What's Tony Thinking

Queer Eye for Churches?


We joined Laura and her fiancé, Noah, last night to watch an episode of the Netflix re-boot of the reality TV show, Queer Eye.

It’s kind of like the home renovation shows on HGTV where beautiful people transform a drab house into something gorgeous. Subtext: drab lives transformed into something gorgeous.

Queer Eye is fun, sweet and entertaining. I’m not sure about the premise, that change happens from the outside in, but let’s consider . . .

I couldn’t help but thinking about the Queer Eye team descending on some outdated church for a make-over, not just to the building but to the style of the congregation. Imagine, everyone, pastor included, gets a new look: hair, clothes, facials. And the interior decor that says “the fifties (maybe the seventies) were really great” is suddenly swept away in flourishes of light, color and pizazz!

Lord knows there are plenty of churches who might benefit from just such an incursion.

One hitch. In the QE episode we watched the focal point for the make-over was a 67 year old widower named Todd. “Before” Todd looked like an aging hippie whose personal hygiene had been, shall we say, neglected. Todd owned and operated a restaurant which specialized in things like crawfish and gumbo. Back when the love of Todd’s life, Jodi, had been alive the joint had been lively. But that was years ago. Now the restaurant is on life support, and their daughter, Staci, is despairing of Dad’s stuck-ness and inability to let go.

But here’s the thing. Everything the QE team proposed to Todd from changing the gumbo recipe to changing his wardrobe and sweeping the restaurant of years of accumulated detritus was just fine with Todd. He was like, “Yeah, let’s do it.”

In my experience, congregations aren’t generally so pliant.

Now, you might think it was a matter of money. True the QE team seemed to come with a bank roll. Someone bought Todd a couple thousand dollars worth of new threads, hip eye-wear, hair styling, etc. And way more than a couple thousand to clean up, open up and lighten up the restaurant itself.

While churches would play the money card (“We can’t afford that!”) and there would be some truth to it, I’m not sure even money is the real problem.

My point is that Queer Eye and the HGTV home-make over reality shows are premised on the idea that people are all-in on the transformation agenda. Churches? Maybe not.

But even if they were — and it would be fun to try a QE makeover on a congregation — the question remains, does change happen from the outside in or the inside out?

Or is that the right way to frame it? The QE team seemed to be interested in taking a guy, Todd, who had, by his own admission, given up on living and who felt pretty crappy about himself and turning him into someone who was ready to live and who felt, not shame but pride, about himself.

That is pretty close, in my book, to the gospel message, which I think is this: Jesus takes from us the weight of shame, sin and regret. He lifts it. He takes it. It’s gone. No more. It’s a gift. It’s grace. The truth may be that we (including myself here) have a really hard time trusting that, believing it, and letting him do that for us, and trusting that he has.

Instead of “whoever is in Christ is a new creation, the past is over and gone” (II Corinthians 5), we turn church and gospel into a sin management system, where we hold onto the  past, the grudges and the shame. If we try hard enough, work hard enough, are good enough, he will forgive us a little bit maybe. Which is actually not the gospel.

Okay, I know it is a reality TV show . . . but maybe there’s a message there?


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