Christian entrepreneurs Jason and David Benham truly understand what it means to hold firm to their beliefs despite intense opposition.
Last May, the twins were famously fired from their HGTV show, Flip It Forward, due to their Biblical views regarding opposition and homosexuality. However, the brothers refused to be silenced, and are sharing their story in the powerful new biography, "Whatever the Cost: Facing Your Fears, Dying to Your Dreams, and Living Powerfully," which recently hit shelves.
In an exclusive interview with The Gospel Herald, the brothers shared how their faith has shaped and strengthened every aspect of their lives, what motivates them to show love and compassion to those who persecute them, and why the church must stand for truth--whatever the cost.
GH: What was it like growing up in the Benham household?
David: The Benham household was not like your ordinary Christian home. Our dad (Pastor Flip Benham) always said our theology had to be biography, so we were very much involved in all of the sports leagues, and everywhere we went, out dad told us we were to be testimonies of God's glory. We were to do everything with excellence, to try our best, to glorify and honor the Lord in every little way that we possibly could.
When we were young, our dad received the burden for pro-life work. So, he told us, 'Guys, you're gonna come with me up to an abortion clinic.' And we went with him to the clinic, where he prayed and ministered. This back in the late 80's, early 90's when pro-life work was pretty dangerous. We watched him and various other Sunday school teachers that we knew get beat up by police officers--or get arrested. So at a very young age, Jason and I witnessed a lot of our dad standing up for life--whatever the cost. Now, a lot of those tactics have changed, but the mentality remains the same. We had a pretty eventful upbringing when it comes to our Christian walk.
GH: Many people have heard of your dad; he has a strong pro-life stance and even baptized Jane Roe of Roe vs. Wade. What have you gleaned from his work in ministry?
David: Well, in pro-life ministry, we always say it's one thing to be against abortion, it's another thing to be pro-life. Jesus came to bring life and give it to us more abundantly, so as Christians, we must see abortion clinics and the whole abortion industry as a mission field, a place of darkness where the light of Jesus needs to shine. It's not a place of protest or demonstration, as it once was, because we're not fighting a cause, but actually lifting up the name of Jesus and loving our neighbor as ourself.
When Jane Roe--real name Norma McCorvey--started her abortion clinic in Dallas, TX, my dad put his office right next to her clinic. For years, his secretary's daughters kept bringing her cookies, and kept inviting her over for lunch. And for years, we spent time in the home of Norma and her lover, Connie..Over a period of time, both of them ended up getting saved. As a matter of fact, Jason and I were sixteen years old when we helped Connie move out of Norma's house. Here we were, kids, helping Jane Roe's lover move out of her home. It was an awesome thing we gleaned from our dad. You win people to Jesus by love. And abortion is not just an issue, it's a battle between light and darkness. And only the light and the love of Jesus will bring this to an end.
GH: In college at Liberty, you both excelled at baseball. You had a dream of being professional baseball players. How did that turn out?
Jason: Well, our dad was a pastor, so he never made more than 25,000 a year. So David and I had no choice but to pray to God that he would bless our endeavours. And we were able to get full ride scholarships to Liberty as baseball players. I remember Dr. Jerry Falwell, he was at nearly every home game, and would be roasting hot, and he'd be sitting there sweating with his suit and tie on, always encouraging the guys on deck to swing hard. So, it was a great experience at Liberty. We were then both fortunate enough to be drafted; David went to Boston, I went to Baltimore-- we actually both ended up in the St. Louis Cardinals organization.
But neither one of us were what we called "bonus babies," the guys who made the big signing bonus. So our first salaries during our first year of play pro-baseball was just $850 a month, and during this time, David was married and had a kid on the way. So on the off season, David was working at a lumber yard in Fort Myers, FL, and then I came in every spring training and would work in that lumber yard as well making just $7 an hour. It was a tough life, being a minor-leaguer. After three years I decided to let it go--David held on for one more year, but then let the game go, as well. And then we jumped right in to just doing odd jobs, whatever we could do before we went into real estate.
