Free to Believe

Phil Robertson

"Duck Dynasty": Monroe, Louisiana

Phil Robertson, the popular patriarch of A&E's reality show "Duck Dynasty," was placed on hiatus from filming after a December 2013 interview with GQ Magazine. In the interview that kicked off the controversy, Robertson was blunt about his support for natural marriage and used the book of Corinthians to explain it: "Don't be deceived," he said.  "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." 

Despite the criticism, Phil was been unbending.  "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." 

Facebook pages and petitions in support of Robertson began to shatter records on almost every social media platform.  In 24 hours, one A&E boycott campaign had more than 1,000,000 likes (200,000 of which came in the first two hours).  The backlash against the network's suspension of Robertson and the pro-homosexual ringleader, GLAAD, was so fierce that Twitter could barely keep up with the "I Stand with Phil" hashtags.  Even PR experts were weighing in, explaining how the family's brand could flourish for their stance.  With Americans rushing to their side, the Robertsons released a statement on December 19, 2013, thanking fans for their prayers and support and reaffirming their support for biblical truth, including the definition of marriage.

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."

By refusing to back down, the Robertsons became the unofficial symbol of courage and resolve in a moral battle that the media wanted Americans to believe they'd already lost.  Companies like Cracker Barrel that tried to pull Dynasty merchandise off their shelves regretted it almost immediately, as the public flooded them with angry calls, emails, and social media posts.  In a matter of hours, the chain reversed the decision. Days later, A&E followed suit—taking Phil off probation and putting him back in the show. 

According to the trade publication Variety, liberals may be skittish about the brand, but advertisers certainly aren't, as money comes pouring in to the show that gay activists like GLAAD so desperately wanted to destroy.  The Robertsons and the entire "Duck Dynasty" franchise emerged stronger—and even more financially viable—than before.  Conflict or no, wrote Brian Steinberg, advertisers "are willing to pay more for a package of ads in A&E's reality series 'Duck Dynasty' than they are for a 30-second spot in plenty of other popular programs"—including CBS's "NCIS," ABC's "Nashville," and both editions of Fox's "The X-Factor."  After star Phil Robertson went public with his biblical beliefs on homosexuality, companies were still flocking to "Duck Dynasty," forking over as much as $180,000 for a flight of commercials on the hit show.  And they didn't plan on leaving any time soon.  "Across our client base, it didn't really reach the level of a reason to remove advertising," said one buyer.  Those companies who did drop "Duck Dynasty" were still facing consumers' fury.  Even after reversing their decision, Cracker Barrel was still paying for their knee-jerk decision to pull the show's merchandise from their shelves.  As the chain's largest shareholder, Sardar Biglari was so outraged that she threatened to oust management.  "The handling of the 'Duck Dynasty' controversy is another example of poor judgment," she wrote in a letter to the chairman of the board. 

In a sit-down with CNN, Willie Robertson was asked about his dad's comments on homosexuality.  "[Phil] made Christmas very interesting for us," the CEO of Duck Commander joked.  "He just said what he thought, what was on his heart," Willie explained.  When CNN's Kyra Phillips asked if Willie shared those beliefs, Willie said simply, "I believe what the Bible says."  Then, "[W]e certainly don't profess to be perfect.  Because we have our own sins that we deal with."  His wife, Korie, was just as supportive of her father-in-law.  "Anybody who knows Phil knows that he is about love and his message is about God's love, God's grace, and his forgiveness, ultimately." 

Photo credit: Courtesy of A&E

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