Last week, news reports, talk shows, and social networks were saturated with updates from the great Duck Dynasty debate of 2013. I logged onto Facebook to see comments from both sides—from conservative friends lamenting the persecution of Phil Robertson to queer friends suffering from the hurtful debates circling their news feed.
After only a week, Robertson’s suspension was lifted.
While many rejoice at this news, it is clear that neither side emerged as a winner.
LGBTQ people lost when our social networks lit up with homophobic and hurtful dialogue over our identity and rights. Non-affirming Christians lost when their faith was mocked by our increasingly LGBTQ-affirming society.
And most upsetting to me, LGBTQ-affirming Christians lost when our theology was erased in yet another false depiction of the “gays vs. Christians” debate.
The only winners in this debate seem to be news outlets, who undoubtedly benefitted from an increased amount of web traffic. Come to think of it, retailers who stacked Duck Dynasty gear in the front of their stores the week before Christmas probably weren’t hurting either.
And though the long-term effects of this scandal on A&E’s reputation are uncertain, the network’s decision to launch a marathon of Duck Dynasty last week—during Robertson’s suspension—says something of their priorities.
These gains came at the cost of authentic dialogue and respectful conversations.
To be clear—Robertson’s comments were crude and offensive, and they represent a form of religious-based homophobia that is present around the United States and across the world. When a public figure like Robertson shares these views, he perpetuates stereotypes and hatred of LGBTQ people. This is a problem.
But last week, this story was sensationalized in a narrative convenient to the media. The perfect villain was created, and both sides took the bait.
Unfortunately, turning Robertson into a villain served no purpose. It distracted us from authentic dialogue and fueled the fires of an already hot, already hurtful conversation.
In a recent, moving essay, a gay student in Louisiana illustrates how sensationalizing this debate made him unsafe in his own town. His words and his reality are heartbreaking.
Pointing fingers creates caricatures instead of conversation, and it stunts our collective capacity for empathy.
We all lost when this debate was sensationalized, and most involved emerged feeling mocked and misunderstood.
In truth, I think our Christian beliefs on LGBTQ identity and equality exist on a wide spectrum. There certainly are Christians who agree with Robertson, but other believe just as firmly in a God who welcomes and affirms LGBTQ people.
Next time, maybe we can create space for that kind of nuance. Maybe we can sit down and have the hard conversations.
When LGBTQ people are pitted against Christians, I mourn the losses on both sides.
When we fail to have compassion for our enemies, I mourn the loss of something human in each of us.
Photo via flickr user Michael McCarthy