My message for this week, friends: Leave Chip and Joanna Gaines alone.
As anyone who reads my columns knows, I lean left on most political and theological issues. Not on all issues, but most.
In the 2016 Democratic primary, I voted for Bernie Sanders. If offered the chance, I’d do it again.
However, if there’s anything that chaps my hindquarters even quicker than right-wing political rhetoric or fundamentalist theology, it’s the obsessions of the thought police.
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Left-wing thought police. Right-wing thought police. Center-wing thought police. Any thought police. All varieties are equally odious.
By thought police, I mean those who aren’t content to argue in favor of their own tenets, but want to silence, exile and shame all perceived opposition, no matter how remote. The thought police want to control not only what you do, but what you say or dare to think.
This is the stuff of which totalitarianism is woven.
Which is my reason for repeating: Leave Chip and Joanna Gaines alone.
The Gaineses star in HGTV’s popular reality show “Fixer Upper,” set in Waco, Texas, where they help clients buy and renovate homes.
In their on-air personas — who knows what TV stars are like away from the cameras? — Joanna plays the adult in the room and the brains. Chip supplies boyish brawn and comic relief. He’s hyper and goofy; she’s calm and indulgent, in an eye-rolling sort of way.
My granddaughter Harper, 8, introduced me to the show.
We like trying to predict how Joanna will turn yet another eyesore into a showplace. Which wall will she have Chip knock out? Will she choose hardwood or tile for the den?
I’d guess we’ve watched 20 episodes of “Fixer Upper” together. I’ve watched additional episodes on my own.
It’s a perfectly harmless show. The Gainses are affable. They never shout. They look like real people rather than siliconed, botoxed Hollywood celebs.
But now they find themselves caught in a public relations tempest, perhaps a budding scandal that could cost them their show at HGTV.
That is, Buzzfeed recently revealed the unthinkable: that Chip and Joanna attend a nondenominational, evangelical megachurch called Antioch Community Church.
Their congregation’s senior pastor, Jimmy Seibert, has described them as his friends. And Seibert opposes gay marriage and believes in conversion therapy.
The Gainses so far have declined to comment on any of this. But apparently they haven’t done or said anything offensive toward gays or other interest groups.
Of course, churchgoers typically don’t believe everything their minister believes.
People choose churches for all kinds of reasons — convenience, youth programs, because their coworkers go there. Rarely is it because they’re robotic minions.
Do you remember conservatives in 2008 bludgeoning presidential candidate Barack Obama over various crackpot comments made by his pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright? Turned out, Obama and Wright differed on several key issues, even as they agreed on some.
Still, Obama was running for president and so, to an extent, his pastor’s beliefs were fair game for scrutiny.
Chip and Joanna Gaines aren’t running for office.
Following Buzzfeed’s lead, the Huffington Post entered the fray, too.
Its associate religion editor, Carol Kuruvilla, noted in a recent op-ed that HGTV already canceled another series, “Flip It Forward,” because the hosts were thought to be anti-gay and anti-abortion.
Kuruvilla went on to conflate evangelicals’ personal beliefs with active discrimination against gay people, as if they were automatically the same things, and then asked rhetorically, “So does it matter that the Gainses attend an evangelical church that preaches against the way that queer people find love?”
Her answer: “Yes, it does.”
Um, no, not necessarily. The Gainses are painting dens, not passing federal laws.
In the episodes of “Fixer Upper” I’ve watched, the only time I’ve heard their faith mentioned was an episode in which they remodeled a house for aging missionaries. One of the Gainses, Joanna, I think, said they knew the missionaries from their church.
That’s the sole clue they were even churchgoers. No proselytizing, ever. No gay slurs. No foaming at the mouth. No exorcisms. No rolling on the porches of their renovation projects in ecstatic trances. No baptisms in the bathtubs. No holy water splashed on the doorposts.
I had no idea whether they were Roman Catholics or Baptists, liberals or conservatives, mainstreamers or cult members.
And if I had known, so what?
As I said, they’re hanging kitchen cabinets, for crying out loud.
They’re allowed to believe whatever they want, whether you — or I — happen to agree. They’re allowed to keep their danged TV gig, too.
I swear, at times I think elements of the far left, just like the far right, would love to embark us on a new McCarthyism.
Sir, are you now or have you ever been an evangelical Christian?
We can make laws that regulate how people behave toward others.
We can decree, for instance, that you can’t refuse to sell your house to people because they’re gay. Or Christian. Or Buddhist. Or black. Or yellow.
But we can’t control what someone thinks, and we shouldn’t try.
I don’t know what the Gainses feel about gay marriage. What’s more, I don’t give a fig.
I like the way they renovate houses, and that’s all their show is about.
Leave Chip and Joanna Gaines alone.
Quit trying to police other people’s brains.
Paul Prather is pastor of Bethesda Church near Mount Sterling. You may email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.