Last night, GQ released a story about Duck Dynasty that quotes Phil Robertson’s thoughts about homosexuality:
“It seems like, to me, a vagina — as a man — would be more desirable than a man’s anus. That’s just me. I’m just thinking: There’s more there! She’s got more to offer. I mean, come on, dudes! You know what I’m saying? But hey, sin: It’s not logical, my man. It’s just not logical.”
As you can imagine, everyone had an opinion about this statement, including GLAAD and Phil’s check-signer, A&E, who suspended the star indefinitely.
One of the conservative tweeters I follow — one of those Christians convinced that Obama is going to have him killed for his faith — lives for stuff like this. He quickly took to the Twitterverse and posted a side-by-side image of Pope Francis and Phil, with the following caption: “Both preach truth on homosexual sin. One is TIME’s Person of the Year. The other JUST GOT FIRED.”
The point is worth considering. Even though Phil used crass, juvenile language to articulate his point, what he was getting at was his belief that homosexual “desire” is unnatural and inherently disordered. This opinion isn’t unique to Phil. It’s actually shared by a majority of his fans.
It’s also shared, to some extent, by the Pope. Yes, that Pope — the one on the cover not just of TIME but also of The Advocate.
Of course, The Advocate knows the Pope’s thoughts on LGBT issues, including marriage equality. But as they note, Francis’ “stark change in rhetoric from his two predecessors” has set a positive example for how religious people ought to treat LGBT persons — an example that Phil, an elder at the White’s Ferry Road Church of Christ, ought to have followed in his GQ interview.
To compare Papa Duck to Papa Francis, as conservatives are doing, is, in my opinion, to misrepresent both of them. Francis, though he privately holds to certain doctrine which some might see as “anti-gay,” has not used any of his public-speaking opportunities to share these with the world. Instead, Francis has repeatedly offered grace to the LGBT community. At one point, he even uttered what might go down as the expression of public humility that singlehandedly saved the church: “Who am I to judge?”
Phil, on the other hand, went on record as rhetorically asking how any man could ever enjoy gay intercourse, since vaginal intercourse is better. (Which certainly makes you wonder how he’s able to make the comparison.)
There are two notable differences between the Pope’s views on sex, and Phil’s. First, the Pope is a trained philosopher, and has undoubtedly spent countless hours examining, challenging and refining his views. Phil — if we are to take his brief statements on homosexuality as representative of his position — seems to hold a view on sex that manages to reduce the entire orthodox understanding of “desire” down to nothing more than a juvenile “tooshie = bad, vagina = good.”
The second difference has to do with tone. In fairness to Phil, the tone of his off-the-cuff statements may not accurately represent his philosophy on this issue, but I do think it’s a fair representation of what many see as his Southern charm. There’s a way to disagree with majority opinion without coming across as disagreeable. The Pope knows how to do this. Phil does not. As a result, we respect Papa and shame Phil.
For the record, I’m undecided on whether or not I think Phil actually is homophobic, although I certainly think his statement was offensive, and not only to the LGBT community. But I also think that if I were to spend a day calling ducks with Phil, I’d probably end up liking him — even in spite of his position on gay men. It’s quite possible to throw one’s political support behind traditional, heterosexual marriage, and yet not be bigoted.
I’m reminded of something Bill Maher said during the height of the Paula Deen controversy: “Do we always have to make people go away?” I think the question applies in this situation too.
Why is our go-to political strategy for beating our opponents to silence them? Why do we dismiss, rather than engage them? One of the biggest pop-culture icons of today just took center stage to “educate” us about sexuality. I see this as an opportunity to further the discussion, to challenge his limited understanding of human desire, to engage with him and his rather sizable audience — most of whom, by the way, probably share his views — and to rise above the endless sea of tweet-hate to help move our LGBT conversations to where they need to go.
G.K. Chesterton said that bigotry is “an incapacity to conceive seriously the alternative to a proposition.” If he is right — and he usually is — then I wonder if the Duck Dynasty fiasco says more about our bigotry than Phil’s.
Brandon Ambrosino is a writer and professional dancer based in Baltimore.