Mail Online: Phil Robertson has spoken out for the first time since his homophobic comments in a magazine interview went public and refused to go back on his controversial remarks, saying: ‘I will not give or back off from my path.’
The Duck Dynasty patriarch led a small Bible study group in his home town church in West Monroe, Louisiana on Sunday, granting MailOnline exclusive access.
And the deeply religious outdoorsman stood by his incendiary statements – which saw him call homosexuality a sin and led to his suspension from the hit reality show by network bosses at A&E.
During Sunday’s speech, he defended himself, saying he was simply quoting from the Bible and even went so far as to say Jesus could save gay people.
‘I love all men and women. I am a lover of humanity, not a hater,’ he added.
The 67-year-old has been slammed by gay rights groups since his interview in January’s issue of GQ magazine was made public last week.
He was quoted as saying: 'It seems like, to me, a vagina - as a man - would be more desirable than a man’s anus.
'That’s just me. I’m just thinking: There’s more there! She’s got more to offer. I mean, come on, dudes! You know what I’m saying? But hey, sin: It’s not logical, my man. It’s just not logical.'
But despite the criticism Robertson has faced, his family and local community have come to his defense and stood firmly behind him.
Just before Sunday’s Bible study class started, one church-goer actually thanked Robertson for his comments.
Robertson replied: ‘I didn’t think much of it at all, but it seems a lot of other people did’.
And at the end of the session he led a defiant prayer, which included the words, ‘I will not give or back off from my path because you conquered death, Father, so we are not worried about all the repercussions.’
Earlier he stood in front of the small class, at White's Ferry Road Church wearing his full camouflage suit and addressed the group for around 45 minutes.
He said: ‘I have been immoral, drunk, high. I ran with the wicked people for 28 years and I have run with the Jesus people since and the contrast is astounding.
‘I tell people, "You are a sinner, we all are. Do you want to hear my story before I give you the bottom line on your story?"
‘We murder each other and we steal from one another, sex and immorality goes ballistic. All the diseases that just so happen to follow sexual mischief… boy there are some microbes running around now.
‘Sexual sins are numerous and many, I have a few myself. So what is your safest course of action? If you’re a man, find yourself a woman, marry them and keep your sex right there.
‘You can have fun, but one thing is for sure, as long as you are both healthy in the first place, you are not going to catch some debilitating illness, there is safety there.
‘Commonsense says we are not going to procreate the human race unless we have a man and a woman. From the beginning Jesus said, "It is a man and a woman." Adam was made and Eve was made for this reason. They left their fathers and mothers and be united to become one flesh, that’s what marriage is all about.
‘But we looked at it and said it was an outdated stereotype. When you look back at the human race, the sins have always been the same: We get high, we get drunk, we get laid, we steal and kill.
‘Has this changed at all from the time God burnt up whole cities because their every thought was evil?’
‘I have made hundreds and hundreds of speeches and you can pick them apart and the center has always been Jesus Christ.
‘Do many people get up and walk out? Yeah, all the time, do I hold it against them? No. Anybody can get up and stop listening. We are all just humans on this planet.’
He added: ‘Jesus Christ was the most perfect being to ever walk this planet and he was persecuted and nailed to the cross, so please don’t be surprised when we get a little static.’
After his Bible study group, Robertson and his class went downstairs and joined the rest of the thousand-strong congregation for a church service. Robertson’s eldest son, Pastor Alan led the middle part of the proceedings and he made reference to the nationwide attention the family has been under.
‘Well we’ve had a quite a quiet week, shot some ducks, done some shopping, ignited a national controversy,' he said.
A&E was quick to react to that controversy, suspending Robertson on Thursday and releasing a statement saying: ‘We are extremely disappointed to have read Phil Robertson's comments in GQ, which are based on his own personal beliefs and are not reflected in the series Duck Dynasty. ‘His personal views in no way reflect those of A&E Networks, who have always been strong supporters and champions of the LGBT community.
The network has placed Phil under hiatus from filming indefinitely.’ But the family hit back on Friday with their own release.
They wrote: ‘While some of Phil’s unfiltered comments to the reporter were coarse, his beliefs are grounded in the teachings of the Bible. Phil is a godly man who follows what the Bible says are the greatest commandments: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Phil would never incite or encourage hate.
‘We are disappointed that Phil has been placed on hiatus for expressing his faith, which is his constitutionally protected right. We have had a successful working relationship with A&E but, as a family, we cannot imagine the show going forward without our patriarch at the helm. We are in discussions with A&E to see what that means for the future of Duck Dynasty.’
Yesterday Entertainment Weekly claimed that despite his suspension, Robertson will be back on the hugely popular show – which regularly pulls in 12 million viewers – when filming recommences in January.
They quoted a source saying: ‘The network also hopes the media and fan furor will cool down over the holidays and that tensions over shooting future episodes can then be resolved. There’s no negotiation to have; we’re doing the show.’
That will come as welcome news to the people of West Monroe and much of the country, who have leaped to Robertson’s defense and said he has the right to speak his mind.
Talking outside the Duck Commander store in downtown West Monroe on Friday, mother-of-two Kimberly Madrid from nearby Alexandria said: ‘We are Christians and we completely support Phil. This country has a proud history of freedom of speech and I believe Phil is the one who is being persecuted, because he has lost his job because of his religious beliefs.’
His return to the show may also appease sponsors and retailers, who have reacted nervously since his interview was made public. The Duck Dynasty brand is worth an estimated $400 million in merchandising.
Yesterday it was revealed one company, Cracker Barrel had dropped the Louisiana family. But after threats of a boycott they almost immediately reversed their decision, releasing a statement, saying:
‘You told us we made a mistake. And, you weren’t shy about it. You wrote, you called and you took to social media to express your thoughts and feelings. You flat out told us we were wrong. Today, we are putting all our Duck Dynasty products back in our stores. And, we apologize for offending you.’
LIVE Stream: Donald Trump Delivers Remarks in Gettysburg, PA 10/22/16