I don’t think that Phil Robertson is a bad guy. He prayed for a woman with cancer after learning that he had been suspended from his hit A&E TV show, Duck Dynasty (see here). He has affirmed continually that his faith teaches him to love and respect all people.
Yet, I can understand why people find his comments to be offensive and hurtful. There are many homosexuals who see their same-sex relationship as special, beautiful, and loving, and they do not appreciate someone coming along and putting it in the same category as bestiality and terrorism. There are African-Americans who are aware of the oppression and discrimination that existed in the Jim Crow South, and they do not care for Robertson’s implication that things weren’t that bad for African-Americans under that system.
I was reading an article yesterday that suggested ways that Phil Robertson can recover his image: he can apologize, or he can appear on a talk show spouting some mea culpas. But, for one, I do not expect for Phil Robertson to retract his sincerely-held religious beliefs. In his eyes, the Bible is against homosexual relationships, and he is committed to that standard. And, secondly, even if he were to retract his religious beliefs and offer a public apology, that would only be a band-aid solution. He’d simply be appeasing his critics, without necessarily learning and growing from this experience.
In my opinion, this should be a learning experience—-not a “gotcha” experience (for Robertson’s critics), and not a “we have to stand by Phil Robertson in these end times” experience (for many of Robertson’s supporters). I hope that Robertson learns why people found his comments offensive, and that he can somehow come to empathize with them, even if he chooses not to change his religious beliefs about homosexuality. And I hope that other people besides Robertson can learn from this: that, for example, white people can learn that racism does exist, even if they do not see it.
Polarization can start this sort of discussion. For example, had GLAAD and the NAACP not complained about Robertson’s comments, we would not be talking about why they are so offensive and hurtful. But polarization and an us vs. them mindset, if it is continued, can obstruct learning, discussion, and growth.