How to Respond to the Duck Dynasty Controversy

Posted on December 20, 2013 at 4:10 pm

When you make an outspoken, irascible patriarch into a television star, he is going to say outspoken, irascible things.  And so “Duck Dynasty” dad Phil Robertson gave his views on homosexuality as a sin in an interview with GQ, using plain, sometimes crude language.  He also made some comments about race relations and poor people that many found offensive.  A&E, which airs the hugely popular and lucrative television show, has removed him from the series and his family has said that they will not go on without him.

A lot of people have a lot to say about this.  Fans of the show and supporters of Robertson’s view of the Bible are objecting.  People who don’t like to let bigoted statements by people in the public eye go unresponded to are objecting to his remarks. Presidential hopefuls are speaking out in hopes of getting the support of evangelicals.

Let’s be clear.  This has nothing to do with freedom of speech.  The First Amendment prohibits government restrictions on speech.  If a television personality makes an offensive remark, it is not offensive to point that out. If a corporate entity like a television network makes a business decision that the offensive comment has made the person who said it a liability that may result in the loss of advertisers or viewers, that is not censorship. It is the free exercise of business judgement and the exercise of free speech by the owners of the program and the network. Claiming a religious belief as the basis for one’s views does not grant automatic protection from criticism by others.  Many beliefs grounded in religious views in the past, like segregation and slavery, are no longer considered acceptable.  And I trust that Mr. Robertson, who also made some strong statements about other religions, recognizes that people who have different faiths — or no faith — are entitled to express their views on his remarks.

Mr. Robertson’s free speech has not been impinged on in any way. He can say whatever he likes. But freedom of speech does not carry with it either the right to make that speech on television or to avoid the consequences of the exercise of free speech by those of us who will express our objections to his homophobic and bigoted views.

If the Robertsons leave A&E and wish to continue to be on television, it is likely some other station will pick them up.  With a net worth of $80 million, they can buy their own television time if they want to.

The worst possible outcome from this controversy is if people on any side conduct themselves with anything less than the utmost civility and respect.  Those who wish to support Mr. Robertson’s right to express his views or agree with his interpretation of the Bible should remember that humility and grace better exemplify the teachings of Jesus than shrillness and invective.  Those who are offended by his comments should remember that their side is not helped by shrillness and invective either.  Insult is not argument.  Hostility never persuaded anyone.  I like this post from Chris Boeskool, where he says many wise things, including:

This is NOT religious persecution. I cannot stress this enough. He did not get suspended for his religious beliefs. He was suspended because what he said was completely offensive. There are plenty of Christians (many of my friends, in fact) who believe that being gay is a sin and marriage should only be between a man and a woman, yet they could have still answered those questions with love and humility. Someone might use Bible verses to claim that interracial relations are an abomination and say “Anyone who commits the sin of miscegenation is heading straight to Hell” and call it freedom of religion, but really…. It’s just old school hatred. Hatred is not a Biblical belief.

And lastly (and most importantly), imagine that there is a gay person reading the things you are writing. Because guess what…. There will be.Please don’t separate the ISSUE from the PEOPLE. Imagine that there is someone reading the words you are writing who is trying to get a sense of what this Jesus guy is all about. Imagine a person reading your words who is just as sure of their same-sex attraction as you are of your opposite-sex attraction. Imagine that person has only ever heard hatred coming from people who call themselves Christians, and he or she is just about ready to give up. Imagine looking into a person’s eyes and saying the hate-filled things you are getting ready to write, instead of looking into computer screen. Maybe even imagine one of your kids has come out to you, and he or she is reading your words. And then finally, think of a time that you have been wrong about something in the past, and imagine that this issue of “how sinful it is to be gay” might be one of those times.

The Robertsons have said that they will ponder this as they focus on loving their neighbor and on prayer.  Good idea for all of us.

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Interview: Chad Ahrendt of ‘Reconciliation’ (Part 1)

Posted on May 15, 2011 at 8:00 am

Chad Ahrendt is the writer/director/producer and editor of a new film called “Reconciliation,” about a man named Grant whose impending fatherhood causes him to think about repairing the rift with his gay father.  He was kind enough to answer my questions about the film and its messages of love, compassion, and forgiveness.

1.  How did the project begin?

In some respects the project began four years ago when I surrendered my life to Christ, but really it began when my parents starting dating in the early 70’s and had me soon after.  I didn’t grow up in a Christian home, nor did we talk about God often.  In college I was introduced to Christianity, but I didn’t come to know the Lord and fully surrender my life to Him until four years ago.  Prior to that I had been working at Columbia Pictures for over a decade on 15 big budget studio films from “Jerry MaGuire,” “As Good As It Gets,” to “Dreamgirls.”

