WEST MONROE, La. – Faith. Family. Ducks. Its the unofficial motto for the family featured in the TV reality show Duck Dynasty and that homespun philosophy permeates nearly everything in this small north Louisiana town.
Its perhaps most on display at the Whites Ferry Road Church of Christ in West Monroe, where the Robertson family prays and preaches most Sunday mornings.
The family – including patriarch Phil Robertson, who ignited a controversy last week when he told a magazine reporter that gays are sinners and blacks were happy under Jim Crow laws – were in a front pew this Sunday. And standing by beliefs they say are deeply rooted in their reading of the Bible.
The rest of the flock, decked out in Duck Dynasty hats and bandannas, stood by the family and the sentiments Phil Robertson expressed.
Alan, Robertsons eldest son, helped deliver a Christmas-themed sermon. He started off by referring to last weeks controversy.
Hope your week went well, he deadpanned. Ours was kinda slow.
He was referring, of course, to Phils forced hiatus: TV network A&E suspended Phil last week after remarks about blacks and gays caused a public uproar.
But the controversy barely resonated above the choir at Whites 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 reality show producers to give the family a show – put on camouflage wader overalls and baptized three people, including one man with cancer.
Whos 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. Its 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 – America.
Folks here dont care that Phil Robertson told a GQ reporter that gays are sinners who are going to hell. Or that as a youth he picked cotton with African-Americans and never saw the mistreatment of any black person. Not once.
They do care that A&E suspended Phil. The move, they say, was unfair and an affront to viewers, to the Robertsons and to Christians everywhere.
The program and his comments take a snapshot and it doesnt 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, added Laban. They really treated Phil as if he was a terrorist.
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 hes appalled by Robertsons 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.
But like many other people across America who enjoy the show, Robertsons fans here in West Monroe see something genuine about the reality TV family and believe he speaks his brand of the truth. Even though its a program about a group of wealthy business owners who hunt and fish, people say it accurately reflects life here, as well as its Christian and American foundations.
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 its wonderful. I wish there was more people like them.
When asked about what people elsewhere in America thought when they read Robertsons comments in GQ, she shrugged.
I dont really care, she said. They sure as hell dont care about what we think down here.