Don’t Duck the Real Question Raised by Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty


The controversy over Duck Dynasty’s patriarch Phil Robertson’s interview in GQ may make some of us want to seek shelter from the hostile bombardment of those who would silence anyone who dares to speak of homosexual acts as sins.  The fact that few would want to defend everything that Phil said in the way that he said it, perhaps is a further prompt to duck.  But those of us who would fight for a culture of life and who know we need to be a part of the new evangelization should embrace these opportunities to have important discussions with our family, friends, acquaintances and co workers.


For those of you who are out of the loop, Phil Robertson is a self-proclaimed redneck who, in reply to a question from an interviewer about what acts he considered sins, mentioned homosexual acts, followed by bestiality, adultery, fornicators, idolaters, the greedy, drunkards, slanderers, swindlers.  His remarks were a near verbatim quotation of St Paul’s 1st letter to the Corinthians 6:9.  He then spoke in anatomically explicit language about the body parts that heterosexual males prefer as opposed to those body parts that some of those who engage in same sex sexual acts prefer (and also seem to be a point of desire for many heterosexual males addicted to pornography).  A&E suspended Phil for these remarks (which they have since rescinded) and a firestorm started about many things, among them Phil’s right to say what he said, A&E’s right to suspend him and whether Phil was hate-filled and insensitive.  Phil was accused of being hate-filled, un-Christian, an ignoramus, and someone who reduced those who have same sex attractions to their sexual appetites and condemned them to hell.


Here I want to address especially whether we Catholics should distance ourselves from Phil’s remarks or defend them.  For my part, I think Phil is largely guiltless of most of the charges made against him: he was not equating homosexuality with bestiality anymore than he was equating greed with bestiality and he was not condemning any individual to hell; he was giving a list of sins that the Christian tradition has long understood as on God’s list of objectively gravely sinful actions.  Phil himself acknowledges forthrightly that he has been a practitioner of a many objectively gravely sinful actions who has been saved by Christ.  He knows Christ’s redemptive grace is extended to all other sinners as well and has given great personal witness of his ability to reach out to and love those embroiled in destructive and sinful life styles.


Nor am I offended by his use of anatomically correct language to describe sexual acts though he opened himself to boatload of trouble by what he said (he apologized for his “coarse language” but there are times and places where graphic language is advisable). Indeed, I think our unwillingness to describe accurately what acts involve can sometimes reduce our persuasiveness.  Even the word “abortion” is too abstract: speaking of dismembering an unborn child is much more forceful speech.   If more people knew precisely what kind of sexual acts homosexuals – and heterosexuals whose desires are shaped by use of pornography — perform, with whom, and how often, and what are the common consequences, there would be fewer who think homosexual acts and pornography are just another way of living out one’s sexuality.


And what can anyone do in a brief interview?  Phil was not given an opportunity to lay out a fully nuanced presentation of the Christian understanding of homosexuality and I don’t know that he could.  He spoke as a blunt, straightforward  “Bible-thumping” believer.  Anyone who watches the show would have known what he thought and why; there should have been no surprises for A&E.  As several wags have stated, a “reality” show couldn’t handle this kind of reality.


Nonetheless, I do think Catholics should make some careful addenda to Phil’s interview.  An important one is that it is hard to say that those with same-sex attractions make the simple choice that Phil seems to lay before them: the attractiveness of female sexual parts in contrast to the male parts preferred by some homosexuals.  Again, the statement is helpful in driving home that point that it is not natural for males to be sexually attracted to males and I think that is what Phil was trying to convey.  Yet, the fact is that heterosexual males are attracted to women not solely because of their “parts” but because of their femininity and homosexual males seem drawn to other males because of their masculinity.


There are other points that also need to be made.  Phil ceased being an adulterer, alcohol and drug abuser through the grace of God and returned to his loving and forgiving wife.  I am not suggesting that his repentance and conversion were easy but the decision of someone who has lived out his or her same sex desires, to forego sin is, I think, incomparably more difficult.  There have been several individuals who suffer SSA who have defended Phil because they accept God’s word and recognize the unnaturalness of homosexual attractions.  But they don’t have loving and forgiving spouses and children to return to.  In fact, by extricating themselves from the gay community, they have increased, at least for a time, the profound sense of loneliness and alienation to which all human beings are prone, especially those who are “different.”  This is something we must all keep in mind; we should never act like deciding to live a chaste life for anyone, especially someone who experiences SSA, is simple.  It is not a matter of just changing one’s “preferences”.  It is a very wrenching struggle with powerful appetites, deep wounds, and habits that at least to some extent balm those wounds.  We must realize what we are asking of people and help them with our prayers, sacrifices, understanding, and friendship.


