine nature to avoid using the words anus and vagina when discussing the most controversial issue of our time," wrote Miller, suggesting that if Phil had showed more tact and awareness of the media outlet with whom he was speaking, the situation might have been avoided.
During his interview with GQ, Robertson commented, "It seems like, to me, a vagina – as a man – would be more desirable than a man's anus. That's just me. I'm just thinking: There's more there! She's got more to offer. I mean, come on, dudes! You know what I'm saying? But hey, sin: It's not logical, my man. It's just not logical."
He also told GQ, "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. ... We never, ever judge someone on who's going to heaven, hell. That's the Almighty's job. We just love 'em, give 'em the good news about Jesus – whether they're homosexuals, drunks, terrorists. We let God sort 'em out later, you see what I'm saying?"
Miller reflected, "The Robertsons could have done so much for the Kingdom of God just by living out their witness. All the world needed to see from them was their prayers, their testimony, their love of God and each other, and they could have made all the difference."
Kristen Howerton, a marriage and family therapist, who blogs at Rage Against the Minivan, sought to clarify what speech the First Amendment covered, responding to complaints on Facebook that had claimed A&E had violated it.
"The first amendment gives us freedom of speech," wrote Howerton. "It does not give us freedom from accountability for our speech. It ensures freedom from imprisonment ... it does not dictate what an employer has the right to address within the workplace. And thank goodness – can you imagine a society where employees could say any hateful thing with no repercussion?"
"Phil Robertson's freedom of speech has not been threatened ... he can continue to talk about whatever he wants to talk about without fear of being thrown in jail. But A&E, as a business, has the right to decide that he is no longer a good fit for representing their brand," she added.
Howerton also told The Christian Post that Christians should not just assume that Robertson's remarks were just "profession of faith" or about "sharing scriptural views on sexuality" without acknowledging the hurt they may have incurred or the distortion they may have done to what she believes is the Christian "charge to love."
"I think it's important to note that Mr. Robertson was crass and hurtful," Howerton wrote in an email. "I would encourage Christians to consider how they can show God's love to others in every situation."
Just under 10 million people tuned in to watch Duck Dynasty's season three finale in April, and more than 2 million more viewers watched the season 4 premiere in September, with 11.8 million tuning in to the episode, making it cable's most-watched nonfiction telecast to date.