Fundamentalist Ducks

Okay, okay, I admit it.  I’ve been itching to write something about the recent Duck Dynasty culture-war imbroglio.  But until now there didn’t seem to be much worth saying.  One sentence said it all: Famous redneck shows ugly blind spot in racial issues and homosexual identities.  Didn’t seem like much more needed talking about.

For those of you who live in caves, bearded patriarch Phil Robertson ruffled feathers with recent ignorant and hateful comments about homosexuals and racial history.  In all his Louisiana life, he told a GQ reporter, he never saw an African American who seemed upset about lacking basic civil rights.  And homosexuals, he opined, should learn to prefer vaginas to men’s anuses.  After all, as Robertson concluded with invincible logic, “I mean, come on, dudes!  You know what I’m saying?”

Until today, everything I’d read about the scandal either defended Robertson’s right to his theology or attacked him for his hate.  But this morning I came across the comments of the brainy conservative Rod Dreher in the pages of Time.com.  For those not familiar with Dreher’s story, he moved back to his small-town Louisiana roots from a go-go New York media career after a family tragedy.

Dreher hit the nail on the head.  While Dreher doesn’t agree with Robertson’s positions, he remarked on the ridiculously excessive shock expressed by many media mavens.  Too many of those “culture-makers,” Dreher lamented,

are often every bit as parochial as those they condemn, but flatter themselves that they are the tolerant, cosmopolitan ones. I have lived in Manhattan, and I live once again in my tiny south Louisiana hometown. To paraphrase Solzhenitsyn, the border between narrow-minded and tolerant runs not between city and country, North and South, degreed and uneducated, but down the middle of every human community and every human heart.

. . .

The Duck Dynasty mess revealed that not all fundamentalists live in the Bible Belt, and that some of the biggest hicks live in Hollywood. The Duckman’s win is a score for authentic diversity and pluralism in the public square, and a victory for the right to be wrong without being ruined.

Hear hear.

When I began my current job as a university professor, I gave a talk about my dissertation research.  That work—which became my first book—concerned the first generation of American fundamentalists.  I soon realized that my tolerant, cosmopolitan university audience contained more than its share of Dreher’s hip hicks.  Not the entire audience, by any means, but certainly an influential group.  These culture-makers did not hope to understand fundamentalists; they did not seem interested in puzzling out the intellectual world I had tried to portray.  Instead, they only rushed to demonstrate their shock and horror at the ideas of people very different from themselves.

At the end of the talk, one member of my academic audience raised her hand and asked in a frustrated tone, “What is WRONG with these people?”  Heads nodded throughout the room.  The person who asked the question was not dumb, was not ignorant.  She was a prolific researcher and dedicated teacher.  In fact, she had worked throughout her career to make schools more inclusive for all sorts of students.  Yet she saw no contradiction in dismissing the thinking of a large percentage of Americans as “these people” out of hand.

Like Dreher, I don’t think Robertson’s comments are worth talking about, much less defending.  But the reaction to his comments can tell us a good deal about the current state of America’s intellectual myopia.   It serves as a sobering reminder of the widespread and unacknowledged ignorance among many Americans about what America is really like.

 

Advertisements

Kicking Out the Christians: Duck Dynasty and “Facial Profiling”

Christians are a persecuted minority!

That’s the claim we hear over and over again from conservative religious folks.

Today we get some surprising evidence that bearded holy men of the Christian faith really are punished unfairly.  Duck Dynasty star Jase Robertson was apparently kicked out of the Trump Hotel in New York City when an employee assumed he was homeless.

jase-robertson4

Robertson. Image Source: A&E

As the Christian Post reports, Robertson didn’t take the incident too seriously.  He called the episode a case of “facial profiling.”

It was not Robertson’s Christian faith, but rather his appearance, that apparently led to this embarrassing incident.  The big reality-show star didn’t make a fuss.  But other conservative Christians like the Robertson family have consistently complained that they are treated like despised minorities in American culture.

In 1980, for example, evangelical superstar Jerry Falwell called conservative Fundamentalists “the largest minority bloc in the United States.”[*]

These feelings among conservative Protestants have been especially strong in debates over public education.  Since the 1920s, conservative evangelical Protestants have complained that their rights have not been respected.  To cite just one example, in 1965 evangelical editor John R. Rice lamented the fact that conservative Christians were not only a minority, but a minority that had been consistently singled out for unique persecution.  “Why not have freedom in America as much for one minority as another?” Rice asked.  “Why not observe the rights of Bible believers as well as the rights of the infidels in the churches and infidels in courts or schools?”[†]

We have seen despised-minority rhetoric again and again in conservative calls to include creationism in public-school science classes.  In the early 1980s, creationists pushed laws that would include both evolution and creationism, in order to protect the constitutional rights of minority creationist students.  Laws such as Arkansas’ Arkansas’ Act 590 of 1981, for example, emphasized that such rules would “protect academic freedom . . . [and] freedom of religious exercise.”[‡]

Creationists have also often complained that their views are ignored out of an anti-scientific zeal to punish minority dissent.  In 1984, for example, creationist Jerry Bergman published his expose of anti-creationist persecution in American higher education.  Bergman himself claimed to have been denied tenure at Bowling Green State University solely for his religious beliefs.  “Several universities,” Bergman lamented,

state it was their ‘right’ to protect students from creationists and, in one case, from ‘fundamentalist Christians.’ . . . This is all plainly illegal, but it is extremely difficult to bring redress against these common, gross injustices.  This is due to the verbal ‘smoke-screen’ thrown up around the issue.  But, a similar case might be if a black were fired on the suspicion that he had ‘talked to students about being black,’ or a woman being fired for having ‘talked to students about women’s issues.’[§]

Kicking out a bearded Christian holy man from a fancy New York hotel won’t offer much clarity to this old dispute.  Jase Robertson himself did not seem at all offended that a hotel employee took him outside to a park when Robertson asked for directions to a bathroom.

Other conservative evangelical Protestants, however, have not laughed off this kind of thing so lightly.  In controversies about the nature of America’s public square, including its public schools, conservative Christians have consistently insisted that they had been treated like persecuted minorities.

It makes me wonder if Jerry Falwell was ever kicked out of a fancy hotel.

 

 


[*] George Vecsey, “Militant Television Preachers Try to Weld Fundamentalist Christians’ Political Power,” New York Times, January 21, 1980, A21.

 

[†] John R. Rice, “White Minorities Have Rights, Too,” Sword of the Lord 31 (3 September 1965): 1.

 

[‡] “Act 590 of 1981: General Acts, 73rd General Assembly, State of Arkansas,” in in Marcel C. LaFollette, ed., Creationism, Science and the Law: The Arkansas Case (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1983), 15.

 

[§] Jerry Bergman, The Criterion: Religious Discrimination in America (Richfield, MN: Onesimus Press, 1984), 43.