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Jon & Kate plus the shortcomings of evangelical piety

by Brad A. Greenberg

June 2, 2009 | 10:31 am

If you’re anything like me, you’d never heard of Jon and Kate—and don’t forget the eight—until rumors began running wild that the married stars of a popular reality show chronicling their seemingly blissful marriage and the challenges of raising twins plus sextuplets were locked in sordid affairs. With the evangelical values Jon and Kate Gosselin espouse on their show, their troubles have been sopped up as ready-made schadenfreude.

Difficult as it has been for evangelicals to come to terms with Jon and Kate’s downfall, Julie Vermeer Elliott writes in an excellent article for Christianity Today that there’s a lesson to be learned here. An lengthy excerpt that takes the Gosselins back to happier days:

Of all the viewers who followed the Gosselins, evangelicals were among the most faithful. Jon and Kate’s refusal to resort to “selective reduction” when they found themselves pregnant with sextuplets, their membership in an Assemblies of God church, and their Isaiah 40:31 T-shirts all helped to make them icons of evangelical piety. Churches from across the country clamored to be added to their speaking tours. In the last two years the vast majority of Jon and Kate’s presentations took place at Christian conferences or at evangelical churches, most often Baptist, nondenominational or charismatic.

Zondervan, one of the foremost evangelical presses, published two books with the Gosselins, both of which hit the New York Times bestseller list. The popular tongue-in-cheek blog Stuff Christians Like listed “Watching Jon and Kate Plus 8” on its list of favored Christian products or activities. Evangelicals dependably tuned in to the television show as the family received free trips to posh resorts, when the couple underwent plastic surgery, and when they moved from a comfortable house in the suburbs to a sprawling estate in the country. If they noticed that Jon and Kate’s family and friends—most notably Aunt Jodi and Beth—were, one by one, being estranged from the family (reportedly over financial disputes), it did not stop believers from looking to this couple for inspiration on how to be a good Christian family.

Then everything changed. Reports surfaced that Jon was out partying with co-eds and getting too friendly with a 23-year-old teacher. Shortly thereafter the tabloids claimed that Kate was having an affair with her bodyguard and that she had given Jon the go-ahead to see other women, as long as he showed up for filming. The truthfulness of all of these claims has yet to be established. But one thing is clear—the marriage is crumbling. In fact, on the season five premiere, which aired on Memorial Day, the couple expressed no love for one another and made no promises about being together in the future. Both appeared ready to file for divorce.

Viewers, and especially evangelical viewers, are aghast. How could such a loving, Christian family disintegrate so quickly? Is the failure of their marriage due to the stress of parenting multiples? Can it be attributed to Kate’s love of celebrity versus Jon’s desire to retreat from the limelight? Might it be the result of living under constant (albeit self-imposed) surveillance? I suspect that each of these theories tell part of the story. But the story that has not been told is the one that sees in Jon and Kate the shortcomings of evangelical piety itself.

If your interest is piqued—mine was captivated—you can read the rest here. Money quote in the penultimate paragraph:

“As such, the breakdown of Jon and Kate’s marriage is but a symptom of the larger weaknesses of ethics in the evangelical community. We are easily seduced by wealth and fame. We are easily contented by the shallow rhetoric of hot-button issues. In short, we are easily deceived by cultural values painted in Christian veneers (or clothed in Isaiah 40:31 T-shirts).”

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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Since launching the blog in 2007, I’ve referred to myself as “a God-fearing Christian with devilishly good Jewish looks.” The description, I’d say, is an accurate one,...

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