Phil Robertson's family members and co-stars of A&E's hit reality series "Duck Dynasty" say they "cannot imagine the show going forward" without him, following his suspension over anti-gay remarks he made in a GQ magazine interview.
Meanwhile, many are expressing their support online for the 67-year-old Louisiana family patriarch, who said he believes homosexuality is "sinful," and disapproval of the cable network's decision on Wednesday to put him on an indefinite "hiatus from filming" the series, one of the most popular shows on television, whose fifth season is set to air on January 2014. Others echo the sentiment of the gay rights group GLAAD, which called his remarks vile, hours before his suspension.
"The family has spent much time in prayer since learning of A&E's decision. We want you to know that first and foremost we are a family rooted in our faith in God and our belief that the Bible is His word," Robertson's family said in a statement on the duckcommander.com website, named after the multi-million dollar business the patriarch founded and the trademarked duck call device they sell and use on the show for hunting.
"While some of Phil's unfiltered comments to the reporter were coarse, his beliefs are grounded in the teachings of the Bible," they said. "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," they added. "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.' Again, thank you for your continued support of our family."
Following Robertson's suspension, an online petition titled "IStandWithPhil" was launched and has so far garnered more than 118,000 signatures. It states Robertson's comments "are simply reflective of a Biblical view of sexuality, marriage, and family" and calls on A&E Network to reinstate him after subjecting him to "intolerant, discriminatory, and punitive treatment."
Also, a fan-created Facebook page called "Boycott A&E Until Phil Robertson Is Put Back On 'Duck Dynasty'" has more than 1.46 million "likes" and on Twitter, the phrases "Phil Robertson" and "A&E" and the hashtags #IStandWithPhill, #DuckDynasty and #PhilRobertson have become trending topics over the past few days.