Perhaps what Catholics need to do in a discussion about such remarks as Phil’s is initially to distance ourselves somewhat from him and say we have some concerns about the piece as well.  Certainly we should defend him against misinterpretations of what he said, but we should not get trapped into making it a discussion about what he said, or his “right” to say what he said or even how he said what said.  The discussion should be about why homosexual acts, adultery, fornication, bestiality, greed, drunkenness, swindling (among other acts) are serious sins and why they would make a person unworthy of the kingdom of God.  Perhaps the easiest way to do this is to open the Catechism and work through the section on sexual sins.  Why all the various sexual sins are grouped together will become clear.  Male and female image Christ and his Church; both unions are the source of new life. Any use of sexuality not consistent with the image is sinful.


Moreover the basic distinctions would need to be made about the difference between judging the sinner and the sin.  I was appalled that some likened Phil’s remarks to those of Martin Bashir who spoke in the vilest of terms of what he thought Sarah Palin deserved.  Phil was not speaking of individuals nor was he saying anything vile even about groups of people  — not of homosexuals, adulterers or others.  Most importantly, whereas Bashir was speaking out of hatred, Phil was speaking out of love.  Phil wants to spend eternity with reformed sinners; he does not want to condemn them to hell.  In fact, he is willing to take a lot of heat to try to save sinners from damnation.


Phil Robertson never wanted to do Duck Dynasty – he is happiest when duck-hunting, but his love for God and others has caused him to put himself forward to preach the gospel.  We will want to do so differently from him but we must do so.  We must struggle to find the right way to engage others on these sensitive, unpopular issues because the fate of souls lies in the balance.




  • dancingcrane

    I greatly admire Dr. Smith, and agree with what she says, with the exception of distancing ourselves in any way from what Phil Robertson said. I see no need for any distance. Fuller explanation of the issues certainly, but Robertson said what he could, with the time he was given. I commend and pray for any Christian, Catholic or not, with the guts to beard the secular lion in his den.

  • MT

    Another addendum that Catholics should be making to the Robertson brouhaha is the undeniable organic link between the Evangelical Protestant acceptance of contraception and the growing acceptance of homosexualism. It’s difficult to understand how anyone can claim to be pro-life or pro-marriage and also embrace and promote contraception, as is done generally throughout Protestantism. In fact, it is neither intellectually consistent nor spiritually truthful to be pro-contraception and at the same time be against same-sex “marriage.” Sexual intercourse among homosexuals and intercourse among contracepting heterosexual couples is identical in that each are by their very nature, sterile, and each share an implicit denial of procreation as the primary purpose of sexual intercourse and marriage. Thus, each implicitly deny the significance of maleness and femaleness in human sexuality. The increasing societal pressure for the “right” of same-sex couples to “marry” is a direct result of the contraceptive mentality. Catholics need to remind pro-marriage Protestants (and wayward Catholics) of the sterile link of separation that contraceptive heterosexual “sex” shares with homosexual “sex.” It is far less likely that society would be legislating the falsehood of same-sex “marriage” in 2014 were it not for the Protestant acceptance of the falsehood of contraception over 80 years ago. If the tide is ever to shift back to the truths of human sexuality and real marriage, Evangelicals like Phil Robertson need to acknowledge Protestant culpability in creating our culture’s contraceptive mentality and then move to dismantle it. Whether Protestants are capable of that (that is, of acknowledging Catholic truth) remains to be seen.

    • Jack Mason

      MT, all living creatures are designed by nature to pro-create. Humans however, are unique in that sexual intercourse can be for reasons other than pro-creation due to our highly advanced intellect, our ability to experience emotions and our ability to experience love and connection to others: reasons that no other creatures experience. You’re attempting to compare humans with lesser animals and that’s where your logic fails even if your logic matches that of your religion.

      • MT

        Jack, Catholic teaching on human sexuality most definitely elevates the human intellect. Contraception itself is what lowers the human intellect and equates human sexuality to that of lesser animals. That may not be readily apparent to those who have bought into the contraceptive mentality, but when a person steps out of that mindset, the dangers of contraception are revealed. Contraception introduces a falsehood into the truth of human sexuality. That falsehood eventually results in the destruction of normal, natural and healthy things; things like masculinity, femininity, and new life. That spooky Catholic logic reveals what secular logic is blind to: the organic link between contraception and sexual license and the culture of death. Catholic logic makes the connection between contraception and the general lowering of morality, the loss of respect for and dignity of women, the increases in rates of divorce, increases in stds, increases in wife and child abuse, fatherless households, the destruction of the family, government involvement in population controls, etc, etc.; all things that have come to passe since contraception became widely accepted. The direct link between the acceptance of contraception and the acceptance and legalization of abortion should be obvious even without Catholic logic. The link to the societal acceptance of homosexualism is less obvious, but it is most certainly true. The fact that secular and Protestant logic missed the inevitable dangers of contraception, shows that logic to be lacking. For a little Catholic logic, I recommend a reading of Humanae Vitae.

