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We want you guys to know that we think you're going to be stars on our network. We're very excited about your show," said the HGTV executive on the other end of the line. It was evening on May 6, 2014. For nearly eighteen months, David and Jason Benham, identical twin owners of Charlotte, North Carolina-based Benham Companies, had been working with HGTV toward a reality show called Flip It Forward, and publicity in anticipation of the scheduled October airdate was just getting underway. The show was to feature home renovations and would also portray the brothers' families and the real estate business they founded about ten years ago.
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David and Jason appreciated the call, but their hearts hurt for their HGTV friends, who were now in a tough spot. Initial reaction from potential advertisers had been positive until GLAAD—the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation—started putting pressure on HGTV to call the whole thing off.
HGTV may have been caught off guard, but David and Jason weren't. The agitation had its genesis in a 2012 RightWingWatch.org blog post, which had called attention to the brothers' leadership at a citywide prayer service. In "Charlotte Prayer Rally Repents for 'Homosexuality and its Agenda that is Attacking the Nation,'" Brian Tashman had completely missed their point and, in boilerplate anti-Christian fashion, had taken the biblical principles on which the event was based and turned them into "anti-" positions.
During the lengthy vetting process with HGTV, the blog post had turned up. "Are you anti-gay?" the show developer asked. The question took them by surprise. Jason responded that they were anti-nothing.
We're pro-family guys who believe in the Bible, and we believe marriage is between a man and a woman. . . . We've sold over twenty thousand properties nationwide and are respected in our community. You can't do that if you are against people. Our position remains a loving position that God defines both sexuality and family, yet we are not anti-gay, nor do we speak against homosexuals as people.
HGTV, convinced the men had no agenda, moved forward with their plans.
David and Jason were firmly committed to that position, but the question did precipitate a quiet crisis. "This was a 'Peter moment' for us," they wrote in Whatever the Cost: Facing Your Fears, Dying to Your Dreams, and Living Powerfully. They were dizzy, excited for the show, as were their families. But then there was this matter of detractors. Should they craft a softer, more pleasing message to deflect the ire and stave off cancellation?
Their father spoke into their disquiet. "You boys don't need to be afraid of who you are and whose you are! God has made you bold for a reason and for a season—and now is the time you need to stand up and be the men God made you to be." They knew he was right, and internally re-affirmed their commitment to follow Jesus, whatever the cost. It didn't come easy, but faithfulness to God mattered more than the opinions of men.
Drawing the Line
By spring 2014, they were filming for the show. Meanwhile, opposition toward the stance they held had escalated. In late 2013, A&E abruptly suspended Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson from his family's show after he spoke candidly about his views on sexuality. (Fan demand led to reinstatement in a matter of days.) Then, in early April, Brendan Eich, cofounder and CEO of Mozilla, was forced out after it was leaked (six years after the fact!) that he had supported Proposition 8, the 2008 referendum defining marriage in California as the union of one man and one woman.
The matter came up from time to time between HGTV and the Benhams, and each time it did, David and Jason maintained the same position. "We're not anti-anything—we are pro-Jesus." HGTV seemed satisfied until one dinner conversation in mid-April, when their show exec turned more serious. "We don't mind you talking about your faith, but speaking about the controversial stuff may give people the impression that you're 'haters.'"
David and Jason didn't hate anyone, but they were committed to honesty, forthrightness, and integrity of conviction. The moment had come to be direct. "What would happen," they asked, "if a reporter asked us our thoughts on some of the controversial issues, and we simply opened our Bible and read it without saying anything else—could we do that? What if we read 1 Corinthians 6:9–11 and said nothing else?"
The show exec leaned back from the table and sighed. "Guys," he said, "that's a tough one."
David and Jason knew right then that it was all over. "They're going to come after you," Jason told the executive. "They won't come after us first—they're going to go after HGTV."
And they did. By early May, GLAAD was demanding a response. "So, would you guys discriminate against having a gay couple on the show?" became the question of the hour. Jason and David had a straight answer:
We don't discriminate against anyone. We've sold thousands of houses in less than a decade. We've never given a sexual litmus test to anyone. . . . We would gladly sell to a gay person or couple if it was simply in the common course of events, just like we have our entire careers. But if an activist group forced us to do it in order to show the world that we embrace that particular lifestyle, we could not in good conscience agree to that.
For them, that was the line.
On May 7, the day after the phone call of reassurance, David and Jason spent the morning filming. At noon, they received a text asking them to hop on a phone call. "Guys," came the voice through the speakerphone, "I wish we had better news, but we have chosen not to continue with the show." No small talk, no prepping. It was all over. Flip It Forward was dead.
David and Jason aren't bitter. To this day, they affirm their love for their HGTV friends, who got caught in a crossfire they had not anticipated. And despite their disappointment, they have no regrets. "No amount of verbal temperance could move us into a position of being acceptable to GLAAD. The problem wasn't that we had an opinion—the problem was that we voiced our opinion."
For the Sake of Life
"Jesus loves all people," they often say, "but he doesn't love all ideas." There is an agenda afoot to silence people of faith and suppress the truth about God's boundaries for human flourishing. But precisely because it is the truth that sets people free, courageous men of God will not be bullied into silence. Because they love. •
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