Beliefnet
Idol Chatter

“Law & Order: Criminal Intent” is not a regular show for me, but when Michael Kress, our Idol Chatter editor, told me about the “Brother’s Keeper” episode last night, I was inclined to watch, even though the “televangelist has secret life and people close to him get hurt but his handlers look the other way while the money rolls in” storyline sounded old to me. I tuned in hoping for something deeper and more meaningful than the kind of caricatures that have fueled entertaining parodies from Leno to Letterman to (going back a bit here) SNL to Fletch to Phil Collins/Genesis.

I was hoping for a show that could portray something new and interesting about evangelical Christians and their leaders, a group that makes up 25 to 45 percent of our nation’s people (depending on which study you use and whose theology you trust). I think it would be awesomely wonderful if primetime shows could show and reveal more about the real Christian faith and sincere attempts to live it out among the millions of people who are serious about it.

So I was willing to endure the tired (if not trite) themes rolled out early in the show, with Tom Arnold playing television preacher Calvin Riggins (and he tried to do it with a straight face!) and belting out the need to “accept the Lllllooohhhhrrrrdd” and “submit to Ggggaaawwwwwwdddd’s will.” Pastor Cal is a clueless guy who somehow has risen to pastoral fame while discussing his wife in terms like “she’d rather be dizzy than stupid.” After her death, Pastor Cal’s handlers posed her hands in prayer for the post-mortem photos. A main character debated “Creationism v. Evolution.” Riggins was called by opponents “just another big phony.” He pursued a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, had a $100 million evangelical institute called the Light of Heaven Evangelical Institute, and convinced his staff that his credit card bills at massage parlors were the work of old imps (devils) who were cloning his identity.

His closest attempt at fake repentance sounded something like “I knew that God was going to punish me for what I was doing because I knew that it was wrong, but I couldn’t stop.” I don’t know of a single Christian or church that would indulge that kind of thinking.

The most interesting stuff came from the intelligent questions of the decidedly non-believers in the show:

  • The mother of Vincent D’Onofrio’s Detective Robert Green asks why he’s crying about his wife’s death: “He’s supposed to be a believer–he’s supposed to believe that God had a reason for her death. So why is he crying?”
  • The television opponent of the preacher says, “If inflicting unbearable pain is how your God tests faith, then He’s a vindictive (expletive).”
  • And Green’s brothers shows up at the evangelist’s studios, complete with new faith and strong words, but with no coat or real hope for life. The church “cleaned him up” but it’s D’Onofrio who gives him a coat.

In the end, I fear that too many people have been given the wrong impression about what Jesus said and what Christianity is all about. In this show, the detectives were smart, warm and compassionate, while the Christians were goofy, lazy, and whimsical, not to mention immoral.

But in the scriptures, it’s Jesus who told the parable of The Good Samaritan, and it was he who said “come unto Me all who are weary, and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

I hope more shows will show that side of evangelical Christianity in the future. It’s more the norm, notwithstanding the missteps of a handful of high profile leaders and the stereotypes sustained by the news media and entertainment world.

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