On a recent Sunday in Springdale, Ark., a town of about 70,000 near the border with Oklahoma, I attended the 9:15 a.m. service at Cross Church, home to one of the state’s largest Baptist congregations. Pastor Ronnie Floyd stood on a stage in front of hundreds of people preaching about “what it means to be a man.”
Suddenly a photograph of Caitlyn Jenner, the personage formerly known as Bruce Jenner, the Olympian turned reality TV star, appeared on a giant screen overhead. “Gender is not fluid,” Floyd intoned to several enthusiastic “amens.” He looked over at the picture of Jenner and seemed to shake his head, which prompted titters and clucks of reprobation from the mostly white, mostly well-groomed and mostly over-40 audience. Instead of stained glass, pastel-colored backlit panels on both sides of the stage glowed brightly. The crowd was rapt.
Jenner’s revelation that he soon would be coming out as a woman was, Floyd said, “sad.” (Caitlyn Jenner would make her debut on the cover of Vanity Fair the next day.) “God didn’t make him like that,” Floyd boomed, increasingly agitated. “There are two different sexes, male and female. If you are created a man, you are specifically and intentionally created to be a man, so don’t try to be anything else.”
Floyd’s church happens to be just a few miles from the home of another headline-making family in the world of reality TV: the Duggars, stars of TLC’s 19 Kids and Counting.
Their eldest son, Josh, currently sits at the center of a roiling controversy after his family spoke to Fox News’ Megyn Kelly – with 3.1 million viewers tuning in – and confirmed admissions in a police report stating that he had molested four of his younger sisters, as well as a babysitter, in 2002 and 2003, when he was 14. Josh’s parents, Jim Bob and Michelle, told Kelly they began to lock their daughters’ doors once the scope of their son’s behavior came to light.
The reaction on social media was not kind. For some, including a North Carolina pastor named John Pavlovitz, the blame lay squarely with a hypocritical Christian orthodoxy. What was really “sad” about the discourse around Jenner and the Duggars, Pavlovitz tweeted, was that some folks were “more outraged at a person altering their own body, than one assaulting another’s.” But the scandal raised a bigger issue: The molestation admissions have put the Duggars’ community of believers and admirers in a quagmire. Even though no one wants to get behind a child molester, many folks in Springdale could get behind the idea of forgiveness.
And at least in this, the most Republican district of Arkansas, a fertile land of rolling hills where Black Angus cattle stroll through groves of cottonwoods, forgiveness and political expediency go hand in hand. Republicans have controlled the congressional seat here since 1966. GOP presidential candidates like Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee have thrown their support behind the Duggars. And so while Jenner’s transformation came in for harsh words in Floyd’s church that week, there was not a single mention of the Duggars, or of their wayward son.
Source: The Hollywood Reporter |