Update (Dec. 30): Last week, A&E reversed its suspension of Phil Robertson from Duck Dynasty as leading petitions for the patriach's reinstatement topped 1 million supporters on Facebook, while a call for a boycott of the network approached 2 million.
The network's statement:
As a global media content company, A+E Networks' core values are centered around creativity, inclusion and mutual respect. We believe it is a privilege for our brands to be invited into people's homes, and we operate with a strong sense of integrity and deep commitment to these principles.
That is why we reacted so quickly and strongly to a recent interview with Phil Robertson. While Phil's comments made in the interview reflect his personal views based on his own beliefs and his own personal journey, he and his family have publicly stated they regret the "coarse language" he used and the misinterpretation of his core beliefs based only on the article. He also made it clear he would "never incite or encourage hate." We at A+E Networks expressed our disappointment with his statements in the article and reiterate that they are not views we hold.
But Duck Dynasty is not a show about one man's views. It resonates with a large audience because it is a show about family … a family that America has come to love. As you might have seen in many episodes, they come together to reflect and pray for unity, tolerance and forgiveness. These are three values that we at A+E Networks also feel strongly about.
So after discussions with the Robertson family, as well as consulting with numerous advocacy groups, A&E has decided to resume filming Duck Dynasty later this spring with the entire Robertson family.
We will also use this moment to launch a national public service campaign (PSA) promoting unity, tolerance and acceptance among all people, a message that supports our core values as a company and the values found in Duck Dynasty. These PSAs will air across our entire portfolio.
[Original deck: Parsing petitions and Bible paraphrases: It took only 717 supporters to once separate Starbucks from Willow Creek. How will A&E respond to more than 1.3 million defending Phil Robertson?]
Update (Dec. 20): Debate over Phil Robertson's paraphase of a Bible verse's description of sin remains strong today. So does speculation that the spectacular run of Duck Dynasty may be done after the Robertson family's statement last night (see below) that "we cannot imagine the show going forward without our patriarch at the helm."
Petitions calling for Robertson's reinstatement include two sizable Facebook groups: "Stand with Phil Robertson" has gathered more than 1.3 million supporters by late Friday morning, while "Bring Back Phil Robertson" has gathered more than 909,000 supporters. The largest Change.org petition (out of many) has gathered more than 103,000 supporters.
On the other side, a Facebook page called "Support A&E-Stand up to intolerance, hate and bigotry" has gathered more than 300 supporters. A Human Rights Campaign petition telling Robertson that "being gay isn't a sin—or a choice" has gathered more than 16,800 supporters.
CNN reports the debated meaning of 1 Corinthians 6 (which Phil Robertson paraphrased). Meanwhile, Tobin Grant reflects for Religion News Service: "For sociologists, the reaction by evangelicals should be completely expected–evangelicalism needs this controversy to survive and even thrive." And Associated Baptist Press notes how Southern Baptists are parsing Robertson's other controversial remarks on race.
CT notes other contrasting reactions below. Most recently, Franklin Graham of the BGEA announced his support of Robertson.
Update: The Robertson family suggested this evening that Duck Dynasty could end if A&E did not reverse its decision to suspend Phil Robertson indefinitely.
"We have had a successful working relationship with A&E but, as a family, we cannot imagine the show going forward without our patriarch at the helm," notes their official statement:
We want to thank all of you for your prayers and support. The family has spent much time in prayer since learning of A&E's decision. We want you to know that first and foremost we are a family rooted in our faith in God and our belief that the Bible is His word. While some of Phil's unfiltered comments to the reporter were coarse, his beliefs are grounded in the teachings of the Bible. Phil is a Godly man who follows what the Bible says are the greatest commandments: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart" and "Love your neighbor as yourself." Phil would never incite or encourage hate.We are disappointed that Phil has been placed on hiatus for expressing his faith, which is his constitutionally protected right.We have had a successful working relationship with A&E but, as a family, we cannot imagine the show going forward without our patriarch at the helm. We are in discussions with A&E to see what that means for the future of Duck Dynasty. Again, thank you for your continued support of our family.