After coming to know the Lord, He started revealing His desire for me to make this movie.  People have said this before, but I truly mean He wanted this story to be told – because I had ZERO interest in making this movie knowing what a polarizing topic homosexuality is and the repercussions that might come of it.  The movie is loosely based on my own life and the reaction I had when I found out in the late 70’s that my dad was gay.  I was teased and bullied at school when a few friends found out about my dad and I remember rumors being spread that I too was gay.  I’ve never had same-sex attractions, but I surely didn’t want to be guilty by association so when my mom and I moved away I made sure nobody would know about my dad.  Then in the 80’s I started hearing homosexuality wasn’t genetic, but it was a choice and my fear turned to anger because he left my mother and I to pursue his desires, in my mind making the conscious choice I was less important.  Often we hear “Christians or God hate(s) homosexuals,” but the irony in my case is it wasn’t until I surrendered my life to the Lord was I finally able to fully love my dad.  The Lord was very clear that He wanted me to love and forgive my dad as God has loved and forgiven me of all my messiness…not only that, but as I read and researched all of Scripture the Lord exposed my own sexual brokenness as a “heterosexual.”

After much research I finally sat down and began writing the script, praying daily for the Lord’s supervision over every word.

2.  Did you have difficulty getting support for it?

Absolutely.  Although the story mainly follows an estranged father and son struggling to overcome the heartbreaking consequences of their past as they seek forgiveness and reconciliation, all everyone could concentrate on was the homosexual aspects in the movie and whether homosexuality is perceived as a sin or not.  Studio and faith-based production companies enjoyed the script, but didn’t want to touch the project for very different reasons.  Secular executives were more interested in a form of “universalism” and not talking about “sin,” whereas faith-based companies were excited the movie clearly presented the Gospel they had concerns about alienating a portion of their fans who might have varying opinions about homosexuality being a sin or not.

I knew the Lord wanted the movie made which gave me confidence He’d open the right doors at the right time to get the project financed and distributed – and He blew the doors wide open bringing together an amazing cast, crew, locations, and independent financing that allowed us to tell the story He wanted to tell, a story focused on the Gospel and no other agenda.  The Lord’s ways are so much better then our ways!

3.  Why was it so hard for Grant to forgive his father?

Jeff’s choice to pursue his sexual desires over his family set off a chain of events that would leave lasting repercussions and ultimately break the father/son bond.  Divorce, no matter the reason is very difficult for a child to understand.  Jeff lied to Grant about the reason for the divorce causing Grant to feel even more betrayed, ultimately losing trust in his father.  Jeff’s sexual desires being exposed at Grant’s 10th birthday party, caused Grant to be bullied and teased at school.  Grant already felt the consequences emotionally, now he experienced them physically from his peers.  What had Grant done to deserve this?  He didn’t choose his father and mother, but nevertheless he paid for their choices.  Consider all the emotions of abandonment, deceit, embarrassment, shame, confusion, fear, anger, physical abuse and teasing from peers, the era of the 1970’s and one starts to empathize with Grant’s broken and hardened heart.  One might even begin to understand, not condone, Grant’s unchecked anger that festered into hatred.  Grant’s choices to hate and disown his father were also sinful and led him to deceive others.  Grant’s lies and hatred of his dad were confronted when he came to know Christ.  As the Lord exposed areas of Grant’s life that needed to be brought to the Cross and repented of, He also softened Grant’s heart by pouring out His unconditional love and forgiveness upon Grant – a Father’s true love that Grant had never known growing up.  The hatred and anger were being transformed by God’s Word and the Holy Spirit, but because Grant didn’t come clean to his wife about his dad Grant felt shame and guilt for the way he treated his dad and the lies he told, instead of God’s intention for grace and freedom that comes from repentance.  Eventually, the Lord made a way for everything to be worked out for good.  Grant really needed to forgive himself and truly understand God’s grace and forgiveness, and once he did he could extend the same forgiveness.

Life is messy and it takes work, sometimes-uncomfortable work, for reconciliation to be possible.  Yes, reconciliation will look differently for everyone depending on the wound and situation, but no matter what we are called to forgive as we have been forgiven.  Let us never forget the amount of grace, compassion, patience, love and Truth with which the Lord has dealt with each of us.

(more…)

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Directors Interview Writers

Easy A

Posted on December 14, 2010 at 8:00 am

Emma Stone finally gets the breakthrough role her fans have been waiting for in “Easy A.” This is the moment that takes her into the front rank of movie stars, sub-category: America’s sweetheart.

