No matter your political stripe, ethnicity, religion, or sexual proclivities, this one should concern you.
It’s the story of a family. Of a couple who have built an empire together, and whose concepts and innovation have almost single-handedly spurred the revitalization of a local economy and an entire community.
And their kids are pretty cute, too.
I’m talking, of course, about HGTV’s darling it-couple of the moment, Chip and Joanna Gaines, and of their wildly popular show “Fixer Upper” and the Magnolia empire behind it.
Their show, if you are unfamiliar with it, centers around showing prospective home buyers “the worst homes in the best neighborhoods” around Waco, Texas, before deciding on one crumbling property which they renovate and redesign on camera with a dramatic “reveal” at the episode’s end. The show is entertaining because while everything about reality tv is carefully scripted, the real star of their concept is their goofy, sweet, mutually respectful and supremely attractive marriage.
They like each other. They like each other a lot, it would appear, from the viewer’s perspective. And they like their children, and they like the life they’ve built together. There is friendly banter, there is teasing, there are eye rolls and sighs of exasperation, but there is no harsh cynicism. No passive aggression. No threats of divorce of ultimatums about behavior “or else.”
It’s just so refreshing.
The thing is, I think it’s as refreshing as it is because it’s real. I think they really do like each other as much as they play on TV. And it’s a beautiful witness to the joy of marriage.
Which is probably the precise reason they were targeted by a bigoted Buzzfeed writer with an anti-Christian axe to grind and a platform from which, she decided, was hers to lob grenades at unsuspecting victims from. Victims whose only crime, as far as I can decipher, is to hold a differing belief system from hers. And to hold it privately.
So basically tolerance in action.
The story gets a little weirder, though. Because the writer in question didn’t have a personal complaint about the Gainses themselves, but about the church they attend, and specifically about something their pastor preached in a sermon.
It’s pretty crazy what he said, though.
He said that God created men and women. And he quoted this radical text from antiquity called “the Book of Genesis.”
I know. Lock that guy up.
Here’s the thing. We live in a time of supposed plurality of beliefs, but some beliefs are more “free” than others. We give lip service to the concept of diversity, but the only diversity that is truly acceptable is narrowly defined and usually trending on Twitter.
Because the Gaines family attends a church that holds a biblical perspective on marriage (in line with the majority of Evangelical Christianity and the entire Roman Catholic Church, so not exactly a fringe-y minority), they are automatically cast as bigots. Excoriated for not vetting the guests on their show for their sexual behavior. Dragged into a career and life-altering witch hunt because a woman with a microphone can’t stand the idea that not everybody shares her belief system.
The Gaines family are probably hurting right now, but I very much doubt they are surprised. To be a Christian is to be a sign of contradiction in a confused and sometimes darkening world. And none of us are going to get out of it with our reputations or our egos intact. Which is a good thing. It really is!
What the Gaines family could use, however, from their fellow Christians is support. Vocal, enthusiastic support. Write a friendly message on one of their social media accounts (Unrelated: Chip retweeted Papa Francesco earlier this week.)Say a prayer for them. Drop HGTV an email saying how much you enjoy their show, or if you’ve never seen it, tune in for an episode this weekend and enjoy.
Hatred, bullying tactics and public lynchings are as old as the human race. In the era of the internet, the megaphone is bigger and the stakes are higher, perhaps, in terms of public notoriety and the heat being turned up, but in a week or two the news cycle with move on to a new victim, and they’ll be left to pick up the pieces and decide if it’s worth it to them as a family to continue to tell their story publicly.
I hope they do. But I completely understand if they don’t.
The stakes have ever been high to proclaim belief in anything, but particularly to proclaim belief in the One who made all things. Because the moment you stake your claim for Christ, you become an enemy to the world that “will hate you because it first hated Me.” We who dwell in reality, living in the world as it actually is, dwell in a place marred and scarred by actual sin. Sin, which in our time is a bigoted concept in itself (look for that storyline to play out in the not-so-distant future, coming soon to a headline near you) has actual consequences. Like pain. Division. Violence. Loss of friendships and reputation. Suffering.
But sin does not have the final word in this story. Not in the Gaineses story, and not necessarily in the angry Buzzfeed writer’s story, either. Wouldn’t it be a cool footnote in the annals of internet scandal one day to read that all this craziness ended in forgiveness and maybe even a change of heart?
Wilder things have happened.
In the meantime, do not be cowed into silence or surrender by the angry rhetoric or the public fallout being heaped upon this family. They are suffering, but they are suffering for Christ. And He can make something beautiful out of that. To be Christian is to suffer. Not because of a lack of love, but because of an abundance of it. Look to the cross.
And do not be afraid of what the world can do to you or take from you. The world took everything from Christ first, after all. And that ended rather well.
And seriously, pour yourself a peppermint mocha and get your shiplap on this weekend. A good family doing good work could use your support.
“When freedom does not have a purpose, when it does not wish to know anything about the rule of law engraved in the hearts of men and women, when it does not listen to the voice of conscience, it turns against humanity and society.” – JPII, State visit to Netherlands, 1985.