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  A&E suspended Phil for these remarks (which they have since rescinded) and a firestorm started about many things, among them Phil’s right to say what he said, A&E’s right to suspend him and whether Phil was hate-filled and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.




33 thoughts on “Don’t Duck the Real Question Raised by Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty

  1. Marty says:

    How will you nuance or explain away the ignorance in Robertson’s comments about African Americans and slavery? Or his beliefs about marrying underage girls? It seems to me that those opinions are about a valid as his opinions on gays and their relationships.

    1. Marty, As I said in my piece, no one needs to nuance or explain everything Phil says. I don’t. But I do believe in careful reading and fairness. I don’t know what you heard him say that you find so objectionable. He didn’t say anything about slavery so far as I can see. I would certainly like to see more context for those remarks. From what I can see, Phil, who grew up poor, poor, poor, was saying you don’t have to have a lot to be happy, happy, happy. He wasn’t saying that African-Americans were not unjustly treated. He seems to me to be saying that those he worked with managed to be happy nonetheless. Is that something ignorant to say? He and his family are known to be generous to the downtrodden. He and his wife have taken in transients without respect to race or religion, housed, fed, washed and clothed them. How many of us have done the same?

      And about his view of marrying underage girls, those remarks were made in jest. Miss Kay was 16 when she married Phil. Read this to learn what it is like to be married to a Robertson: I live in a part of the country near an ethnic group where the men have immigrated to this country around age 18; they learn the language, get a job, return to their native land and get married over the week end to a young woman they have never met, who is often around 15-16 years of age, and return. The marriages last and are happy by the reports of those in them. Often the women get advanced degrees. That wouldn’t work for many cultures but what we are doing in ours isn’t working either.
      Finally, he was not giving his “opinion” about gays and their relationships (he said nothing about their relationships). He was stating what the Bible states and he believes.
      Again, I am not defending anything he said. Just trying to hear what he said and see if it makes any sense.

    2. fredx2 says:

      Marty. Take a look at this video , from about 8:20 to 9:45
      This will tell you everything you need to know about Phil Robertson.

  2. Mack Hall says:


  3. Rob says:

    Aren’t you ducking the real question of Robertson’s insane comments about African Americans?

    “I never, with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person. Not once,” the reality star said of growing up in pre-Civil-Rights-era Louisiana. “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!”

    Robertson continued, “Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.”

  4. HenryBowers says:

    Thank you for this. Everyone wants to talk about A&E’s reaction, when their reaction matters no more than GLAAD’s reaction. Only the notion that the act’s difference from real sex could provoke such furor, and the underpinnings of that difference, are worth discussing.

  5. mia says:

    Dr Smith says that she wants to find ways to engage others on these issues, but she is writing this article on a Catholic website – literally just preaching to the choir. If she really wants to reach people, why doesn’t Dr Smith post her articles on Huffington Post, etc? Why only write to people who (mostly) agree with you? Show some courage.

    1. Mia, I was writing for Catholics on how to use certain media events to teach Gospel truths. You might be surprised how much we members of the choir need “preaching” or at least instruction. I am not sure the choir are readers of Huffington Post. God bless!

      1. mia says:

        Initially replied at the wrong place, sorry.
        I am a cynic by nature, so ( I admit) there is a part of me that thinks a reason for publishing this article in a forum like this allows 95% of the comments to be supportive. If Prof Smith were to publish outside of this forum, some of the comments would be quite different. Personally, I think that would be a GOOD thing. If one just addresses people who basically agree with you, how does that person grow, evolve and understand an issue better?
        My own view of homosexuality and gay marriage has been shaped by listening to BOTH sides, not just one.

        1. Joshua Mercer says:

          Some of our articles receive large numbers of comments from those who disagree. Case in point:

    2. filiusdextris says:

      I am sure Dr. Smith would welcome your posting a link to this article on Huff Post or elsewhere. It may not always be fitting to feed the table scraps to the dogs, much less Dr. Smith’s eloquence and sharp analysis, but we should do so if we think it would turn more souls to Christ than against. Posting there would likely just agitate the rabble, but I leave that to your wisdom to discern. Dr. Smith’s many years of preaching unpopular Catholic truths testify to her courage. I hope she keeps on writing for many years.

    3. AJ says:

      Mia, I highly doubt the entire population of people that visit this site are strictly Catholic ones. Also, what makes you believe that Huffington Post would even let an article like this run?

      1. mia says:

        I am a cynic by nature, so ( I admit) there is a part of me that thinks a reason for publishing this article in a forum like this allows 95% of the comments to be supportive. If Prof Smith were to publish outside of this forum, some of the comments would be quite different. Personally, I think that would be a GOOD thing. If one just addresses people who basically agree with you, how does that person grow, evolve and understand an issue better?
        My own view of homosexuality and gay marriage has been shaped by listening to BOTH sides, not just one.

        1. Mia, My major reason for posting on this site is that I have ready access to it. Yet, it happens in fact to be the correct forum. Again, this piece is directed to Catholics who accept the Church’s teaching and want to learn how to engage in a discussion with others and how to use media events to do so. It was not meant to be a discussion with homosexuals or supporters of homosexuality. Every piece has its focus. Mine is clear. I have published on Catholic sites before about homosexuality and my opponents have found me and I have engaged in extended dialogue with them. My views have also been shaped by listening to both sides. I am pleased you read outside your comfort zone. We all should.

  6. Bernadette says:

    Thank you Prof. Smith- this is very helpful when questions arise that require a compassionate expression of the truth!

    1. Jonathan Brumley says:

      Sin is sin because it is harmful to persons.

      IMO, Arguing that homosexual acts are “unnatural” is unhelpful to the discussion.

      Catholics need to make clear arguments about how homosexual acts gravely harm the participants, others, and society as a whole.

      1. Jonathon,

        I don’t know why it is unhelpful to argue that homosexual acts are unnatural. We live in a culture that has begun to reclaim that view that living in accord with nature is healthier. The nature natural law talks about is not, though, the “nature” of the great outdoors. It is the nature or essence of the human being. Our “parts’ of all sorts are ordered to our good as persons. The good of persons who seek sexual relationships is greatly enhanced by male and female committing to faithful, indissoluble unions. The Robertsons themselves model that truth. Part of their ability to thrive has been the result of their strong marriages. Kay’s fidelity to Phil when he was not faithful to her was a major factor in his conversion and now in the strength of his marriage and his ability to model to his sons and grandsons. My piece didn’t intend to make a full case for the harms of homosexual unions but it is not a hard case. Start with the reduced life span of male homosexuals, with the psychological disorders many experience, with the promiscuity characteristic of much of the community and you will begin to see some of the harms. Very similar to the harms of heterosexual irresponsible sexual behavior.

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