Stone has an immediately appealing presence on screen, unpretentious but utterly charming. Here she plays Olive, a girl who doesn’t yet realize that all of the things that make her feel invisible in high school are going to make her wildly beloved for decades after. She is impatient to be “interesting” and so after a thrill-less weekend highlighted by singing along to a greeting card she impulsively tells her best friend Rhiannon (Alyson Michalka) that she had sex with her college student boyfriend. Problem #1: the sex and the boyfriend are both imaginary. This is the kind of mistake a teenager would make. Problem #2: this confession occurs in the ladies’ room at the high school, with no checking the stalls. This is not the kind of mistake anyone would make after 7th grade, but we have to kick that plot into gear, now, don’t we?

And so the whole school immediately knows and believes this scandalous news. Which is why Olive’s closeted gay friend tired of getting picked on comes to her with a proposition. Not that kind. He wants her to have noisy public pretend sex with him so that he can be definitively proven manly. And since her reputation is already shot, what can it hurt? And why not do the same favor for some other needy souls? And then, when it seems the whole school is judging her (conveniently, her class is reading The Scarlet Letter), she decides to sew a big red A on a bustier and see what it feels like to go from invisible to un-missable.

Stone is such an effortless charmer that she keeps the story aloft, even when Olive inexplicably turns her little adventure into a for-pay enterprise, insisting on gift cards(!) in exchange for making the reputation of the guys involved at the cost of her own. A side story involving Olive’s favorite teacher (Thomas Hayden Church) and his wife, the school guidance counselor (Lisa Kudrow) is also unnecessarily tawdry. Far better are the encounters with the always delectable (and just about always underused) Amanda Bynes as the school holier-than-thou abstinence proponent and the always ultra-watchable Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson as Olive’s deliciously off-kilter parents. Their scenes are warm, witty, and surprising, and livelier than Olive’s romantic ups and downs. In every way, it is Stone who is the heart of this movie, and she wins our hearts as well.

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Interview on ‘8: The Mormon Proposition’

Posted on June 19, 2010 at 9:00 am

8_1SHEET_MECH_B.jpg

A new documentary called 8: The Mormon Proposition exposes the $22 million secret program to defeat gay marriage in California sponsored by the Mormon church. After a court ruled that gay couples could get married, a ballot initiative called “Proposition 8” was submitted to overturn it. A “yes” vote on “Prop 8” was a “no” vote on gay marriage. The Mormon church, headquartered in Utah, orchestrated a campaign to support Prop 8, working through local, non-Mormon organizations and individuals to hide their involvement. The movie is now available in theaters, on DVD, on cable via On Demand, and through iTunes. I spoke to co-director Steven Greenstreet and one of the people interviewed for the film, David Melman, from Affirmation, a support group for GLBT Mormons. Both were raised in the LDS church.

Let’s start with the most recent developments. As we speak (June 16, 2010), closing arguments are being heard in the lawsuit challenging Prop 8. And there has just been an unprecedented fine imposed on the Mormon church for some of the violations you cover in the film.

SG: The Fair Political Practices Commission in California found them guilty on 13 counts of political malfeasance for late reporting of non-monetary contributions. The fine itself is around $5000, which won’t even put a dent in the bumper of the Mormon church. But it is a big victory. The facts we presented in the film and the case that we build in the film is essentially that — that they cooked the books and they lied and they under-reported. The separation of church and state was this really blurred line.

One of the most shocking revelations in the film is when an enormous cache of documents is leaked by an insider within the church, with memos laying out the strategy very explicitly, including frank admissions that the Mormons want to hide their involvement.

DM: A church that believes you should be honest and truthful in your dealings and then hides behind these other groups, groups that at one time they taught were abominable and detestable, the little bit you do disclose you don’t disclose until after the election when it’s too late, a lot of the campaign is not based on getting the truth out but on confusing and muddying the waters. A lot of people who voted one way on Prop 8 thought they were voting the other way. A lot of untruth went out in the campaign: “If Prop 8 doesn’t pass, your church won’t have any choice about who it marries. You won’t have any say about what your children are taught in the school.

SG: After the fines were imposed, I advocate a disciplinary hearing within the church of the Mormon elders. They should be stripped of their temple recommend and brought in for internal investigation. I grew up in the church. One of the questions they ask you to issue you your faithful member temple recommend card is “Are you honest and truthful in your dealings with your fellow man?” If you’re not, you can’t get that status. This fine proves that the people at the top are not even following their own rules.

Do they believe the rules can be broken in furtherance of goals like preventing gay marriage?

SG: Religions are made or broken by how honest they are with their members versus how honest they are behind the curtain. I was a Mormon missionary, knocking on doors and carrying the message of love, charity, compassion, and tolerance. This is what I was told from the top down, this was the message and core of the church. And yet I see the church going to California with a complete lack of those ethics. I do feel there’s a disconnect between their political teachings and their doctrinal dealings.