        • Jack Mason

          MT, some points: 1) contraceptives have been used for many centuries. 2) morality isn’t lowered by the use of contraceptives. Morality is based on the understanding of what is right and is wrong. 3) Contraceptive use does not lower human intellect. 4) human sexuality has many aspects. Re-production is only one of those aspects. 5) Contraceptives don’t cause intercourse: people do.

  • Manny

    Excellent analysis. You are absolutely correct: Robertson in no way equated beastiality with homosexuality. That was a spin his detractors used to demogogue the issue. I don’t even know what the issue is. The bible clearly identifies homosexuality as a sin, both in the Old and New Testaments. There is no issue. One either accepts Christianity (or Judaism, as a matter of fact) or one doesn’t.

  • markrite

    I agree with everything Janet Smith has posted here, BUT I believe there were things that Ms. Smith COULD’VE said, but didn’t, that could be very noteworthy as well. For one, just WHY do homosexuals afflicted with S.S.A. HAVE to endure their cross of SSA when there are groups like NARTH and COURAGE that help these poor souls to UNLEARN their deviancy and come to EMBRACE their latent heterosexuality; it’s, among other things, like prayer and self-sacrifice, that’ll encourage them to realize what a wondrous thing the female gender IS for a man. And these two groups have accomplished wonders in doing just that. In fact, I’m kind of surprised that Ms. Smith didn’t mention it herself. For it’s simply a matter of RE-ORIENTING their SSA attraction to the PROPER object of their natural affection and interest in the female of the species. Of course I know there’s more to it than just that, i.e., re-orientation, but it’s certainly part and parcel of HEALING those who have unwanted SSA and can’t understand WHY they’re so afflicted this way. The therapy that NARTH offers, as does COURAGE, CAN AND HAS WORKED WONDERS.God Bless all.

    • Daughter of JPII

      markrite: as a woman with same sex attraction and a member of Courage, I humbly ask you to revisit your description of the Courage Apostate (, what you have described here is inaccurate.
      Your description of what I guess is your suggested solution is entirely untutored in regards to both the complex origins of SSA and the greatly varied way that we, with SSA, experience those attractions. I’m afraid that you have greatly over simplified a very complex issue. May I suggest that you look into this further. I pray that you will receive these words with the charity with which I write them.

    • MonicaA

      markrite: Please understand that for those with same-sex attraction, peace with God and a meaningful life of freedom and joy does not require eliminating those attractions, although at times God does provide such deliverance. Take a look at the goals of Courage. You’ll see nothing about “re-orientation”. Then take a look at Courage’s FAQs and you’ll see that the efforts to develop opposite-sex attraction, while supported, are not a part of what Courage does. “The goal and focus of Courage remains a life of interior chastity, humility, and holiness, which can be achieved by all, with God’s grace.” What a beautiful goal for all of us!

  • David H. Lukenbill

    Excellent analysis, especially noting the potency of using graphic language when necessary and in this area of discussion, as you note, it is important to be clear about what type of sexuality we are discussing, sometimes even in the graphic details.

    Soft, generic language is all too often a portal to soft generic thinking, and, in a sinful world, that is not the evangelical weapon needed.

    Thank you Dr. Smith!

  • Miles Schmidt

    Well spoken Prof. Smith. Theologically correct but with enough kindness to a sinner to make one realize that reform of behavior is required to enter the pearly gates. While Phil’s speak of a woman’s body parts might seem vulgar, you are absolutely correct that that is what is needed at times. Most men do and should prefer female “body parts” over any man’s simply because that is what God in nature created.

    • Kirsten


      I heard his comments about blacks and civil rights. He was simply stating what he observed. He was a poor white man living alongside poor black people. You can’t condemn him for his observations and difference of perspective. As for his view on marriage, he and his wife got married at a very young age. And it was not too long ago in human history that it was the norm. How old do you think our Mother Mary was when she married Joseph? I am not endorsing teenage marriage but I know some older couples who got married very young and are doing just fine. I don’t think he was advocating older men marrying teenage girls if that was your implication.



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