It’s been a rollercoaster of a week for Chip and Joanna Gaines, the reality TV couple who are the stars of HGTV’s popular home renovation series “Fixer Upper.”
The Gaineses made a name for themselves by helping clients buy and remodel homes. They’ve been praised for their on-screen charm and their talent in design. They haven’t used their show as a platform for spreading hateful messages about queer people.
So does it matter that the couple supposedly attended a church that touts so-called “traditional” Christian views on sexuality, believes homosexuality is a sin, and where the pastor actually promotes conversion therapy?
Yes, it matters. But the reason why goes much deeper than what the Gainses may or may not believe.
The controversy began after a Buzzfeed reporter tried and failed to get a definitive answer from the couple about their personal stance on same-sex relationships. Instead, the publication made claims based on old sermons and statements from the couple’s church, Antioch Community Church and its pastor, Jimmy Seibert. Like many conservative evangelical churches, Texas-based Antioch promotes the view that same-sex marriage is un-Biblical and that people can choose to walk away from the “homosexual lifestyle,” according to a sermon from 2015.
Anti-gay views have gotten at least one HGTV show canceled in recent years. In the wake of Buzzfeed’s claims, HGTV told The Huffington Post on Thursday: “We don’t discriminate against members of the LGBT community in any of our shows.”
The article provoked criticism from conservatives who accused Buzzfeed of promoting a “witch hunt” against Christians. Given the outlet’s failure to get a clear answer from the Gainses before publishing the piece, conservative Christians weren’t alone in their disapproval. Some called the post “dangerous” for reinforcing the chasm between liberal media and President-elect Donald Trump’s conservative supporters.
The problem with this particular article, and the reactions it provoked across the political and religious affiliations, is that both distract from issues that are very real and present for America’s queer community.
When the media focus too narrowly on an individual’s (or their pastor’s) religious belief, it gives fuel to the conservative Christian claim that American Christians are being targeted and even persecuted for their religion. Two days after Buzzfeed’s article was published, the Gaineses’ pastor Jimmy Seibert called on Christians to “stand together in the face of adversity.”
“When I have a biblical conviction about my lifestyle choices or how I should run my business or how I should run my home, we should be free to do that – to lovingly express our views to the world around us,” Seibert said in an interview with conservative pundit Todd Starnes.
But beliefs aren’t the problem. We don’t need to agree on theology. It’s how these beliefs are acted upon and in the long run, how they make other people vulnerable to discrimination, that matters.
It’s not that the Gaineses and their church shouldn’t be free to believe what they want about God and God’s will for marriage and relationships. Freedom of belief is an essential part of our democracy; there’s a diversity of belief within the Christian church itself. The way Christians have interpreted what the Bible has to say about sex has changed over the past 2,000 years, and it will continue to change.
While there are churches that preach against same-sex marriage, there are many denominations ready to welcome LGBTQ couples and their families into their congregations. What makes conservative Christians’ morality more just, true, or valuable than the morality of a happily married queer person? Power.
It’s one thing to personally believe that homosexuality is a sin. It’s completely different when that theology is used to justify laws and policies that take away other people’s civil rights.
People of faith should be able to interpret scripture in whatever way makes sense to them and to bring these views into the public forum. But American Christians also have to realize, as the religious majority in this country, that their beliefs, their churches, and their votes are not just personal. They have the power to influence policy and the lives of people who don’t subscribe to their beliefs.
“It’s one thing to personally believe that homosexuality is a sin. It’s completely different when that theology is used to justify laws and policies that take away other people’s civil rights.”
I was raised in a very conservative Christian church. I still have plenty of Christian friends and family who oppose same-sex marriage, who don’t think LGBTQ people deserve one of the very first gifts that God gave to humans in the Bible ― a helper, a suitable partner, to grow old with and raise a family with.
When I get into a conversation with them about this, they take offense at the idea that it is bigoted to believe in what they call “traditional” marriage. Their responses can be summed up like this ― “We love the sinner, but hate the sin.” Meaning, they say they love and welcome LGBTQ people, but they believe being in a same-sex relationships is a sin. And if that’s a tough and unpopular teaching, well, the Bible never said being a Christian would be easy.
The problem is that many conservative Christians don’t see how their beliefs, even on an individual level, can have a negative impact on queer people’s lives. They don’t make that connection ― or they just don’t care, because it doesn’t affect them personally.
But it’s way past time to start looking at the fruit of this kind of theology.
On a personal level, not everyone is called to celibacy. For those people, this theology leads to a life devoid of the joy and hope that straight people take for granted.
On a national level, we’ve just elected a president who has surrounded himself with advisors, cabinet members, and a vice-president who are virulently anti-gay, and ready to use their Christian faith to roll back years of progress our country has made.
Conservative religious beliefs are used to undermine queer people’s right to marry. But marriage isn’t the only right at stake. We’re talking about the Bible being used to support discrimination in the workplace and to deny LGBT workers just compensation and benefits. It’s theology being used to remove federal recommendations that ensure that transgender students are treated with dignity.
This is about Christians quoting the Golden Rule but not caring that gay and lesbian parents are worried that their parental rights to children could be in jeopardy. It’s about people lifting up the Good Samaritan but trying to protect parents who want to submit their gay and transgender children to psychological abuse in the form of conversion therapy.
There is nothing loving about a theology that allows people to suffer in this way.
“There is nothing loving about a theology that allows people to suffer in this way.”
So does it matter that the Gainses attend an evangelical church that preaches against the way that queer people find love? Yes, it does. And it matters for every other conservative evangelical in America. Especially now.
Evangelicals helped put Trump in the White House. And over the next four years, they face a reckoning. They need to ask themselves ― what are you saying with your church attendance? What will you tell the young gay or lesbian teenager in your church who just heard the pastor condemn queer love? Do you recognize the toxic fruit that conservative Christian theology has produced in the lives of queer people? Do you see how scared they are right now? Are you speaking up for the oppressed? Will you stay silent?
Do you care?