GH: You write that you went from "swinging a bat to pushing a broom as a janitor." What was it like to have the dream of baseball die and try to find odd jobs to support your families while the real estate dream was coming together?
Jason: Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty was interviewed once, and they asked him how he built his multi-million business. He said that he had to fish the river while he built the duck call, and fishing the river fed his family long enough for him to get his duck call business off the ground.
And that's essentially what David and I did right out of pro-ball. Neither of us had any money, so we took whatever odd jobs we could get; mowing lawns, painting houses, staining doors--we were doing whatever it took to provide for our families. We did that for the better part of three years while we were earning our real estate licenses and starting a real estate company. During that time, we really learned to trust the Lord .
David: The whole "whatever the cost" attitude is not just standing up for Jesus and your freedom whatever the cost, it's providing for your family--whatever the cost. So as Jason and I were building our real estate company, we knew we had to take on odd jobs just to keep food on the table. As a matter of fact, we moved our families in together for six months just so we could get the business up off the ground. So, when you have that mentality of living whatever the cost and doing the right thing, God richly blesses, and he did.
GH: Your real estate business really put you on the map. From Entrepreneur to Wall Street Journal, your business was receiving all kinds of publicity and awards. Describe the growth and success of your company.
Jason: For us to take credit for building successful businesses is like a shovel taking credit for building a hole. We're just the tools that God uses to get the job done. We weren't raised to be businessmen. We never took business courses, we didn't go to any business seminars. We just started up in real estate, we knew how to work hard, and we literally built up our company by the principles of the Bible. We've been reading through the Bible ever since we were kids, and will still do that to this day. It's really funny--when we'd come to a fork in the road regarding a business transaction, especially early on in our business, it was as if God were speaking to us-- a lot of times through the Old Testament. We'd read a passage in Leviticus and be like, "Wow, wait a second, we can apply this to our business!'
God basically just directed us, and we started off as real estate brokers. In 2007, we franchised our business, and by 2010, we had grown to 100 offices in 35 states. That's when we started winning all those awards, and from that platform, we began opening up businesses domestically and internationally. Since then, we've got a host of companies that we own-- God has been very good to us. We're using that platform to go out and speak to other entrepreneurs and people who are in the workplace, to encourage them that they are ministers right where they are, that the person who preaches on Sunday--he's no more of a minister than anyone else, he's just in a teaching position. And so, you may be in a position of teaching fifth graders, you may be a garbage collector, you may be a coach--either way, you're a minister on mission right where you are. The devil doesn't want people in the workplace to see themselves as ministers, because he knows how you see yourself will determine how you behave yourself. He likes the false dichotomy that there are those in ministry, and there are those who are not. That should not exist. If you've accepted Christ into your heart, you are a minister.
GH: Your real estate prowess caught the attention of a production company, who thought you'd be perfect for reality TV. It seemed they loved the concept of the show "Flip It Forward," understood you both are conservative Christians, and HGTV originally had no problem with that. Everything is fine during production, until a website posts an article describing the two of you as "right wing extremists,' and the show was abruptly cancelled. How did you feel about the whole situation and about HGTV?
David: Before HGTV signed us, they gave us an offer and did an extensive background check. They saw our stance on abortion and gay marriage; they saw videos, they saw blog posts, they read websites, and they spoke to us in person. They then spoke to us and said, 'You're not haters. We like you guys. We wanna make you stars on our network.' So we began filming, and they announced our name at the upfront in New York City. That's when GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) first heard about us, and began pressuring HGTV to let us go. HGTV was going to stick by us, but then a website called Right Wing Watch posted a new article about us. However, nothing we had said or done was new, or had surfaced since we had signed with HGTV. But this time, Right Ring Watch created an entire new narrative and built a whole story out of thin air. They took comments from us completely out of context, they took comments from other Christian leaders, they took comments from our dad to create the story.
