(RNS) — At the start of Pride month, a small rainbow flag spotted on the set of “The Chosen,” the wildly popular TV series on Jesus’ life, has triggered a dust-up among fans of the show on social media.
The hand-size flag, usually symbolizing support for LGBTQ rights, appears in the corner of the screen for approximately four seconds of a 6:49 minute promotional video “The Chosen” producers released Sunday (May 28).
Now, in the same week that Chick-fil-A’s evangelical Christian ownership has been called “woke” for its corporate DEI efforts, the flag has sparked a call for a boycott of the biggest evangelical media property in recent memory.
“We’ve made no secret our cast and crew come from all different beliefs and backgrounds,” said Dallas Jenkins, the show’s creator and director, in a statement to Religion News Service. “I don’t believe personal workspaces on set are relevant to the content of ‘The Chosen’, but if someone wants to stop watching a free show because of it, it’s their right.”
The show, which is funded by its fans via a crowdsourcing site, has racked up more than 500 million episode views and has earned glowing reviews from religious and secular outlets alike.
The flap started Monday when Jon Root, a blogger for the conservative Christian student organization Turning Point USA, tweeted a screenshot with a photo of the flag and tagged the official Twitter account of “The Chosen,” asking, “Can you explain why there’s a Pride flag on set?”
On Friday, a Turning Point USA spokesperson said that Root is no longer with the organization, and since this story was first published, “TPUSA” was removed from Root’s Twitter bio.
In response, the show’s account posted, “Just like with our hundreds of cast and crew who have different beliefs (or no belief at all) than we do, we will work with anyone on our show who helps us portray or honor the authentic Jesus. We ask that audiences let the show speak for itself and focus on the message, not the messenger, because we’ll always let you down.”
Conservative news outlet The Daily Wire (founded in 2015 by political commentator Ben Shapiro) published a story Tuesday detailing the exchange and saying “The Chosen” defended the flag’s appearance.
Not everyone at The Daily Wire appreciated the story.
“This is a disgusting piece, and I’m sorry we ran it,” Daily Wire co-founder and co-CEO Jeremy Boreing said on Twitter. “A show like The Chosen has 100+ employees. One of them brought a pride flag to work. That sucks, but it’s hardly the fault of the show.”
Boreing condemned the article’s “’purity death spiral’ politics” and demand for perfection.
“Hold people and organizations accountable, yes. Hold them to impossible standards and require death for their sins? I think actual Jesus had something to say about that.”
But Root took to Twitter again Tuesday, comparing the inclusion of the flag in the video to the pro-LGBTQ branding of Target and Bud Light. He called Christians to boycott the show, saying “the promotion of the Pride Flag is never acceptable in church or any form of ministry.” He also asked for prayers for the show’s team “so they may understand the error of their ways.”
Jenkins has long defended the show’s decision to hire people of all faiths. He told RNS in 2021 that the show “comes from an evangelical perspective” and that a Catholic priest, Messianic Jewish rabbi and evangelical scholar offer feedback on the scripts.
While Jenkins said at the time that most of the show’s viewers are Christian, he added that “over half of our cast and crew are agnostic or not of a particular faith background. And we’re hearing every day from thousands of people who are agnostic, atheist or coming at it from another perspective who are just watching it as a normal show.”
Giavani Cairo, who portrays the disciple Thaddeus on the show, championed the approach in his own tweet. “Anyone who is going to go at one of our family members for something like this, is no fan of ours,” he wrote. “They can close the door on the way out ‘Love one another as I have loved you’ We stand with our brother.” He ended his tweet with pride flag and heart emojis.
The show’s producers make clear that “The Chosen” ultimately points to the Bible as the final authority on the life of Jesus and his disciples.
“(A)ll biblical and historical context and any artistic imagination are designed to support the truth and intention of the Scriptures,” the introduction to the show’s pilot episode says. “Viewers are encouraged to read the gospels.”
This story has been updated to show that Root is no longer with Turning Point USA.