Religious liberty needs a fixer upper

December 1, 2016

When it comes to religious liberty, America is in need of a “Fixer Upper.” The erupting controversy over Chip and Joanna Gaines reveals that religious freedom is as polarizing as ever.

Earlier this week, both Buzzfeed and Cosmopolitan published articles highlighting comments on homosexuality made by Jimmy Seibert, the pastor of Antioch Community Church, which Chip and Joanna attend. Seibert and the church he pastors affirm traditional Christian beliefs about marriage and sexuality. Shocked that these beloved celebrities would belong to a church with such beliefs, both authors began an inquisition. The articles demanded Chip and Joanna speak out about their beliefs on homosexuality. And this ignited a firestorm. Since Tuesday, the Gainses have been further criticized in articles and on social media while others have criticized both the articles and these attacks.

This particular religious liberty flap is personal to many people, including me. I was born and raised in Texas. I have friends who grew up in Waco who cannot fathom how the show Fixer Upper has turned this quaint central Texas city into a tourist destination. I even know a number of friends who take longer routes to travel across Texas, just so they can visit the Magnolia Market and see the silos.

Even though I would not consider myself an enthusiast for shows like Fixer Upper, I have seen the playbook the left is using to malign this couple before. Those who expect the culture to affirm the redefinition of marriage went after Brendan Eich until it cost him his job as CEO of a major tech company. Chick-fil-A spent months under siege for comments made by its CFO affirming a traditional view of marriage. Hobby Lobby faced years of scrutiny for their refusal to surrender to the sexual revolution by offering abortifacient contraceptives that violated its owner’s consciences. Countless other examples proving the left’s culture war aggression could be offered.

This situation with Fixer Upper reveals several common threads about religious liberty that every Christian must understand.

First, religious liberty controversies often emerge in a battle between religious freedom and sexual freedom. The reason that sexuality is often pitted against religious liberty is that, for many, sexual freedom is itself like a religion. The culture teaches that you are your sexual identity. So, it should not be surprising that religious liberty earthquakes often happen along the fault line of sexuality. What is surprising in this instance with Fixer Upper is that some, even within the LGBT community, are pushing back on Buzzfeed because they don’t agree with how they have harassed Chip and Joanna Gaines.

Second, religious liberty controversies often involve reluctant culture warriors. The left is often the culprit for controversies surrounding religious liberty, making non-culture warriors like the Gainses the victim in these scenarios. Chip and Joanna Gaines were not seeking the spotlight at the center of a cultural controversy. Instead, from the people I know that work with them, they are simply trying to be faithful in the midst of the amazing opportunity God has given them. It’s frustrating for many Christians to see this couple they watch every week unwillingly thrust into the culture war. When Christians see a beloved celebrity couple needlessly criticized for holding to a biblical view of marriage, many feel as though they are being attacked themselves. If Chip and Joanna Gaines aren’t safe from the culture war, who is?

Third, religious liberty controversies often breed further skepticism and polarization. The Fixer Upper flap shows that, when it comes to issues of sexuality, the left has moved beyond disagreement to disdain for those who do not conform to their views. When controversies like this one emerge, it takes the embers of polarization remaining from the election season and reignites the flame. How can we restore unity in our country or protect our first freedom when polarizing episodes like this continue to occur and breed further skepticism of the media?

Fourth, religious liberty controversies reveal the centrality of the local church for equipping people to understand biblical views on explosive topics. Evangelical churches must provide their churches, not only with a biblical view of marriage and sexuality, but also a proper understanding of religious liberty. Furthermore, they must instill in Christians the courage to stand for their convictions ,even when it costs them something in the culture. In the case of the Fixer Upper controversy, a video of Antioch Community Church’s pastor defending a biblical view of marriage sparked a controversy the church probably didn’t anticipate. The same thing could happen in your community. How are our churches equipping their people to stand firm in the midst of cultural headwinds?

Even if you’ve never seen Fixer Upper, the premise of the show is simple to understand. A couple owns a fixer upper—an outdated house in need of repair. Chip and Joanna Gaines come in and help them identify problems and then develop cost-effective solutions. Rather than give up on the home through a demolition, they give it new life through a renovation.

When it comes to religious liberty, the left wants a demolition; but what it needs is a renovation. Christians must champion religious liberty for all in a winsome and compelling way that learns from the common threads that emerge in controversies like this one. Some people think religious liberty is outdated and unable to be fixed. Let’s hope this latest episode in the culture war brings us to a renewed perspective on religious freedom, because religious liberty needs a “Fixer Upper.”

Phillip Bethancourt

Phillip Bethancourt is Senior Pastor of Central Church in College Station, Texas. Before he was called to pastor Central, he served as the Executive Vice President of the ERLC team. He completed an MDiv and PhD in Systematic Theology at Southern after attending Texas A&M University. Phillip and his wife, Cami, have been married since 2005, … Read More