Politics

Christian brothers bullied off the air at HGTV

Christian brothers bullied off the air at HGTV

The closing and welding shut of the American mind continues, as the sound of jackboots echoes through the halls of HGTV, the Home and Garden network.  Most of their programming has something to do with home remodeling, performed in different areas and under different circumstances – homeowners working on a limited budget, professional real estate salespeople removing homes purchased at auction, etc.  But the one thing you won’t be able to see on HGTV is a pair of Christian pro-life brothers from North Carolina, David and Jason Benham, fixing up homes for deserving families of limited means.

The network is trying to minimize the fallout from its detestable actions by limiting its statements on the matter, but it’s perfectly clear what happened.  They made a deal with the Benham brothers to produce a show called “Flip It Forward” – the title evidently meant to evoke the notion of “paying it forward,” sharing your success by helping people in need.  The Benhams are outspoken critics of abortion, homosexual activism, same-sex marriage, and Islam, among other things; their father Flip is an even more outspoken evangelical minister who baptized Norma McCorvey, plaintiff in the landmark Roe v. Wade case, who lost her chance to be a media superstar when she turned against abortion.

None of this was unknown to HGTV when the show was green-lit; the family says they were vetted by the network, and discussed the possibility of a backlash with executives.  Jason Benham confirmed to CNN that HGTV executives long ago saw some of the very same videos that suddenly became the reason for killing his show: “When they – a year and a half ago – saw some of the footage where my brother was saying the things he was saying, they spoke with us.  They got to know us a little better, and then they made a judgment call, recognizing that David and I have no hate in our heart for anyone.  We’ve been running a successful real estate company for the last 11 years, and we help all people.  There is no discrimination.”

In the wake of all the other efforts to push dissenters from the approved agenda out of the public square lately, no one should have needed a crystal ball to anticipate that an organized effort to drive the Benhams off the air would be mounted.  But when the effort materialized, after pro-abortion activists began posting videos of the family’s more energetic activism online, HGTV caved instantly and announced it would pull the show before a single episode had been aired, even though most of the filming was already complete.  According to an interview in the UK Daily Mailthe Benhams weren’t even given the courtesy of a heads-up by the network.  They read about the plug being pulled in the media, just like everyone else.

Unquestionably, the Benhams have said some stern things about their beliefs.  For example, at a rally in support of North Carolina’s traditional marriage constitutional amendment in 2012, David said, “We have no-fault divorce; we have pornography and perversion; we have homosexuality and its agenda that is attacking the nation; we have adultery … while the church sits silent and just builds big churches.”  He’s led protests outside of abortion clinics, and at a rally outside the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, he talked about “homosexuality and its agenda attacking the nation.”

I suspect the use of brownshirt tactics to crush his TV show probably hasn’t disabused him of these notions, which is one of the reasons America’s growing comfort level with speech and thought control is so disturbing.  The exercise of such power is addictive, and as it becomes more difficult for dissenting parties to hold a meaningful conversation, the possibility of persuading anyone – one way or the other – diminishes.  Instead, it becomes all about defeating political and cultural enemies.

This is also another case of the disturbing tendency of the culturally-powerful to deny the slightest credit for sincerity to those they would destroy.  The Benhams insist they don’t hate the people they oppose politically, but the dominant regime has declared their sentiments unpossible – they are not permitted to separate their stance on major political and cultural debates from the contents of their hearts, or the way they treat individual people.  It’s the converse of the way some pretty rotten people claim their support for “correct” political positions excuses everything they do or say; their ballots and political contributions are the only credentials of virtue anyone needs to see.

There is absolutely no indication that the Benham brothers said anything on their show that was outside of HGTV’s standards and practices.  They did not intend to use the show as a platform to push the ideas deemed so controversial, by people on the other side of the controversies.  They wanted to fix houses up for good people who needed a decent place to live.  But because of who they are, not because of anything they did on the show, the show is toast.

Well, it’s at least lightly toasted.  In addition to issuing a remarkably classy statement on the whole affair, LifeNews reports the Benham brothers are “working to make sure they help the families the show was intended to help.”  As David Benham put it on Twitter, “TV show or not – we are keeping to our commitment to help these six families.”  There won’t be any cameras rolling, and nobody will see the footage that was already filmed, but they’re going to finish up the renovations anyway.

