Queer Eye: Much More Than a Makeover
Updated: Aug 23, 2018
Entertainment is never just for the sake of entertainment. The reboot of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, now Queer Eye: More Than a Makeover launched its second season last week, and the first episode, “God Bless Gay,” is a case in point. It is a 50-minute tour de force. The producers have crafted a powerful, religious, evangelistic message, and many Christians are taking the bait.
The episode opens to a folksy version of Amazing Grace. As the familiar lines, Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me fill the background, the audience joins the Fab 5 on their way to... Gay, Georgia. (Yes… The setup for this story is so perfectly manicured you have to wonder how long it took to find one person with this many winning facets.) The crew is on their way to surprise Tammye Hicks, the show’s first woman, a school teacher in a tiny town of 90 people an hour outside of Atlanta. As a school teacher, wife, mother, community leader, and church member, Tammye spends the majority of her time serving others, but not much time on herself. While the original show featured a makeover and some lifestyle changes, this new iteration is far more ambitious. The guys are going to help Tammye prepare for the town’s homecoming church service, finish her community center, and somehow find some time to give her a makeover.
On the way into town the Fab 5 discuss the unusual environment they’re about to enter. They swap stories about being hurt by religion in the past and draw some of the typical distinctions between God, the church, and Christians. While several of them feel completely loved and accepted by God, they have all felt hated and utterly rejected by the church. Despite their hesitations, they agree to go in with open minds.
When they arrive to surprise Tammye, they find out she’s even better than imagined. She’s warm, hospitable, and welcoming. As they get to know each other, Tammye lets them in on another piece of information; her 22-year-old son Myles is gay and has just moved home. She tells them that even though they had a difficult stretch after Myles came out, they had recently reconciled. The problem is that he still feels alienated from their church and refuses to come to the homecoming service.
The stage is set. Let’s pause for a moment. The producers have tapped into something extremely powerful. As you watch the show, you can’t help but yearn for homecoming. A deep part of us cries out for belonging, acceptance, and love. This story is only tangentially related to homosexuality. It’s a specific vehicle--albeit an exceptionally culturally savvy vehicle--to speak to something resonant in the audience.
As the episode progresses, two storylines begin to develop. One of Tammye’s neighbors shows the crew around town, and they go to the church to look around. As they file through the door, Bobby stays outside. The camera comes back over and over as he stands outside the door while everyone else is inside, and he says, “There is just so much hate against gays, and our basic rights, that I have a hard time making peace with it.” Later in the episode, he gives us some backstory, building on things he had talked about in season 1. He grew up extremely religious, begging God that he would not be gay anymore, but after nothing changed and he was rejected by his parents, he embraced his identity and left the church and religion behind. Over the course of the episode, Tammye brings Bobby home. She loves him, welcomes him, and tells him that he can be right with God the way he is. In one of the final scenes, Tammye offers a final send off to each of the guys. When she gets to Bobby, he speaks first, “Not everyone out there that claims to be Christian is good, but there are a whole lot out there who are.” Tammye replies, “Oh yes, baby, there are more out there who are good.”
The second storyline begins when Tammye’s son Myles meets another one of the guys, Karamo. From the moment they meet, Karamo takes Myles on and begins to accept and restore him. In one of the scenes where the two of them are riding in the car together, Karamo tells him that he grew up in a more understanding community. He tells Myles that whenever ignorant people bring up religion or tell him he’s going to Hell he remembers what his Grandmother taught him, “God is love.” Over the next few days, Myles comes alive. He cleans up his room and his look, and he tells his mom that he’s decided to come to the homecoming service. The episode ends with a grand finale, the town comes together at the homecoming service, and Tammye preaches about love and acceptance. At the peak of her message, Tammye shouts, “Am I a believer? Yes. Do I love my son? Yes.”
All’s well in the end. Myles sings in the choir, Tammye gets a makeover, the guys finish the community center, and the Fab 5 teach the town what real Christian love looks like.