HGTV approached us and said, 'Listen guys, we really like you, we're gonna stick with you. We've got lots of time and energy invested in this.' But we told them, 'These guys are not gonna leave you alone.' Sure enough, GLAAD and Right Wing Watch began bullying them, and mobilized their base one night while everyone was sleeping. We woke up the next morning and HGTV had posted on their Facebook page that they were 'reviewing our show.' When HGTV called us at 11am the day they fired us, our first response to them was, 'Thank you, we appreciate the opportunity. Thank you for believing in us.' One of the executives on the phone was actually crying, the other was speechless and couldn't even talk--they had one spokesman deliver the news that they were firing us. This particular spokesperson said, 'You know what, I did not expect to be speechless on the phone...You guys have been class examples of people that we really want on our network.' And that was it. We said, 'you know what, we have no hard feelings toward you, but we want you to know that you got bullied into this. And this bully that bullied you is bullying every other American right now, especially Christian-based businesses, so we're gonna go after this bully." And that's exactly what we did.
GH: You said GLAAD pressured HGTV to fire you. Why is any personal belief system you may have, in this case conservative Christian viewpoints, any less valid than any belief system the folks at GLAAD may have? Why in our culture, in your opinion, does one group work so hard to silence someone with a differing opinion?
David: This is a spiritual battle, which we outlined in the last chapter of our book. This spiritual battle has taken place since the beginning of time, but we're watching it manifest more clearly now than we have ever seen before in America. The truth of God is what sets people free--Satan knows this; the powers of darkness understand this. The best plan of attack is to silence the truth. If you can silence Christian belief, if you can demonize it and make it look like it's hate filled rhetoric--which it's not--then you win the day. Jesus loves all people,but he does not love all ideas. Unfortunately, in America, we have ideas that are against God, such as a child in a mother's womb is not really a baby and so can be terminated at a mother's choosing. That's an idea that is absolutely against God.
Another idea that's against God is that marriage can be between a man and a man and a woman and a woman. But by and large the church, has been pretty silent to those ideas as a whole for the last 50 years or so. When the church is not salt and light in the culture, it's good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled on by the feet of men. And that's what's happening today. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, 'If the church does not wreak havoc with its prophetic zeal, it will be nothing more than an irrelevant social club lacking moral and spiritual authority." So, it's the Word of God that needs to spoken clearly, in truth and with love. Christians must be unashamed, not afraid to pay the price, and to live for Jesus, whatever the cost, and that's what will dispel the darkness. But until we get back to that in the church, there will be no cultural win here.
Jason: We've got the funny notion as Christians today that people are supposed to be attracted to us. But that's not in the Bible. There WILL be people that are attracted to us, but by and large, most people will be turned off--not because of our ways, but oftentimes, because of our words. When Jesus walks in and starts calling the Pharisees out, as found in the book of Matthew, that was not very popular. So, if the Savior that we're following was rejected and murdered, then why would we think that we're gonna get a whole lot better from the culture? We've got to understand as Christians going into this thing, we're here to be reverent, not have to concern ourselves with relevance
GH: You wrote in your book, "The more we sought the Lord, the more we realized the blame for our spiritual slide in American rested solely with the church--starting with us personally, even though the government was the easiest target to blame." What kind of implications has this realization had on your lives, your day to day interactions with your spouse and kids, and careers?
Jason: That quote is directly from a Scripture verse that says judgement begins directly with the House of the Lord. The first time Jesus even uttered the word "church," he was talking about it prevailing against the gates of hell. But if the church does not show up at the gate of hell, because the gate is a defensive mechanism, then the gate of hell will always win. So, good will always triumph over evil if it just shows up. That's why we say, "All you gotta do is stand. God will take care of the fight."
