Queer Eye, Netflix’s television series where five gay men provide life makeovers for clients in often dramatic ways, is, in one reviewer’s words, “probably the strongest and most vivid representation currently on display in popular culture of how grace works.”
Don Clemmer, a journalist who formerly worked at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), wrote about Queer Eye and grace for the National Catholic Reporter. The series, he commented, is known for its “intense human warmth and cathartic tears, both onscreen and in the homes of viewers.” Many have described what the five gay hosts, known as the “Fab Five,” do as a ministry. Clemmer explained further:
“The real reason ‘Queer Eye’ deserves to be lifted up, and unironically so, as a model for the church’s cultural engagement is that it’s probably the strongest and most vivid representation currently on display in popular culture of how grace works. The arc of each episode offers a helpful illustration:
- A person is stuck. He or she may simply be in a rut or might be weighed down by something in the past that is preventing flourishing in the here and now. Grace is not there.
- A friend or loved ones nominates this person for the makeover — basically a form of intercession. The intervention of the Fab Five is not earned, but is asked for and freely given.
- When the Fab Five arrives, it is a disorienting whirlwind. Piles of clutter get overturned. Old attachments are pried away, sometimes painfully. Favorite crutches and rationalizations are named for what they are and lovingly, but unmistakably dispelled from the individual’s life. New, life-giving habits move into the opening that is created. It is raw. It is overwhelming. It is gratuitous. It is grace.
- When the week is over and the transformation has occurred, it’s then up to the person to continue cooperating with what they’ve learned from the epiphany, the graced encounter with the five persons in one makeover team. Are things perfect now? No. But the difference is undeniable.”
This process, in Clemmer’s words, “has an unmistakable Pope Francis feel to it.”
But there are also specific lessons for how Catholics can engage LGBTQ issues through encountering the other. Queer Eye’s path of grace reveals a dialogical way of proceeding:
“Yes, ‘Queer Eye’ wears on its sleeve a sexual ethic that the Catholic Church has not embraced. But it’s worth noting that, as the show does so, it also resists every opportunity to reject or objectify the other. The team dialogues with the devout people they encounter, not calculating in some sort of scorched earth, quasi-intellectual Jiu-Jitsu, but authentically, candidly and charitably making the case for who they are. It’s also clear that even the team members carry scars, some of them religious in nature. In a season two episode, in which the group makes over a woman who is very active in her church in the town of Gay, Georgia, we see designer Bobby unable to join the rest of the group that has walked into a church. He lingers just outside the door, uneasy.
“The moment speaks to how much is left unaddressed for a would-be culture of encounter.”
Early in his review, Clemmer raises Queer Eye as a contrast to Auxiliary Bishop Robert Barron of Los Angeles’ suggestion that church leaders should model their engagement with young people off the alt-right figure Jordan Peterson. Barron is deeply wrong on this count. In Clemmer’s words, Peterson’s ” noxious broth of hyper-masculinity, anti-PC spite and cringeworthy flirtations with Christianity.” Clemmer says the better model for pastoral ministers is Queer Eye. Indeed, religious educators could perhaps provide no better faith formation and youth engagement than playing an episode of Queer Eye and then breaking down this informal, grace-filled ministry of five, fabulous gay men.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, August 19, 2019