More Than Meets the Eye
What’s going on here? Why do this episode? The message they're sending is not subtle. It’s emotionally powerful. It’s a compelling identifiable story. It’s culturally acceptable. It’s deeply religious. It’s not Christian. But why does it need to be? The marketing for this episode is fascinating. The teaser on the Netflix ad reads, “Proud Christian. Loving mother. Profoundly inspiring.” Why would an episode of Queer Eye lead with the words “Proud Christian?” Why feature a woman in a town so diametrically opposed to everything the show represents? In fact, Bobby has spoken extensively in interviews since the show came out about how close he was to refusing to participate. Why bother?
In an interview with the Guardian, Bobby answered, “for all the little Bobbys” sitting in churches “hearing the hate a lot of them preach.” They’re doing it to evangelize. Not through a sermon, but through a story. And they’re really good at it. Partly because we genuinely do yearn for homecoming. Partly because there are a lot of Bobbys out there and we’re not doing a very good job of walking with them. What the producers of this show have done is take something true, the desire we all have to belong and to be loved and constructed a narrative of how to achieve it. It’s no accident that they include every single cultural button they can find.
They want to show you that their vision of love and acceptance is better than yours. The initial concept for the new season was, “turning red states pink.” To put it in worldview terms, they want to show you a better vision of the good life.
Let’s look at this alternative narrative. There is an incredibly appealing secular religion walking around in Christian clothes. You see it all the time among secular elites, especially in the entertainment industry. Just because there is a church involved doesn’t make it Christian. Concepts like grace and love have been gutted of their Biblical meaning and replaced with more palatable bland concepts.
Instead of grace, what we really have is non-judgment--as long as it’s not something out of vogue among the high priests of this other religion. To highlight the difference between these two concepts, look at the difference between homosexuality and racism. From a biblical perspective, both of these are sinful. They are both condemned in the Bible. They can both receive grace, God’s favor shown to sinners and the power to live after the image of Christ. People in both categories can be redeemed. Under this alternate definition of grace, however, homosexuality is celebrated, and racism is an abomination. LGBTQ people don’t need grace because they haven’t done anything wrong, and racists can’t be given grace because it might be seen as an endorsement. This isn’t grace. It eliminates the possibility that you might be found wanting, justly condemned, forgiven, and restored.
Additionally, instead of love, what we have is affirmation. It’s an anemic form of love that cannot endure disagreement, rebuke, or restoration. Biblical love rejoices with the truth, but secular love rejoices in being nice. This kind of love eliminates the possibility of redemption because no one can be loved in spite of themselves. There is no possibility of transformation. In the Bible, God’s love is both accepting and transforming. It meets us where we are and brings us to where he is. It’s strong enough to encompass both statements: the without sin cast the first stone and go and sin no more.
These shifts have massive implications. Not everything the show is saying is wrong - that’s why it’s powerful. Many people have not been loved well by the church. There are lots of people with stories like Myles’ who will never see reconciliation. There is a lot of hurt. That’s a point of agreement. What we are doing is rejecting this narrative of how to go about solving these problems. Although they play Amazing Grace at the beginning and end of this episode, there is no grace, there are no wretches, and there is no possibility of being saved. There is no sin in this narrative other than exclusion. The episode ends with everyone coming together, happy and restored, but this isn’t an outcome that their narrative can deliver.
Where Does This Leave Us?
If we’re being honest, we can’t consider this a misunderstanding. What we can’t say is, it’s just a show, or, they may see some things differently, but we’re all on the same team. While Tammye may believe that she’s a Bible-believing Christian, the producers probably have a little bit more in mind. This is not an intramural battle. In the Netflix ad, the words on the screen tell us that Tammye “strives to live according to God’s word,” and that she’s the kind of person we “desperately need more of in the world.” This is shameless, and the producers and advertisers know it. But they also know that you don’t need somebody to convert to win their mind. What you need is their heart. All you have to do is tell them a better story. This is not mistaken theology or a difference of opinion; it’s evangelism.
Entertainment has become a primary source of spiritual formation in America. In “God Bless Gay,” we’re being called to believe something. At the end of the episode, Bobby makes a final statement, “And that’s what we all need to do to everyone, not just the LGBT community, but Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists - Just love and accept them. Because that is what Jesus would do.”
The high priests of another religion have spoken. They’ve given us much more than a makeover; they’ve invited us into another narrative. Their story may be wearing Christian clothes, but there is nothing Christian about it.
Cole Feix is the founder of So We Speak and a regular writer. Follow him on Twitter, @cfeix7.
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