The Benhams’ statement on the cancellation of their TV show:

“The first and last thought on our minds as we begin and end each day is; have we shined Christ’s light today? Our faith is the fundamental calling in our lives, and the centerpiece of who we are. As Christians we are called to love our fellow man. Anyone who suggests that we hate homosexuals or people of other faiths is either misinformed or lying. Over the last decade, we’ve sold thousands of homes with the guiding principle of producing value and breathing life into each family that has crossed our path, and we do not, nor will we ever discriminate against people who do not share our views.”

“We were saddened to hear HGTV’s decision. With all of the grotesque things that can be seen and heard on television today you would think there would be room for two twin brothers who are faithful to our families, committed to biblical principles, and dedicated professionals. If our faith costs us a television show then so be it.”

LifeNews also reports that a group called Faith Driven Consumer is trying to mount a grassroots effort to persuade HGTV to change its mind and air the show:

“Following the sudden cancellation of the upcoming HGTV series “Flip It Forward” simply because the stars of the show, brothers David and Jason Benham, hold a biblical worldview on the issues of life and marriage, Faith Driven Consumer is announcing a brand new grassroots campaign called #FlipThisDecision to return the show to the network’s fall lineup,” the group informed LifeNews.

“David and Jason Benham are well-qualified to star on an HGTV show, they are well-respected members of their community, and the network has invested time and treasure in developing ‘Flip It Forward’. Now, this project has come to a screeching halt simply because the Benham brothers hold a biblical view of life and marriage,” FDC’s Chris Stone said. “This is pure intolerance, discrimination, and bullying toward those who hold to widely held and legitimate views. HGTV’s rash actions hold no place in America’s rainbow of diversity. Whether people agree or disagree with the Beham’s faith-driven perspective is beside the point; the Benhams have a right to have those views and to be treated equally with those who hold to other viewpoints. This is the very definition of tolerance.”

He added: “Through its actions, HGTV is in conflict with its own stated core values of integrity and diversity, which emphasize ‘having a strong moral compass which points to character, honesty, ethical practice and accountability’ and hold that all are included in the ‘broad canvas of interests, backgrounds, lifestyles and ethnicities.’ This is the height of hypocrisy.”

Stone concluded: “We are launching #FlipThisDecision today and asking people to join us in a loud call for tolerance, fairness, and respect. The goal of this campaign is clear — we want to see ‘Flip it Forward’ returned to HGTV’s fall lineup and our fellow Faith Driven Consumers afforded their rightful opportunity to test their show in the American entertainment marketplace. We urge everyone to go to FlipThisDecision.com, sign up, and join the campaign for tolerance and inclusion.”

It seems to me that Mr. Stone is correct about the definition of tolerance, which by definition does not require agreement or support, in whole or in part.  Many people will strongly disagree with the statements made by the Benham family on a variety of important topics.  Those people should try disagreeing with them, not silencing them, in a manner that injures both the beneficiaries and paid employees of the canceled show.  As for the business-sense aspect of all this, which the brothers very charitably regard as HGTV’s primary consideration, one suspects at this point that reinstating the show would bring in more viewers than it would drive away.  But of course, this isn’t about the relatively “democratic” business of attracting the largest possible audience; small groups control the airwaves by bringing pressure to bear against advertisers and talent.

HGTV would have been on firmer ground to have decided the potential for controversy made this show an unwise business decision from the start, or shutting it down because the Benhams somehow hijacked it for political purposes.  Pulling the plug right before it aired, entirely because of backstage pressure over things the would-be reality stars said in entirely unrelated contexts, is the very definition of intolerance.

One of the reasons intolerance is bad is because it makes living together difficult.  It drives us apart, forcing people to withdraw defensively into sealed communities that have little to say to one another.  But living together also does not require compulsive unity, or absolute conformity.  How much more pressure will it take – how many more of these speech vigilante actions must we endure – before American society is ripped by chasms no one can cross?

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