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Neighbors Growing Together | Jan 23, 2017

Gaining a little perspective on religious freedom

By Bryce Kelly | Dec 30, 2016

Thanks to my sister’s obsession with home renovation and design, I have come to be a frequent viewer of the cable television channel, HGTV. So, when my favorite HGTV show hosts, Chip and Joanna Gaines, recently came under major mainstream media scrutiny, I was just as interested as many HGTV fans on what this fun-loving couple was up to.

Hosts of the HGTV mega hit show, “Fixer Upper”, Chip and Joanna are the owners of Magnolia Homes, a company that takes old homes in Waco, Texas, and artfully restores them for Texan families living in and around Waco. Parents of several young children, Chip and Joanna are, in the most simplistic description, small business owners who have worked hard to grow a profitable business that they are passionate about.

Recently, however, the Gaines family has come under a firestorm of criticism for something that, in truth, I believe undermines the founding principles of American religious freedom. Buzzfeed reporter, Kate Aurthur, recently wrote a piece on the couple and their church, which I believe attempted to defame the couple for their church’s stance on marriage. According to the church’s doctrine, “marriage is the uniting of one man and one woman in covenant commitment for a lifetime”.

Now that the dust has settled some and HGTV has commented on the article, I want to throw my two cents into the ring.

First of all, let’s be clear about one thing. Antioch Community Church, the church that the Gaines family attends, has the right to take whatever religious stance they want on marriage. If a U.S. church’s doctrine says it will only perform marriages between one man and one woman because of religious beliefs, then that church has the right to function in that way. If a church wants to form their doctrine to allow same-sex marriage ceremonies to be performed by pastors within their church, well then, that’s their religious right, too.

According to the Buzzfeed article, “… Antioch Community Church is a nondenominational, evangelical, mission-based megachurch. And their pastor, Jimmy Seibert, who described the Gaineses as ‘dear friends’ in a recent video, takes a hard line against same-sex marriage…”

After reading her article, my overall question is: So what? Why does Aurthur feel the need to criticize or question the beliefs of Antioch Community Church, and what purpose does her article serve other than to challenge a church’s right to freedom of religion? The church and its lead pastor have stated their views on what they believe are a part of a Biblical marriage, as is their right. To take it a step further, who’s to say that the Gaines family share their church’s exact beliefs on marriage, or a plethora of other topics for that matter?

Through her article, I felt Aurthur tries to infer that Chip and Joanna might be against gay marriage, and by a greater extent, might somehow be against servicing those who are in a same-sex relationship at their business without any facts from the couple themselves to back up her assumptions. At one point in her article, she states:

“…So are the Gaineses against same-sex marriage? And would they ever feature a same-sex couple on the show, as have HGTV’s ‘House Hunters’ and ‘Property Brothers’? Emails to Brock Murphy, the public relations director at their company, Magnolia, were not returned. HGTV’s PR department did not respond to initial emails and calls.”

Two days after this story was published, however, HGTV did release the following statement: “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.”

Over the course of the past four seasons of HGTV’s “Fixer Upper”, Chip and Joanna have helped remodel homes for single parents, blended families, single adults, biracial families, elderly couples, families who have adopted children, and families of different cultural backgrounds and religious belief systems. And if you have ever watched multiple episodes of their show, it’s not hard to see that no matter whom they are working with, Chip and Joanna treat each one of their clients with the same amount of respect, attention to detail, and goofy sense of lighthearted humor.

As Chip and Joanna had not publicly stated their religious views on same-sex marriage as part of Aurthur’s article, it shouldn’t be guessed at what their beliefs on the topic are in a 800-plus word article, no less. In addition, if and/or when the Gaines family chooses to respectfully comment on their religious views of marriage, it shouldn’t be a topic of criticism by a journalist no matter where they stand on the subject, nor must their religious beliefs have any crossover into their business unless they wish it to.

The Gaines family is by all appearances a group of honest, hardworking Americans. They have a family-owned business that helps their Texan neighbors of seemingly any background find their dream home at an affordable price and in a neighborhood that suits their needs. They seem to want to simply live their life peacefully and make other people happy, which is something that we should all celebrate. Who’s business is it to judge or stir up controversy around their religion simply because it may not be politically correct enough or fit another’s viewpoint?

As long as you aren’t physically harming another human being in your act of worship, I don’t care to criticize what you believe in religiously. I also don’t have to agree with you on what you practice or how you respectfully live out your faith. We should all, however, be able to treat each other with decency in respect to our differing beliefs.

To Chip and Joanna Gaines, I say keep doing what you are doing. Making people happy by designing them a home that they love is obviously a gift you both have, and I applaud you for sharing it with the rest of the world in the respectful, professional way that you have thus far. What your family peacefully practices religiously is your personal choice and your American right. As George Washington once said, “The liberty enjoyed by the people of these states of worshiping Almighty God agreeably to their conscience, is not only among the choicest of their blessings, but also of their rights.”

 

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