(CNSNews.com) -- The A&E cable channel announced today that it had ended its suspension of Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson over remarks he made earlier this month about how homosexual behavior is unnatural and sinful.
The suspension of Robertson from future appearances in the hugely popular Duck Dynasty reality-TV show on Dec. 18 had sparked a widespread backlash against the cable network.
A&E's suspension of the self-described "Bible-thumpin'" Robertson also ignited a national debate over free speech and religious beliefs, and threatened the bottom line: Duck Dynasty is the most popular reality-TV program in cable history with an average 12 million viewers per episode.
In a Dec. 27 statement to The Hollywood Reporter, A&E said, "As a global media content company, A&E Networks' core values are centered around creativity, inclusion and mutual respect. We believe it is a privilege for our brands to be invited into people’s home and we operate with a strong sense of integrity and deep commitment to these principals.
"That is why we reacted so quickly and strongly to a recent interview with Phil Robertson. While Phil’s comments made in the interview reflect his personal views based on his own beliefs, and his own personal journey, he and his family have publicly stated they regret the 'coarse language' he used and the mis-interpretation of his core beliefs based only on the article. He also made it clear he would 'never incite or encourage hate.' We at A&E Networks expressed our disappointment with his statements in the article, and reiterate that they are not views we hold.
"But Duck Dynasty is not a show about one man's views. It resonates with a large audience because it is a show about family … a family that America has come to love. As you might have seen in many episodes, they come together to reflect and pray for unity, tolerance and forgiveness. These are three values that we at A&E Networks also feel strongly about.
"So, after discussions with the Robertson family, as well as consulting with numerous advocacy groups, A&E has decided to resume filming Duck Dynasty later this spring with the entire Robertson family.
"We will also use this moment to launch a national public service campaign (PSA) promoting unity, tolerance and acceptance among all people, a message that supports our core values as a company, and the values found in Duck Dynasty. These PSAs will air across our entire portfolio."
In an interview for the January edition of GQ magazine, released earlier this month, Duck Dynasty's Phil Robertson said, “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.”
Robertson was also asked in the interview, “What in your mind, is sinful?” and he said, “Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men.” Robertson then paraphrased Corinthians (I,6:9-10), “Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers—they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right.”
After Robertson's comments were picked up by other media, gay activists complained to A&E, as did many liberal commentators and left-wing political activists. A&E moved swiftly and announced, on Dec. 18, "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," said the cable channel. "The network has placed Phil under hiatus from filming indefinitely."
The new season of Duck Dynasty, season five, is scheduled to premiere on Jan. 15, 2014.