Media reports criticizing HGTV personalities Chip and Joanna Gaines for attending a church whose pastor believes homosexuality is a sin have drawn criticism from Southern Baptist commentators as illogical and "unbecoming of the term 'news.'"
The Gaines, who star in HGTV's popular series "Fixer Upper," were the subjects of a Nov. 29 article on the news and entertainment website BuzzFeed that classified their pastor and Waco, Texas, church as holding a "severe, unmoving position ... on same-sex marriage."
BuzzFeed writer Kate Aurthur wrote that she asked both HGTV and the Gaines' design, construction and retail company Magnolia whether the couple "would ever feature a same-sex couple" on their show, which depicts the Gaines as they help clients purchase and remodel homes.
"In the absence of a response," Aurthur wrote, "it's worth looking at" the beliefs of Antioch Community Church—a nondenominational evangelical congregation—and Pastor Jimmy Seibert because "fans of all stripes," including Christians, feminists and members of the homosexual community, "have ... found something to love in the Gaineses."
The fashion magazine Cosmopolitan followed up with a Nov. 30 article stating BuzzFeed had "uncovered something many fans will likely want an explanation for."
Criticism of the BuzzFeed article has emerged from traditionally conservative news outlets like Fox News and The Federalist as well as from openly homosexual Washington Post op-ed writer Brandon Ambrosino, who argued social conservatives should not be "shamed," "mocked" or "fired" for their views.
BuzzFeed reported today (Dec. 1) that a spokesperson from HGTV said in an email, "We don't discriminate against members of the LGBT community in any of our shows. HGTV is proud to have a crystal clear, consistent record of including people from all walks of life in its series."
Jared Wellman, Texas pastor and member of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee, told Baptist Press "the liberal logic, or lack thereof, behind [the BuzzFeed] article is not new."
"We've seen this play out before with shows like 'Duck Dynasty,'" Wellman said in written comments. "A show based on conservative Christian beliefs becomes wildly popular, and then the liberal media becomes shocked when they learn that the conservative Christians in the show hold to conservative Christian values."
Among the beliefs of Antioch Church highlighted by BuzzFeed is a sentence in the congregation's doctrinal statement asserting, "Marriage is the uniting of one man and one woman in covenant commitment for a lifetime." The article also noted Seibert's claims in a sermon that "homosexuality is a sin" and that "God is able to give us power over every sin, including homosexuality."
BuzzFeed quoted Seibert as urging compassion for individuals living a homosexual lifestyle because, among other reasons, "the statistics say that 90 percent of people who are in a full-blown homosexual lifestyle were abused in some way." The original source of the 90-percent statistic was not noted.
Seibert told Fox News Antioch is "not only not anti-gay, but we are pro-helping people in their journey to find out who God is and who He has made them to be."
The sermon quoted by BuzzFeed, Seibert said, was aimed largely at "the confused middle—the majority of America."
"People don't know what the Bible says anymore on issues of sexuality," Seibert said. "People don't know what God says on homosexuality or any other issue. I felt the need to say we are all a mess—but the fixed points were set by God—not us."
Neither Chip nor Joanna Gaines has mentioned the articles or subsequent internet controversy in their Twitter feeds. However, Chip Gaines tweeted today, "Even as all hell 'appears' to be breaking loose, all I have to do is look at my four precious babies sleeping, or kiss Jo good morning, and at least at that moment, at my house, all is right with the world."
He also tweeted 1 Corinthians 16:13-14 without noting the reference and with the final phrase in all caps, "Be on our guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. DO EVERYTHING IN LOVE."
Wellman, pastor of Mission Dorado Baptist Church in Odessa, Texas, critiqued the BuzzFeed article for wrongly assuming "that because the Gaines have followers who are not Christians, it will be devastating" to those followers if the HGTV stars "oppose [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender] views."
"According to this logic" Wellman said, Christians "who watch 'House Hunters' or 'Property Brothers,' two HGTV shows which have included same-sex couples, can express the same shock and outrage for not holding to conservative Christian beliefs. It's not shocking that these two shows—which are not based on conservative Christian values—include liberal, non-Christian values, but we don't expect these shows to abide by our Christian values.
"We can choose to watch them or not watch them based on our own personal values," Wellman said. "Why can't the same be true for 'Fixer Upper'?"
While church members do not necessarily "agree with everything the pastor teaches," Wellman noted, it is reasonable to draw a connection between the beliefs of a pastor and the beliefs of church members.
Typically, "we join a church because we agree with its beliefs," Wellman said.
Gary Ledbetter, editor of the Southern Baptist TEXAN newsjournal, told BP "it is beyond the broadest understanding of investigative journalism to hound private businesses from the public square because of their religious beliefs. If that is not BuzzFeed's intent here, I can't imagine why this is a story. "
The "I'll get to the bottom of this" tone of BuzzFeed's article "was silly and unbecoming of the term 'news,'" Ledbetter said in written comments.
"The Gaines' program is harmless, wholesome and completely non-political," Ledbetter said. "The 'Fixer Upper' show and the retail empire the Gaines are building are also very popular. That's the rub, I think. Is it allowable for a celebrity or successful business leader to disagree with the junk-science consensus of other celebrities?"
Ledbetter speculated that "the Gaines have a battle ahead of them."
"I think people in central Texas and way beyond will still love them and buy their products," Ledbetter said, "but I'd be pleasantly surprised if HGTV has their back."
David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news service. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists' concerns nationally and globally.