Phil Robertson Says Something Offensive—But It’s Not The Thing Everyone’s Focusing On

Uhh, I’m confused. Everyone’s making a huge stink over what Phil Robertson said about gays. But you know what I don’t hear? An exhortation to return sodomy laws, or any comments on gay marriage, or the idea that he chooses to “hate” gays or endorses violence against them.

It’s clear he considers homosexuality to be a sin, but I thought this quote was interesting:

“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?”

Granted, putting gays and terrorists into the same category is a bit offensive, especially to a drunk like myself!

But fundamentally, everything is couched in the desire to save people from—not to punish them for—their sinfulness.

No… Where Robertson goes *REALLY* off the rails is the quote which oddly nobody seems to be focusing on:

“I never, with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person. Not once. Where we lived was all farmers. The blacks worked for the farmers. I hoed cotton with them. I’m with the blacks, because we’re white trash. We’re going across the field…. They’re singing and happy. I never heard one of them, one black person, say, ‘I tell you what: These doggone white people’—not a word!… Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.”

That shows an insensitivity and an ignorance that is a lot more disturbing. That remark is the one sweeping centuries of unequal treatment by the state under the rug.

As an atheist, I think Robertson is wrong about gays. But he seems to be wrong for reasons that any Christian should be wrong—if you truly care about your fellow man, you should be trying to save them from their wickedness. The basis of Christianity—original sin—declares that we are all wicked, all in need of saving. I don’t think Robertson would ever claim that his life is so perfect that he doesn’t need saving grace.

But the second statement is much more offensive IMHO. That’s the one that tries to put a pretty face on centuries of racist discrimination, slavery, and Jim Crow. Yes, Phil, maybe blacks weren’t constantly complaining (to you, the white guy) about their mistreatment. Yes, maybe they were seeking solace in God, as those facing tough times have done for millenia. Yes, maybe they tried to focus on the things they could control—their attitude, leading a rich life with family and friends—rather than what they can’t control, i.e. the legal apparatus around them.

But that doesn’t mean we should act like it didn’t happen and it wasn’t there. True godliness would be for Robertson to accept that those bad things happened in the past, to remember that Christianity is not a doctrine of separation and of discrimination, and to exhort society to ensure that such mistreatment of our fellow men should never happen again.

  • Stephen Littau

    I’m glad to see a more original take on this controversy. What Robertson said about “the blacks” was at least as offensive about what he said about gay people and very few people are talking about it (though if he hadn’t made the one statement, I’m sure there would be more attention on the other). In neither case do I think he’s coming from a place of hate but one of ignorance.

    Take this part for example: “I’m with the blacks, because we’re white trash.”

    I don’t think he is aware of how offensive this sounds. It sounds like he is saying in a roundabout way “Only lowly white trash people worked around black people” or “Black people were unworthy of working beside middle class to upper class white.” I don’t think this was what he meant yet it reeks of insensitivity ignorance regardless.

    On a different point – something that really bothers me is how some are trying to make this guy into some sort of martyr for free speech. He isn’t. This is a clear example of freedom of association – a concept that is lost on far too many people. Anyone who works for someone else should understand that if you say or do something that would embarrass or harm your employer’s reputation, the employer has every right in the world to suspend you, let you go, or any of a number of other sanctions (of course anyone working under a contract might have additional rights/responsibilities). Robertson is no different.

    “But A&E is punishing him for his religious beliefs.”

    Perhaps. It’s a judgment call on A&E’s part. The truth is Robertson put his employer in a very awkward no win situation. Coming down on either side of these statements, A&E potentially alienates a significant chunk of its viewers. Then there’s the threats to boycott products advertized on the channel. As ignorant as Robertson was with these comments, he could not have possibly been so ignorant to believe that there wouldn’t be some sort of response.

    Lest anyone think I’m only defending A&E’s freedom of association rights because of the content of what Robertson said, I had the very same thoughts about Bill Maher losing his network TV show, the Dixie Chicks being taken off the air at certain radio stations, Slim Fast firing Whoopi Goldberg, and many, many other similar circumstances (and my guess is that many who are saying Robertson’s free speech rights are being violated supported if not encouraged all these other businesses to end their business relationships with the aforementioned).

  • Brad Warbiany

    Good catch on the white trash statement, Stephen. I didn’t even pick up on that in context. But when you place it on its own, it’s terribly offensive…

  • MingoV

    “… Christianity is not a doctrine of separation and of discrimination…”

    We must have read different Bibles. Christianity always has been about separation and discrimination. Christians believe that non-Christians are either ignorant or sinners. The more zealous Christians annoyingly try to convert those ‘others’. Christianity separates the godly from the sinners. Yes, there are parts of the Bible that promote acceptance of sinners, but other parts (eg: much of the Old Testament) do not support such acceptance. The whole purpose of the Rapture is to separate the godly from everyone else. (Apparently current and past separations are/were for practice.)