But how it relates to our family: we're actually glad that our kids got an opportunity, by God's grace, to see our theology turn into biography. For the last 14 years David and I have been training our kids in the Scripture and trying our best to model what it's like to live in the Scripture. We want to live this testimony, and we've messed up alot. I had to apologize to my kids last night for losing my temper. But they got an opportunity to see their dads not back down from something we truly believed we needed to stand strong for. And it started a long time ago, and it's really done nothing but help our kids. And our wives, they're our biggest fans; they're awesome.
GH: How do you think God guided through the entire ordeal with HGTV? How has this incident solidified your faith?
David: One of the things that the Holy Spirit laid on our hearts is that truth is a person, and love is the same person, Jesus Christ. People keep saying, "You gotta be loving, you gotta be respectful," but you can still speak the truth in love. Some people will hate you and some will love you--the same boiling water that hardens the egg softens the carrot. Most people just wanna turn the temperature of the water down. So, what we experienced in a real way is that Jesus is both truth and love, and He gave us an incredible heart of compassion, not just for HGTV but for those in the homosexual community.
Some say that they were offended by the experience, but an overwhelming majority of the tweets and Facebook posts that we got from the LGBT community were nothing but support for us, saying 'You guys seem loving, we appreciate you...'One guy actually launched an all-out verbal attack on us on Facebook. We responded in love, and a few private messages later, we found out the guy loves baseball, and he lived in a big city in America. So we contacted the local scene there and got him front row tickets to a baseball game. He then Facebook messaged us back and said, 'I can't believe you guys just did this for me. I just want you to know that it so impacted my life that I have decided to walk away from these temptations that I've been struggling with for so many years and become the man that God created me to be.' That is an incredible testimony of what God does when you just stand on His word. We didn't have to come up with some creative, strategic campaign of how to reach people without offending them. No, we just spoke the truth in love. Some, it brought offense to. Others, it radically changed, and we let God do the work.
GH: So what's next for the two of you?
David: We have been traveling the country and speaking; it's very interesting, Americans and especially Christians are longing for courageous leadership. And it's not like we are courageous leaders--but the Scripture says, "To the hungry man, even what is bitter tastes sweet." So people look to us and say, 'Wow, you guys were really courageous." And we say, 'Well, you read our book, and you'll realize how cowardly we were at so many times in our life.'
Jason and I are traveling and speaking and trying to just bring some courage and life to Christians and to Americans that are willing to stand up and defend our freedoms, but also we're creating new jobs. Jason and I, we're businessmen, so we really want to create as many jobs as we can, expand the tax base and bless our country. We also just finished the houses with HGTV, the families flipped them and made good money. HGTV, to their credit, did a great job still sourcing some of the money to the families to finish these houses.
GH: Your book's title, "Whatever the Cost," is your guiding philosophy. Can you explain that to our readers?
David: Revelation chapter 12 talks about the battle strategy in Heaven and how the angels of God overcame Lucifer and his angels, who became Satan and his demons, by the blood of the Lamb, and by the Word of their testimony. They did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death. In other words, they were willing to fight--whatever the cost. Jesus even said in His own words that we must not love our lives, 'He who loves his life will lose it, but he who loses his life for My sake and the Gospel will surely find it.' That's a whatever the cost attitude; I'm gonna live for Jesus, I'm not gonna be ashamed of His name, I'm gonna apply His principles to my life, and I'm also gonna love others more than myself. That is the ultimate bedrock of the Christian faith.
One of the major issues in today's church, and in my life before, is that we love our lives too much to really live and give it all for Jesus. We are too happy or comfortable or complacent, or whatever it may be, stuck in sin, that we're not willing to pay the price and give it all up. But Christ has already paid it for us. He's just looking for our hearts--total surrender, total commitment to Him, whatever the cost. And that's why it's our guiding principle and to us, it's THE guiding principle of Scripture.
Editor's note: Many thanks to David and Jason Benham for their time. Whatever the Cost: Facing Your Fears, Dying to Your Dreams, and Living Powerfully is now available for purchase.