8 reasons why suspending Phil Robertson is an overreaction
1. He didn't seek to insult anyone
The calm and considered belief that homosexuality is sinful is very different from the immature and foolish belief that homosexuals are "gross", "icky", "sick" or any one of a number of childhood forms of insult. He didn't single a specific person out, nor did he suggest that homosexual individuals as a whole have something wrong with them. He simply described his view of homosexuality. Although some could find his view offensive, it is equally possible that someone could find the opposite view offensive. Axing someone for having a reasonable view is a mistake.
2. He doesn't hate anyone
Wilson Cruz of the Gay And Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation said "such hateful anti-gay comments are unacceptable". But did Mr Robertson really say that he hated a single gay person? Are his comments really hateful? He described sin as "illogical" and said that he couldn't understand why someone would want to experience anal intercourse. "It seems like, to me, a vagina—as a man—would be more desirable than a man's anus," Robertson said. His comments are crude but he did not express specific animosity towards those who do such things.
In terms of a comparable example, when Jesus dealt with the adulterous woman in John chapter 8, at no point did he deny the sinfulness of what she had done. Yet he could not in any way be described as hating her.
3. He didn't encourage others to follow his example
During the interview with GQ magazine, Mr Robertson gave his views an important qualification. When talking about his preference for vaginal rather than anal intercourse, he concluded with "That's just me". This is an important point. He is only expressing his beliefs, not demanding that all others do the same. A&E don't seem to have appreciated the difference between expressing a view verses preaching a view. Someone saying "I don't like coffee" is very different from saying "Coffee is so evil no one should ever drink it again".
This is an important understanding about Christianity that both Christians and non-Christians need to better comprehend. Christians accept that they have no grounds upon which to expect non-Christians not to sin. One issue of the webcomic Adam4d explains this very neatly. He gives an example of a man who has somehow miraculously survived 4th stage cancer and a terminal diagnosis. When asked by a reporter what he plans to do next, the survivor says. "I plan to visit current cancer patients to tell them to stop losing weight and growing tumours and stuff. Very unbecoming." Christians shouldn't expect people to change without receiving the resources to change, in the form of Jesus.
4. He didn't make the comments on their programme
It would be one thing for A&E to say that they would like to ban Mr Robertson after he made statements to this effect on their programme, but he didn't. He expressed the views outside of the show, in an interview with a magazine not associated with the network.
To fire someone for expressing a view outside their workplace does seem dangerous. It sets a precedent that someone's entire life is somehow impactful on their job. Politicians often rightly complain that it is seedy and unsophisticated when the media focus on their private life as opposed to their work serving the country.
The fact is, unless the one affects the other, it should not be a factor in us judging them. While it is apt to criticise the hypocrisy of a politician who called for a return to family values who then is found to be soliciting a prostitute, Mr Robertson can hardly be seen to be a hypocrite in this scenario.
5. He has been misquoted
It has been widely reported that Mr Robertson equated same-sex relationships to bestiality. However, that is not what Robertson actually said.
It is true that he said they are both sins, but that is not the same thing as comparing or equating them. Murder and lust are both sins, but no one would say they are equal in other ways. What Robertson said was that he believed homosexuality can morph into bestiality. But again, that isn't the same thing as comparing or equating them. Milk can 'morph' into yogurt, but it would be wrong to say that milk and yogurt are the same thing.
It has also been claimed that he compared homosexuals to terrorists, but again, he just stated that he believed both to be sin. Not that both were the same. The statement 'murder and jaywalking are both crimes in the USA' does not imply they are of equal moral damage.
To quote Mr Robertson directly: "We never, ever judge someone on who's going to heaven, hell. That's the Almighty's job. We just love 'em, give 'em the good news about Jesus—whether they're homosexuals, drunks, terrorists. We let God sort 'em out later, you see what I'm saying?"
6. He did not encourage any criminal activity
It is an apt freedom of speech limitation that those who call for violence or any other criminal activity against anyone else can be arrested. But that isn't what Mr Robertson did. And while he was not arrested, suspending him for something which is not a crime seems exceptionally heavy handed.
7. A&E must have known what kind of views he had
Mr Robertson's personality, political inclinations, likes, dislikes, and overall style of living should be fairly clear to anyone who spends even a moderately small amount of time either directly in his company, or watching the programme in question as the whole family have spoken openly about their Christian faith. The people at A&E did not seriously expect Mr Robertson to be a champion for the cause of gay marriage did they? To have fired him on the basis of something they almost certainly knew about him to begin with seems an immensely absurd thing to do. A&E might disagree with Mr Robertson's views, but that should have been a consideration from the moment they hired him.
8. He paraphrased the Bible
Large parts of what Mr Robertson said on this matter are paraphrasings of Paul's writings in 1 Corinthians 6. Although it is true that A&E appears to be reacting to the other parts of his comments, we appear to be moving in a direction were simply quoting the Bible and offering an opinion on it can be grounds for dismissal, regardless of whether or not you advocate acting on that opinion in any way. We are further marching into the territory where it is apparently not okay to even tolerate dissenting view, and where they cannot be met with legal sanction, they are met with economic and social ones instead.