A sign in West Monroe, La., supports Phil Robertson after he was suspended from the reality TV show 'Duck Dynasty' following remarks about gays and race relations in an interview with GQ magazine.
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A sign in West Monroe, La., supports Phil Robertson after he was suspended from the reality TV show 'Duck Dynasty' following remarks about gays and race relations in an interview with GQ magazine.

Star's views resonate in church, city

By Tamara Lush

The Associated Press

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WEST MONROE, La. – “Faith. Family. Ducks.” It’s the unofficial motto for the family featured in the TV reality show “Duck Dynasty” and that philosophy permeates nearly everything in this small northern Louisiana town.

It’s perhaps most on display at the White’s Ferry Road Church of Christ, where the Robertson family prays and preaches most Sunday mornings.

The family’s members – including patriarch Phil Robertson, who recently ignited a controversy when he told a GQ magazine reporter that gays are sinners and blacks were happy under Jim Crow laws – were in a front pew Sunday and standing by beliefs they said are deeply rooted in their reading of the Bible.

The rest of the congregation, many decked out in “Duck Dynasty” hats and bandannas, stood by the family and the sentiments Phil Robertson expressed.

Alan Robertson’s eldest son, helped deliver a Christmas-themed sermon. He started off by referring to the controversy.

“Hope your week went well,” he dead-panned. “Ours was kinda’ slow.”

He was referring, of course, to his father’s forced hiatus: TV network A&E suspended the elder Robertson after the remarks caused a public uproar.

But the controversy barely resonated above the choir at White’s Ferry Road Church, where some people wore T-shirts that said “I support Phil Robertson.” Son Willie – the CEO of the multimillion dollar Duck Commander duck call and decoy enterprise that inspired the reality show – put on camouflage waders and baptized three people, including one man with cancer.

“Who’s going to be the lord of your life?” he asked, before dipping the man back into the baptismal pool at the front of the church.

To the people of West Monroe, this is the Robertson family: honest, family focused and filled with the love of God and Jesus. It’s the family that brought the spotlight to West Monroe, population 13,000, and in doing so put in sharp relief the cultural, political and religious differences that define – and often divide – the United States.

People here don’t care that Phil Robertson told the reporter that gays are sinners who are going to hell. Or that as a youth he picked cotton with blacks and never saw “the mistreatment of any black person. Not once.”

They do care that A&E suspended him. The move, they said, was unfair and an affront to viewers, to the Robertsons and to Christians everywhere.

“The program and his comments take a snapshot, and it doesn’t represent the totality of what the guy is all about,” said Richard Laban, the owner of Redneck Roots, a downtown West Monroe store that sells some ‘Duck Dynasty’ T-shirts and souvenirs. “A&E reacted entirely too quickly. They really treated Phil as if he was a terrorist.”

With its lakes and rolling hills and pine forests, West Monroe in northern Louisiana is Duck Country USA, a place where Robertson and his four sons built an empire on duck calls and decoys before becoming wildly popular TV stars.

Politicians have taken a stand on the controversy. Sarah Palin posted a picture on her Facebook page of her with the reality show clan with the message, “Free Speech is an endangered species.” Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal also lamented the suspension.

Even Louisiana state Rep. Marcus Hunter – a black Democrat who represents West Monroe – issued a statement saying, “The faith and family structure exhibited by the Robertsons on the hit A&E show is part of the allure which makes it so special.”

Hunter did say he would like to “enlighten” Robertson about the “challenges and triumphs of black people during and after Jim Crow.”

To be sure, not everyone here agrees with the Robertsons.

John Denison, a former Monroe TV personality who is gay and the head of Forum for Equality, a group that advocates for the equality of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights, said he’s appalled by Robertson’s remarks.

“I want Phil Robertson and the world to know that what he said hurt me and many people here in our state,” said Denison, who wrote an open letter to Robertson, asking him to dinner to discuss “not what separates us but what brings us together.”

Denison said Robertson’s beliefs do not resonate with everyone in Louisiana.

“I’m a Christian,” Denison said. “No one wants to talk about my Christ, they only want to talk about their brand.”

The Rev. Welton Gaddy, who preaches at the Northminster Baptist Church in Monroe and is the president of a national group called the Interfaith Alliance, said it saddens him to think that people would assume all Louisiana residents think the same as Robertson about gays and blacks.

“There are some of us who are working hard every day for justice for everybody in this nation, for equality for everybody in this nation, and we don’t appreciate people tearing that down,” Gaddy said. “If Robertson wants to do that as an entertainer, go to it. But to do that in the name of religion crosses the line.”

But like many people across the United States who enjoy the show, Robertson’s fans in West Monroe see something genuine about the reality TV family and believe he speaks his brand of the truth. Even though it’s a program about a group of wealthy business owners who hunt and fish, people said it accurately reflects life here, as well as its Christian and American foundations.

When outsiders in New York or Hollywood make fun of the show – or worse, criticize Robertson for his beliefs – it’s like part of the country is criticizing the essence of West Monroe. To the people here, it’s just proof that a segment of the nation doesn’t understand the rural, conservative, Christian part of this country.

They – the Northerners, the liberals, the non-Christians – don’t get us, some residents said. Ironically, those Northerners are the ones who put West Monroe on the map in the first place by producing “Duck Dynasty” for television.

Marilyn Lovett of West Monroe shrugs off the criticism. The “ducks,” as she calls them, reflect her and her people.

“Wholesome values,” she said. “The fact that they pray after every dadgum meal. I just think it’s wonderful. I wish there was more people like them.”

When asked about what people elsewhere in the country thought when they read Robertson’s comments in GQ, she shrugged.

“I don’t really care,” she said. “They sure as hell don’t care about what we think down here.”

“Duck Dynasty,” which is one of the more-watched reality shows ever, is the area’s biggest tourist draw. The Robertsons not only own a large gift store and warehouse where they sell everything from branded body wash to “Bearded Blend” coffee to a camouflage recliner, but they have opened Willie’s Duck Diner and a women’s boutique called Duck and Dressing.

There are self-guided tour maps, so fans can visit places seen on the show – the church, hardware store and doughnut shop are on the tour – and people said that West Monroe, and the Robertsons, are popular because it’s all a throwback to small-town America.

“I’ve known Phil for 30 years,” said Mike Walsworth, the owner of the Gingerbread Shop, an antique and gift shop. “He hasn’t changed for 30 years.”

Comments

Bigotry is Bigotry

I suppose we can put ol’ Phil up on a cross now and stick a spear in him since he’s the new martyr for the Christian Right. Last year, it was the Chick-Fil-A Chicken being branded as the new saint of Christianity for standing up for all that is Holy Matrimony in the eyes of the Church. These folks want to be on the wrong side of history with their public criticism of homosexuality but cry fowl (pardon the pun) when their own bigotry is examined in a public light. Phil’s licking his fingers at http://dregstudiosart.blogspot.com/2012/08/holy-rollin-poultry-on-cross-chick-fil.html

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