DM: The church has always taught: love and family. With these actions, they’ve worked to tear families apart. Two people marry each other, and their family just splits apart because some stay with the church, some support the individual. The family comes apart. The campaign was obviously one of hate and not love. It left a lot of us feeling like someone had stolen our church from us.

SG: Tyler and Spencer were one of the 18,000 couples that were married in that small window when gay marriage was legal and now the closing arguments are happening in California. One of the goals of the opposition is not only to win this but to go a step further and negate those 18,000 marriages. Their marriage certificate may be torn up.

How did this movie come about?

SG: Reed Cowan, my co-director, was doing a film about homeless teenagers in Salt Lake City who had been kicked out of their homes because they were gay. When they came out to their parents or were discovered to be gay, their parents were informed by their bishops that it was better for them to take them out to the street than have them contaminate the rest of the family. So Reed started working on that and around the same time Proposition 8 started bubbling up in California and we really saw a correlation between what was happening there and the effect that it had on these kids. So we blew up the ambition of the film and said, “There’s a bigger story here.”

Some of the most shocking revelations in the film come from an enormous file of documents provided by an anonymous source. How did you get hold of them?

SG: We had been working with Fred Karger, who has been at the forefront of investigating the church’s involvement. He got an anonymous phone call. He met Fred in a bar with the documents and it was like a scene from a thriller. Reed went through every page. It was shocking to see the names of the top Mormon leaders, their candid language. Their strategic plan to hide the money and hide their involvement, to create front groups. It was really a revelation for me, having grown up in the church.

With Mormons, you do what you do because it is such a saturated culture. Everything you do — everything — is built around the church. I am a film-maker and so my instinct is to turn a lens on the culture that raised me and better it.

What do people who are not Mormon don’t understand about the faith?

DM: Quite a bit. The church operates differently from other religions. They have a different view on our purpose in life. We live before this earth and we live afterward and there are things we need to accomplish. The church is also a huge, multi-billion dollar, mutli-national corporation. It controls so many aspects of everyone’s life. They own airlines, they own broadcast media. The top radio stations in Washington are owned by the church. What politician in this country is going to challenge a religion? The church believes there is a divine decree that at some point they will control the government of the United States.

Do the younger people in the church have the same views? Or are they like their contemporaries in other faiths and more supportive of gay rights?

SG: I do believe that the younger generation is waiting for the older generation to die off. The older generation is clinging to ethics that are so outdated and so far in the past that in order to progress we need to wait for them to relinquish their hold on it. In general the younger generation is more in tune, more accepting of people and their peers. Gay clubs are popping up in high schools in Utah. But the church tends to only change its doctrine when it hits them in the pocketbook or in their membership numbers. That is what happened in 1978 when they changed their policy and allowed black Mormons to have leadership positions. Up until 1978 the church was an officially racist organization. They were faced with an onslaught of bad PR. So in 1978 “God spoke” and the policy was rescinded. And they could go into Africa and preach their message.

What inspired you to make movies?

SG: I was always into films. All of Spielberg’s and Lucas’ films. I bought my first camera when I was 17, analog tape VHS. I would edit the movies in my camera. I’ve always been filming. I have an entire filing cabinet just filled with tapes, everything I’ve done and everywhere I’ve gone. It is who I am and I can’t imagine doing anything else. When I first got home from my Mormon mission in 2000 I saw my first two documentaries, “The Thin Blue Line” by Errol Morris and Michael Moore’s “Roger and Me.” Both of those films just blew my mind and I knew that was what I wanted to do. Then when I saw “Paradise Lost,” by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, that sealed the deal for me. I knew that the rest of my life would be making documentaries. I have some narrative scripts, but documentaries will always be my thing.

8 the mormon proposition.jpg

And you, David?

DM: Stephen was working on a news story about Prop 8 and that’s how we started working together. Most of the people in the film are members of Affirmation. We’ve been around for about 33 years. We represent gay and lesbian Mormons. We advocate on their behalf. We try to create safe spaces both within the church and outside the church for people. We try and build bridges of communication and end some of the damage done by the church. We started on the BYU campus. They all met under assumed names because at that time BYU security would send people into gay clubs. To this day, if they find out you are gay, you are not only expelled from the university but they erase your transcript. It is as if they never attended college as well. We’ve worked with the University of Utah and other schools to accept whatever documentation we can put together to restore credit. We have a website called Keep them and Love Them as part of our outreach. Within the church there are people who are supportive.

The most horrible thing I’ve had to do is sit with parents with their son’s brain splattered on the wall and try to help them make sense of all of this. It’s a horrible, horrible situation that the church puts these people in. No one wins on any of this.

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