Looking back at the past year, Mike Parker realizes he lost his focus on God. Not because of a traumatic event or a personal crisis, but because of a TV show.
It was his role in encouraging his brother, Luke Parker, to go on “The Bachelorette,” that he feels led him astray.
The only thing that’s obvious to me is this show is produced by people who are very much opposed to a biblical GospelMike Parker, Luke Parker's brother
Luke, a Gainesville resident who’s been a controversial figure on the ABC reality dating show and has been labeled this season’s unofficial villain, is an outspoken Christian. So are his family and those closest to him.
Mike is speaking out because he believes ABC was against Luke — who can’t speak for himself at this point because of contractual obligations to the network — from the very beginning for his open Christian faith.
At face value, the premise of the show and Luke’s beliefs don’t line up. But Luke decided to go on the show because he thought his beliefs at least lined up with Hannah Brown’s, this season's bachelorette.
“He said he was jamming to worship music the whole way down there because he didn't want to waste his time with this whole thing,” Mike said of his brother’s first interview for the show. “He really wanted it to be a God thing.”
It hasn’t gone according to plan. The season that began as a God thing for Luke and Brown, as a pair of believing Christians sharing their faith, ended with a mascara-streaked Brown, standing in the rain, giving the middle finger to the van that escorted Luke from the show.
The same descent was seen in the show’s treatment of Luke’s faith, according to Mike. It started as a selling point — Luke was pitched as a good guy from Georgia — and ended as a source of scandal for viewers across the country.
“Their whole relationship was built on faith,” Mike said. “The show doesn’t highlight it, but that was the foundation of their relationship. And the next thing that happens is she comes to hometowns, she tells us how all the guys in the house hate Luke. And I start watching the episodes and I start seeing the things they make Luke to be and I'm like, questioning God. I’m like, ‘Why God? What's the purpose here? What’s the reason?’”
Since the show began to air, Mike has asked himself those questions a lot and realized the show has been against Luke since the beginning. Mike even went on Todd Starnes’ radio show on Fox News to accuse ABC of misportraying his brother’s actions because of his Christian beliefs.
“This has been the hardest thing I've ever gone through, ever dealt with,” Mike said. “Something I've learned is how deadly our sin is and how evil and wicked the world is. I've always known that, but until you see something like this happen to your brother and you see what he's gone through and you see how they have put this whole thing together, you feel the evil. You feel it knocking on your door.”
“The Bachelorette” is a show Mike’s father-in-law, Bucky Kennedy, doesn’t like at all. Luke is close with Kennedy and lived with him for part of the summer while in college.
Kennedy said Luke has always been “very kind,” “he loves Jesus” and is “hungry about the Bible.” Luke and Kennedy have had a lot of conversations about faith.
“I didn't think this show was something he needed to do, and that's what I told him and what I've said consistently,” Kennedy said. “I'll never be a fan of the show, but I'll always be a Luke Parker fan. But, I just didn't think the show was a place for him to be.”
Though the family feels slighted now, the show gave Luke a platform and a following he wouldn’t otherwise have. He used that platform Saturday, July 20, on the Gainesville square as a way to raise money for the family of Hall County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Nicolas Blane Dixon, who was shot and killed while pursuing burglary suspects earlier in the month.
There was a steady line of people waiting to talk, hug and get a photo with Luke.
“I respect Luke,” said Madysen Gibbs, 16, of Gainesville. “I respect the decisions he made throughout the season, and I respect how he views the Lord.”
Sarah Caruso, of Flowery Branch, was there with her daughters and felt that the way the show portrayed the “hometown celebrity” was probably unfair. She said she’s worked in the entertainment industry, so she knows how those things go.
“I think he got a bad rap on the show,” Caruso said. “I don't know him, but I just have a feeling … I know that it’s not always what it looks like on TV.”
Bridgette Cyboran, 20, drove from Orlando, Florida, with her cousin just to meet Luke on the square. She said Luke has been her favorite since the beginning of the season and she was nervous as she walked up to meet him.
She’s questioned the way Luke has handled a few things during the show, but like Caruso, Cyboran knows things on TV aren’t always as they seem.
“I don’t even know because reality TV is never accurate,” Cyboran said.
And even though Bailey Johnson, 21, of Canton, felt the same way about the reality TV aspect of it, she didn’t like how Luke went about his last conversation on the show with Brown.
“I think it definitely could have been twisted more than we thought, but I didn’t agree with how he handled it,” Johnson said. “I just felt like he kind of shamed her in a way.”
Luke and Brown had a conversation about their relationship in episode 10, which aired July 15, just before they were to decide if they’d spend the night together in the fantasy suite. Each of the four men remaining were given the opportunity to do the same, and Luke wanted to confirm that his and Brown’s beliefs still lined up.
Sex in the fantasy suite is a veiled suggestion on the show, but participants often don’t kiss and tell — until Brown, who broke a fourth wall this season by declaring to viewers that she had sex during the show.
“Luke has spoken faith out this entire season, and they don't show any of it,” Mike said. “At Curt's Cafeteria, when Hannah was in front of the Bible study, she told the whole Bible study group that fantasy suites aren't for sex, and she wasn't going to be having sex in the fantasy suite. She said she was going to be having deep conversations with them. She told that in front of the whole Bible study group and they don't show that.”
