Culture Friday: Hallmark’s same-sex marriage moment

MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: It’s Friday, December 20th, 2019. Glad to have you along for The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Megan Basham.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. It’s an all-too familiar story these days. A corporation inadvertently becomes the latest flashpoint in America’s widening cultural divide on sexual morality.

This time the controversy centers on the Hallmark Channel, that purveyor of very popular, if somewhat corny, Christmas movies.

BASHAM: Watching Hallmark’s original holiday programming has become something of a tradition for many families. So much so, you can now buy spoof gifts bearing slogans like, “This is my Hallmark Christmas Movie Watching Blanket,” at numerous retail outlets.

In part, that’s a result of clean content appropriate for most ages. Just since its seasonal launch on October 25th, the network has reached 50 million viewers.

It’s also why the parent advocacy group, One Million Moms, a division of the American Family Association, complained when the network began airing an ad from the wedding planning website, 

Zola’s commercial features two women getting married and ends with a kiss at the altar. Let’s listen to it:

COMMERCIAL: I, Ava, wonder if our guests would be here on time. If we had a custom wedding website. With our ceremony details on it. And I, Taylor, would pick Zola to have and to host our wedding website. Do you think Zola could have made planning your perfect wedding easier? We do. I do.

Surprisingly, Hallmark at first seemed to sympathize with One Million Moms. They pulled the ad, noting that it “aired in error.”

Two days later, however, a more typical narrative asserted itself. After outrage from LGBT groups and public figures like Ellen Degeneres and presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, Hallmark reversed course again.

It’s parent company promised to reinstate the ads and released a statement apologizing for the “the hurt it has unintentionally caused.” They further promised to work with groups like GLAAD to increase LGBT representation in their programming.

Well, it’s Culture Friday and Trevin Wax joins us. Trevin is a theologian, an author, and Senior Vice President of Theology and Communications for LifeWay Christian Resources.

Trevin, good morning.

TREVIN WAX, GUEST: Good morning.

BASHAM: So Trevin, as we’ve seen this scenario play out so often in the last couple of years, it seems like a waste of energy getting outraged over the ad or Hallmark’s handling of it. I’d say we’re past the point of culture war and more onto a culture rout.

As an example, I’d like to listen really quickly to CBS Morning News’ coverage of the dustup. Here’s anchor Gayle King and reporter Nikki Battiste discussing it.

AUDIO: Seems like a no brainer to a lot of people. It really does, I think Ellen Degeneres speaks for a lot of people when she says, “Hallmark what were you thinking, its 2020.” Who’s in the room when that decision is made? Well at least they’ve, you know, changed course. As a Holocaust survivor said to me after the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, I keep thinking of it in this controversy, “Love is easier than hate.” Yes!

BASHAM: When we’re at a place where national morning news shows take it for granted that Hallmark was way out of line to pull this ad, is it useful for Christians to focus on consumer boycotts anymore? I mean, it seems like a given this would play out the way it did.

WAX: Well, I was actually surprised to see Hallmark pull the ad in the first place and then when they did, I thought, ‘Well, it’s not going to take long before the avalanche of criticism is going to come and they’re going to be trending on Twitter, and suddenly they’re going to have to backtrack.’

EICHER: Yeah, you could look at your watch and backtime it, 3-2-1-boom.

WAX: The more interesting conversation I think we ought to have around this rather than, you know, boycotting Hallmark versus boycotting Chick-fil-A, I mean, this is a situation in which people that have been somewhat friendly to family values concerns are now showing that in certain cases—these are different scenarios, of course—but may not be as friendly as thought or maybe turning it in a certain way. The reason why this is so controversial I think and why this avalanche of public criticism came against Hallmark is like it or not—and we can actually critique some of what Hallmark does even in their normal movies of the picture they paint of romance and whatnot. But the real battle is over what is considered just normal, average, ordinary. That’s really where the battle is and by the fact that Hallmark has done all of these movies and they’ve never had an LGBT storyline of any sort or anything like that, what they basically are saying is the predictable, the normal, the bland boring but well put together Hallmark movies are there for consumption around this time of year. They’ve really had the assumption of traditional marriage. And the fact that they pulled this ad and then they reinstated it shows that they want to say that a same-sex marriage now, I think they want to say a same-sex marriage is just as normal and love is love and it’s exactly the same as a man-woman marriage.

EICHER: I’d like to return to the sort of original idea of consumer boycotts. You were talking, Trevin, of the kind of soft despotism—if I remember that right—of the left. Is it also a soft despotism when we do it, when our side kind of does it back?

WAX: Well, I don’t think the despotism is seen in boycotts and things. I think the soft despotism is seen when there are legal moves made in order to squash dissent on this issue. So, I don’t think despotism is seen in boycotts. That’s just bringing societal pressure on a certain thing. And, you know, Christians have access to that same sort of recourse as well—deciding who we’ll do business with and who we won’t, what things we’ll watch and what foods we’ll eat and all of that. And so I don’t think that’s where the despotism shows up. I think it shows up more in the legal moves on wanting to penalize people who are dissenting from what is becoming the majority opinion on what marriage is and what it’s like. And so the reason that all dissent has to be squashed is because the new social project just doesn’t work if it doesn’t. 

BASHAM: To follow up practically, I’m a mom of a 10-year-old and I’m starting to navigate this stuff and going, OK, even we went and saw the new Star Wars and I will get to this in a little bit, but there’s sort of a silly moment that—a totally irrelevant LGBT moment that they’re trumpeting and saying how great this is. I mean, it was nothing. It was just so silly. It seemed like a please don’t come after us moment. But I’m watching it, my daughter is sitting next to me and I’m thinking of the other parents who are watching Hallmark, how do we grapple with that as parents? Are we trying to block our kids from seeing it? Are we just not absorbing the culture? Should I not have taken her to see Star Wars because of this?

WAX: Well, I think different parents are going to come to different conclusions on the best way forward on a lot of those issues that I wouldn’t want to say there’s a hard, fast rule on every single storyline. I mean, I have kids older and younger and one close to the same age as you’re talking about, and we have conversations about this on shows and whatnot because it seems like gay and lesbian characters are now over-represented as far as population goes, statistically on some of these programs. And the conversations we’ve had with our kids whenever we see that or there’s a line here or there or something, we talk about it as we’ve used the term propaganda. I don’t think that’s a bad word. I think that’s something we ought to say, to help our kids understand, hey, there’s a message here. There’s a push here. And we’ve even had to have conversations, too—because I think what we’re seeing is a kind of culture where at some point it’s going to be like Daniel and his friends and Nebuchadnezzar sets up the statue and, in this case, I guess it would be Artemis, to the goddess and says, “Everybody bow down.” And as Christians, we’ve got to be training our kids for that moment when we’re not going to bow down. We’re not going to bend the knee to Aphrodite, Artemis, whatever the god is that our culture is propping up as the great idol that everybody has to bow down to. And so I think that’s wise. Things may not move in that direction. There’s all sorts of ways that cultural currents turn and things, but our kids are going to be better fortified if we’re having intentional conversations in that regard than if we’re not.

EICHER: Trevin Wax is a theologian, an author, and Senior Vice President of Theology and Communications for LifeWay Christian Resources.

It’s Culture Friday, Trevin, great to talk to you! Merry Christmas!

WAX: Thank you. Merry Christmas to you!


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