Friday, May 9, 2014

Flipping the Rhetoric on Benham Twins

Aren't things getting a little silly?

Up until two days ago, I'd never heard of David and Jason Benham.  Neither had probably about 95% of North America's evangelical constituency.  And when I did begin seeing photos of them popping up on the Internet, along with the increasingly ubiquitous term "homosexual," without bothering to read the stories, I thought those two handsome, stylish guys were gay men who had been outed or something.

Come to find out, they're not gay after all, but twin brothers who are each happily married, each to his respective female wife, and each with a handful of kids.  They both live in North Carolina, and have carved a niche for themselves in the house-flipping trade.  Perhaps coincidentally, in terms of flipping, their father is Flip Benham, who used to be well-known for his pro-life advocacy, and even baptized none other than Norma McCorvey, the woman at the center of Roe v. Wade, who converted to evangelical Christianity in the 1990's.

And the controversy over the brothers Benham?  Their upcoming cable TV show on the HGTV channel was axed after the network was bullied by pro-gay advocates to do so.  If you're keeping score, this is the latest victory for left-wing muckrakers, this time from the liberal group Right Wing Watch, who learned of the Benham's new show, and researched the twins to see how much politically incorrect dirt could be dished on the pair.

Unfortunately, while Right Wing Watch doled out some spurious connections with the twins' oft-misquoted father, the liberal group also found that David has a history of making public comments laced with emotionally-charged religious language and terminology.

"You’ll never find the love of a father in the arms of another man," wrote David Benham to gay marriage proponents in North Carolina in 2012.  "The emotional hurt that you’ve experienced can only be healed through a life-giving relationship with the very one that created you.  You are a precious gift of God.  I encourage fellow North Carolinians to love and embrace you as a person.  Redefining an eternal principle [such as marriage] will not heal the hurt you’ve experienced; only correctly relating to the one that created the principle will."

To evangelicals who are schooled in the language of Christian theology, there's little in such a paragraph that sounds hurtful, hateful, or bigoted.  However, to the ears of ardent left-wingers who have misappropriated the terms "hate" and "tolerance," the notion that negative paternal issues contribute to homosexuality sounds patronizing at best.  David is assuming to know why most gay men prefer gay relationships, but don't evangelicals bristle when left-wingers make blanket statements about us?

To his credit, David has publicly refrained from wallowing in the vulgar depictions of homosexuality that Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson bluntly proffered to GQ.  And if the Benham brothers' enemies really thought about it, would a person trying to be offensive tell you that you're precious to God?  Granted, there are other quotes unearthed by Right Wing Watch that paint the Benham family as earnestly and unhelpfully provocative, such as describing mosques as "dens of iniquity" and Democrats promoting a "culture of death." It goes to show that sloppy theology (chanting "Jesus hates Muslims," for example, which isn't technically accurate) doesn't really advance the cause of Christ, particularly in our immediate, digital information age, when sound bites come back to haunt you in perpetuity.

Indeed, Right Wing Watch helpfully provides on its website a dated clip of Peter Sprigg, a spokesman for the Family Research Council, who was caught on camera saying he wished homosexuals could be deported.  I'm an evangelical, pro-family Christ-follower, and I was appalled to hear Sprigg say that.  Deportation of people who've committed no crime, or whose lifestyle you disagree with, is both unAmerican and unBiblical.  Too little too late, he later apologized for saying what he said, but it's obvious it was a sentiment he espoused.

We can't blame left-wingers when they research digital archives to find the unnecessary, unhelpful, unloving, inaccurate, and politically-motivated bluster and acrimony professional Christians and Christian professionals go on record as saying.  The common evangelical infatuation with American swagger and individual pugnaciousness may encourage us to crash about in the public square like a bull in a china shop when it comes to political and social issues, and defend our callousness by claiming we're mimicking Christ evicting the moneychangers from the temple.

We conveniently ignore the fact that Christ only did that once, and He was displaying righteous anger against people who were making His Father's house a profit center for themselves.

Something to think about, huh?

Then there's this whole thing about flipping houses, which is how the Benham twins have made most of their money.  It's a profitable gig for flippers who play the game right, but house flipping isn't the most sustainable or victimless of economic pursuits, as the 2008 mortgage meltdown testified.  One of the reasons housing values in certain parts of the country were skyrocketing stemmed from the transitory - some would say predatory - practice of exploiting volatile housing markets.  The real estate industry is based on the notion that people buy property to hold and occupy; flipping houses can create the illusion of rising home values, or at least artificially perpetuate that reality.  Housing values become linked to a demand that isn't truly there, because people who really want and need to occupy the homes aren't the ones propelling the market.

Whether or not the Benham twins personally profited on ill-gotten gains is a subject for somebody else to investigate.  Suffice it to say that plenty of Realtors and housing experts were frustrated by the bubble house-flippers were creating.  And we know how that story ended.

Not that I'm trying to wheedle into the good graces of the folks at Right Wing Watch.  Hey, I've pretty much resigned myself to the fact that my own beliefs about homosexuality and abortion will likely prevent me from ever hosting my own HGTV show.  But I know that many evangelicals don't see the problem talking about our society's moral problems the way people like the Benhams do, and they read stuff like what I've just written and scoff at my liberalism.  I know that conventional conservative Christianity, particularly in the United States, likes its discipleship cool, and its sociopolitical rancor scorching hot.

Meanwhile, I can't help but revisit the Fruit of the Spirit whenever I hear how fellow evangelicals are trying to live for Christ in our increasingly pluralistic world.  Sure, some of what's being reported has been taken out of context, but having the spokesman for a popular conservative nonprofit group telling somebody on tape that he wishes gays could be deported is kinda hard to interpret in a lot of kind ways.  When Christ says the world will be able to know us by our fruit, don't you think He means it?  The fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control.

We can - and should - stand up for what we believe, and we will likely be marginalized, castigated, and perhaps even persecuted for doing so.  But let's make sure people are marginalizing, castigating, and persecuting us for WHAT we say, not HOW we say it.  After all, that way, we'll be suffering for Christ, not for ourselves.

The way the widespread publicity has worked out for the Benham twins over this HGTV cancellation, however, I'm not sure how much suffering is going on for them.  Hey - admit it!  You didn't know who these guys were before Wednesday either, did you?  Now they're headline news on CNN.

Talk about flipping the flap!

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