Mike believes ABC has purposefully cut specific conversations from the show as part of an agenda.
“These conversations are hours of conversations that get chopped up, rearranged,” Mike said. “I'm very aware that they've had an agenda this whole time … From the very beginning, they need an antagonist, they need to tell a story. They need that drama.”
And in Mike’s eyes, his brother was the one they chose for that role because of his faith.
“The only thing that’s obvious to me is this show is produced by people who are very much opposed to a biblical Gospel,” Mike said. “And I wholeheartedly believe that from the very beginning of the show, they have meticulously drawn this narrative that Luke's a liar, that he is a manipulator who, to this point that we are now, no matter what Luke says, no one is going to listen to him.”
The entire season has been tough to watch for the family, but episode 10 is when it all came to a head.
As Luke talked to Brown, he wanted to make sure what he believed about her the entire season was still true. He wanted to make sure that what she told his family and friends on their hometown date about the fantasy suites was still true.
“They go into the fantasy suite date and Luke looks like he's coming out of left field with this question,” Mike said. “But Luke thought they were on the same page about it. Luke wasn't bringing it up to test her or whatever. He was bringing it up just to confirm, and if anything, give her an opportunity to speak that. Because she had voiced concerns that she was worried that the show would make it look like she was having sex in the fantasy suites when she wasn't.”
But Brown made it clear her beliefs had either changed or weren’t as aligned with Luke’s as he had thought. Brown said she had had sex with at least one of the other men and “Jesus still loves me.”
“The issue that Luke has, and what's breaking his heart, is not what she did,” Mike said. “It’s not that she had sex with some guy in a windmill (fantasy suite). It's how she's acting about it, how she's arrogantly boasting about it … She's totally missing the mark. Her theology, her everything is way, way, way, way off. And it's so off that it's like, I've got to say something.”
Luke was sent home after that conversation, and after watching the episode — and the rest of the season — Mike said he couldn’t sit back and let his brother be portrayed the way he was any longer.
For Kennedy, it’s not just about the way Luke is being portrayed, but the way the show portrays love and relationships in general.
“I just think that what that show does to relationships is what kryptonite does to Superman,” Kennedy said. “It’s just very destructive. … I just don't see anything that demonstrates a healthy, biblical relationship.”
Luke and Brown’s differing views on biblical relationships — and who was in the wrong — continued even after the fantasy suites episode aired. The pair got into a spat on Twitter the evening the episode came out.
“Time and time again Jesus loved and ate with sinners who laughed. And time and time again he rebuked saints that judged,” Brown Tweeted, rebuking Luke, who wrote that she was laughing at her own sin. “Where do you fall Luke?”
Mike said Luke understands he messed up in certain aspects of the show. There were situations he said Luke admitted he should have handled differently.
“I made mistakes and no I’m not perfect (crazy right),” Luke said in a post on Instagram. “I didn’t totally behave as the man I want to be and I did not represent Christ the way I thought I was prepared to and that has broken me.”
Kennedy said Luke admitted to arrogance.
“He says he got the first impression rose and thought he was it,” Kennedy said. “He realized that he gave into arrogance. He gave into pride. He knows he lied in the Luke S. situation. And he doesn't make excuses … He doesn't do that. He doesn't run from that.”
Mike said the way the producers treated Luke and the way they’ve edited the show didn’t make things any easier.
“Every step of the way is carefully manipulated, carefully planned and carefully orchestrated,” Mike said. “The reality is, it's a fictional representation of who Luke is.”
Producers are very “protective,” too. That’s something else Mike and Kennedy learned throughout the process.
During the hometown date, that protection came in the form of keeping Luke and Hannah away from his family unless the cameras were there, Kennedy said.
“To get alone time to have a conversation with him or her, they just weren't going to let it happen,” Kennedy said.
Even though the family knew Luke could be portrayed badly, they never imagined it would be this bad. Kennedy said people have sent Luke death threats and other messages he doesn’t think Luke — or anyone for that matter — deserves.
Luke’s family and friends have had to support and encourage him along the way, but Kennedy said Luke is doing well.
“You can listen to the people on that show who existed in a very manipulated environment,” Kennedy said. “You can listen to what they say about Luke or you can listen to all these people who've known Luke for years, without any manipulation from producers or anyone else. And this is the Luke that we know.”
He said the show stretches everyone emotionally, spiritually and physically. There’s not much sleep, there’s not much rest and there’s a lot of travel.
Even for the hometown date, Kennedy said producers were at the house for hours. They didn’t stop filming until 4 a.m.
But all that filming doesn’t equate to a final edited product that shows a true representation of Luke.
Mike said he wants people to understand it’s all about faith for Luke. Even though he was sent home and this season has turned him into the villain, Mike wants people to understand that Luke is more than that.
“It's not about winning the argument for Luke,” Mike said. “He doesn't want to put Hannah in her place, he just wants to proclaim truth.”
And that’s something he’s partly having to try and do after-the-fact. Mike said Luke has seen how the show portrayed him, so he’s doing what he can to move on while still defending his faith.
“I am so proud of Luke,” Mike said. “I am so proud of him. He is concerned about all the right things in this.”