Baptist Press rounds up Southern Baptist reactions, but also notes the contrasting view of Desiring God's executive editor, David Mathis, who writes that Robertson's suspension is not a fight that conservative evangelicals should flock to.
"This is not our time to cry fowl about Christian civil liberties," writes Mathis, later noting, "This is a silly show that, while genuinely entertaining, is doing just as much to marginalize Christians as backwater as it is getting the name of Jesus on television—as if that was ever the tip of the spear for the Great Commission, anyway."
Religion News Service's roundup notes Wesley Hill's reflection for First Things on "what Phil Robertson gets wrong."
"Just because someone quotes 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 and is opposed to same-sex marriage doesn't mean that they're speaking up for a theologically informed, humane, pastorally sensitive view of what it means to be gay," writes Hill. "Not by a long shot. And social conservatives should think twice before linking the concern for religious liberty to a vindication of Robertson."
While A&E's suspension of Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson for labeling homosexuality a sin in a GQ interview is attracting widespread attention today, what could prove equally interesting is how the cable network responds to surging online petitions supporting the reality TV star.
A&E released a statement to Entertainment Weekly:
We are extremely disappointed to have read Phil Robertson's comments in GQ, which are based on his own personal beliefs and are not reflected in the series Duck Dynasty. His personal views in no way reflect those of A&E Networks, who have always been strong supporters and champions of the LGBT community. The network has placed Phil under hiatus from filming indefinitely.
Robertson discussed sin (paraphrasing 1 Corinthians 6) in his interview with GQ reporter Drew Magary:
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…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.
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?
My mission today is to go forth and tell people about why I follow Christ and also what the bible teaches, and part of that teaching is that women and men are meant to be together. However, I would never treat anyone with disrespect just because they are different from me. We are all created by the Almighty and like Him, I love all of humanity. We would all be better off if we loved God and loved each other.
In Robertson's defense, some fans launched a Twitter campaign called "StandWithPhil," which encourages fan to "wear camo to show support for Phil Robertson and stand up to the speech police." Within 24 hours, a Facebook group, "Bring Back Phil Robertson," has generated more than 530,000 likes, and more than 72,000 people have signed a Change.org petition asking A&E to end his suspension [as of 4:50 p.m.].
CT previously noted how online boycotts have increasingly prevented corporations from collaborating with Christian organizations perceived as "anti-gay," even when they attract relatively small support. In 2011, Starbucks's president withdrew from a speaking engagement at Willow Creek Community Church after an online petition drew 717 signatures (Willow reacted cordially); meanwhile, TOMS Shoes distanced itself from Focus on the Family after a similar petition drew about 500 signatures.
On the other side of the LGBT divide, the American Family Association recently ended a three-year boycott of The Home Depot that drew about 750,000 signatures, even though the company stated it had not made any changes in response.
Regarding Robertson, Southen Baptist leaders were quick to speak out on his behalf.
"Not all publicity is good publicity, and Christians had better think long and hard about the publicity we seek or allow by our cooperation," said Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, calledA&E's dismissal of Robertson from the show "ridiculous:" "Let's have genuine diversity, meaning let's talk honestly with one another about what we believe and why. Muting one another isn't what debate is for in a free society. It's what remote controls are for."
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal also released a statement:
Phil Robertson and his family are great citizens of the State of Louisiana. The politically correct crowd is tolerant of all viewpoints, except those they disagree with. I don't agree with quite a bit of stuff I read in magazine interviews or see on TV. In fact, come to think of it, I find a good bit of it offensive. But I also acknowledge that this is a free country and everyone is entitled to express their views. In fact, I remember when TV networks believed in the First Amendment. It is a messed up situation when Miley Cyrus gets a laugh, and Phil Robertson gets suspended.