Netflix’s show, Queer Eye, the reboot of the popular makeover show from the last decade, has been widely lauded for moving beyond mere fashion and grooming advice and instead engaging with timely social issues.
In the fifth episode of the season, the Fab Five—a team of five openly gay “experts”—set out to make over Bobby Camp, who is a married father of six and a devout Christian.
Midway through the episode, while working together in the garden, Bobby Berk, the design expert, brings up the subject of homosexuality with Bobby Camp. Interspersed with their discussion, Berk poignantly shares his personal experience growing up in a Christian family:
Berk: What’s your view on homosexuality?
Camp: Growing up—gays are crazy, gays are wrong.
Berk: That’s what I was taught, too.
[cut to interview with Berk]
Berk: My mother and father were religious, we went to an Assemblies of God church, brimstone, fire. I carried my Bible to school every day. I was the lead singer of a Christian rock band, I was a deacon in my children’s church. Christianity was my life.
[return to gardening scene]
Camp: I know when I grew up I saw so many examples of God doing the right things with people, and lives were being changed, but then I would see such a contrast in some other people who were considered upright and devout and role models, that I just saw the rules, I didn’t see the grace.
Berk: I of course heard the word gay in church, but I heard it in a very negative way. That gay people were bad, and they were pedophiles, and they were evil. So, I spent every prayer meeting and every Sunday crying and begging God to not make me gay.
Berk: Honestly, coming here I was scared, especially having grown up in, you know, Missouri and Texas, I experienced the hate and the ignorance, and it’s scary.
Berk: I was definitely kind of an outcast. I had friends, but not close friends. I started realizing what kind of made me different, and that I wasn’t like everyone else, is that I was gay.
Camp: Maybe you think we’re judgmental, maybe you think we hate gays. That’s not us. God told me to love my neighbor.
Berk: People need to forget religion and just focus on God. You know, God doesn’t have a name, God is just God.
Camp: God is love.
Berk: Exactly. God is just love.
Berk: I started getting older and refusing to accept that, and refusing to accept the kind of chains that I had been in my whole life, and I just wanted to be free.
Toward the end of the episode, in an emotional scene that brings the Fab Five to tears, Camp shared more of his thoughts:
“I didn’t know what to expect from you guys being here this week. I knew that people were gonna invade our lives. One of the things that we prayed about, we said, we want to use this as an opportunity to open up our lives to other people. We want you guys to have come to our house and felt loved and accepted. Growing up the way we did, homosexuals were not accepted. And they still aren’t in a lot of church environments. But in the Camp family, they are. In our hearts, they are. And we want you guys to know that you’ve been loved here, and you’ve taught me so much about loving somebody that’s come from a different background than me, that has a different worldview than me, that has a different story. But you’re people. And hopefully my kids have seen it, that we’re all people.”
On the surface, all of this added up to a heartfelt experience of love and connection. By spending time together and by getting to know one another, people with seemingly opposite and incompatible views are able to find a love and acceptance.
But, since this is reality TV, things are not always what they seem.
I obviously can’t speak to what the Camp family’s actual beliefs about LGBT people are, but it’s worth noting that in the highly edited conversation that we see taking place in the garden, Bobby Camp never actually answers the question about his views on homosexuality. I suspect that’s because, despite professing love and acceptance, he nevertheless believes homosexuality is sinful.
The Camps and their six children are deeply involved in Eastside Baptist Church in Marietta, Georgia. And what does the church that the Camps attend, and are presumably members of, think about homosexuality?
Their Constitution and Bylaws states:
In the spirit of Christ, Christians should oppose racism, every form of greed, selfishness, and vice, and all forms of sexual immorality, including adultery, homosexuality, and pornography.
It also states:
Marriage is the uniting of one man and one woman in covenant commitment for a lifetime. It is God’s unique gift to reveal the union between Christ and His church and to provide for the man and the woman in marriage the framework for intimate companionship, the channel of sexual expression according to biblical standards, and the means for procreation of the human race.
And, in case you think those are merely suggestions, it goes on to say that:
Eastside members will abide by the covenants of this church as presented in the Church Constitution and Bylaws.
So, if Eastside Baptist Church believes that Christians should oppose “all forms of sexual immorality, including … homosexuality,” what are the Camps doing inviting a bunch of flamboyantly gay style gurus into their home and telling them that they’re loved and accepted?
The answer can be found in a recent sermon given at Eastside by Lead Pastor Dr. John Hull, titled “Find Common Ground with Someone Who is Different.”
In that sermon, Hull describes the church’s failure to connect with the “lost” and then proposes ways to go about reaching them:
Let’s define the lost for a moment—Jesus came to seek and save the lost—the lost are people who have not only said no to Jesus, and church and what we believe. They are often people who feel like the church has said no to them—the lost … How can you change that? How can you be a church that it here to say yes to those that have said no? And I think we have to just roll up our sleeves and recommit as leaders that our church, Eastside, is here to say yes to those who have said no. People who have said no to what we believe, people who have said no to the church in general or to our church specifically, people who have said no to Jesus specifically, and then there are people who just don’t know. And what this will require of us, as Eastsiders, is to push back against what some call insider thinking. Insider thinking is when a church becomes concerned with insiders only….
There are two ways that I think we could come up with of trying to connect with people who’ve been saying no to us … the first thing that Paul did when he was surrounded by people, like we are, who are saying no, what does he do? He saw, he walked around, he observed, and he listened…. The first thing he did was that he said yes by listening more. That’s what we have to do, we have to say yes to people by listening more. We’ve got to listen to what’s going in people’s minds, people’s hearts, in the neighborhood….
How are we gonna share with them the good news of Jesus? … We don’t have to compromise our beliefs, we don’t have to water down our values, our ethics—I think we just need to be available. We need to listen to our neighbors, we need to let people know that we are for them, and that our church is here for them….
Use words to find a common language that connects where people are… There needs to be a common language that runs throughout our church … and it helps us to get into lives where we can love them well, get to know them well, serve them well, and down the road may earn an opportunity for us to tell them about what Jesus has done for us when he saw us as lost people.
Hull is essentially proposing an update of the classic bait and switch of evangelical evangelism. He recognizes that the evangelical church has been rejected by mainstream society, and he thinks the answer to that problem has nothing to do with their beliefs (“We don’t have to compromise our beliefs, we don’t have to water down our values, our ethics”) but everything to do with inwardly focused goals and priorities.
To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with loving your neighbor. There’s nothing wrong with listening to others, including those we disagree with. There’s nothing wrong with showing kindness and grace and empathy. We’re supposed to do all that. But what is wrong is when that love is tied to an agenda. Love with strings isn’t love, it’s just a tool to achieve a goal.
When your “acceptance” and your “love” are simply ways to get a person inside the church doors and to present them with “the good news of Jesus,” but yet you still believe that an essential part of who that person is deeply wrong, that’s hypocrisy, plain and simple. And it’s precisely that sort of hypocrisy that continues to drive people from the church.
I wish Bobby Camp and his family well. I hope their experience with Queer Eye opened their eyes not just to the humanity of gay people, but also to the profound misguidedness inherent in the belief that homosexuality is sinful. Yes, Bobby, God is Love, but let’s embrace and share that love without an agenda. And if by chance you don’t think homosexuality is sinful, why not work to eradicate hateful expressions of “Christian” belief, such as what currently exists in your church’s constitution? I look forward to seeing Eastside listed on the GayChurch.org directory page.
Photo via Netflix.
Dan is the Executive Editor of the Unfundamentalist blog.