The Problem with TV Christianity

Hollywood is more than an industry creating icons and achieving affluence. It is a powerhouse that has been granted the authority to influence cultural philosophies and societal ideologies. While the potential impact for the positive is tremendous, so too is the possibility for adverse consequences. Such power necessitates responsibility, a responsibility that is often either abused or ignored.

As a Christian, frustration mounts when the seriousness of that responsibility is overlooked for the purposes of production. Desiring more dramatization, Biblical values and truth are often misconstrued by the appropriation of the most extreme conception. Shows such as NCIS, Law & Order: SVU, Dateline, The View, The Good Wife, and Last Man Standing offer examples of episodes that portray such an inaccurate faith (1). The recent addition (and now cancellation) of Living Biblically has attracted much attention as well (2). Therefore, viewers need to have a level of caution when viewing Hollywood representations of the Christian faith, considering several aspects.

Practices
First, it is necessary to consider the practices employed in a theatrical presentation of Christian faith and Biblical principles. In reality, not all of these practices are not exclusive to the depiction of Christian beliefs but follow the typical pattern. Hollywood is built upon its cultural appeal, therefore, it is reasonable to assert that much of what is presented will affirm the current trends while maintaining an antagonistic stance against those who remain rooted against cultural trends.

Utilizing preconceived notions enveloped in emotional allure, much of what is presented about Christianity is constructed upon three precepts: intolerance, unenlightened, and hypocritical. Viewed as intolerant, unenlightened hypocrites. Much of these biases are formed as a reaction to the Christian condemnation of sin and a lack of understanding about true Christian belief. However, conformity is not only much easier than researching the truth, but also has the propensity to sell more because it ‘affirms’ cultural ideologies.

This depiction of Christians progresses the agenda of sensationalization that is the practice of Hollywood. Unfortunately, this practice is insisted upon by viewers as evidenced by the amount of money that drives the industry.

Portrayals
Unfortunately, the practices that Hollywood engages in make for a mediocre portrayal of Christianity that continually frustrates Christians and their testimony. The portrayals of Christians in television and movies usually fall under one of three categories:

  • A Superficial Faith: The faith portrayed is often one that is weak and wavering, willing to compromise on whatever new trend infiltrating their faith if the compromise has not already taken place.
  • A Moral Faith: Others portray the Christian faith simply as a strict moral code that is dictated by behavior. However, such a view misses the connection between the heart and mind that is motivated by a love for Christ.
  • A Cultic Faith: Finally, at its most extreme portrayal is the Christian faith as something that is cultic in nature. Usually, but not exclusively, this portrayal consists of larger families who homeschool and eschew society for its sinfulness (such a portrayal is not only extreme but is not exclusively Christian).

These portrayals are not only contrary to authentic Christianity, but give credence to a distorted Christianity.

Problems
As a Christian, these portrayals generate a number of issues. First, it generates an unrealistic actuality. Already it has been determined that the false portrayals create a distorted Christianity. The Christianity portrayed is one that lacks a proper exaltation of God and a proper humiliation of people.  Instead, God is a distant and mystical concept that either is accused of all things harmful or intervenes only when it benefits himself.

Furthermore, it generates unrealistic expectations. The Hollywood portrayal of Christianity demands that Christians behave with a high level of moral capability. It places expectations on Christians that they must adhere to a different set of standards not placed on the secular society. Unfortunately, the standards are so high that no person is capable of achieving, and thus Christians are then labeled as hypocrites.

Principles
In light of this ongoing grievance, the continuing question is how to respond. That question necessitates that we consider two varying perspectives. The first is to consider how believers need to respond. Unfortunately, there is little outrage over these false portrayals. Perhaps it is because Christians are simply excited to be portrayed at all, that we fail to distinguish the need between good and bad press. However, there is a point in which a defense needs to be made. While Christ taught of the need to love those who persecute, he also defended God when the culture was against God. This is not a call to incite unruly behavior or antagonism. Often a respectful defense is more meaningful and carries greater impact than that of violence and antagonism. This defense means maintaining a positive testimony, offering a defense to those who may be influenced by it, and even standing up against Hollywood for the portrayals.

However, the responsibility is not merely upon Christians to react to these portrayals. Those who either do not understand the Christian faith or may even be against it have the responsibility of discernment. They must not allow them to be deceived by false portrayals (this principle applies to more than just religion, but to anything that may be misrepresented by the media.  The exercise of discernment requires intentionality in finding out the truth and being knowledgeable enough to not be deceived. That means when things are questionable or in doubt, then one should seek out the truth.

Unfortunately, the burden of proof should be on Hollywood, after all those in Hollywood are the ones offering the portrayals. That does not negate one’s personal responsibility. Sadly, the media depiction of Christianity follows suit with most things that come out of the media: fictionalized and/or sensationalized. That initiates a calling on all people to be informed and defend.

(1) This is not an exhaustive list, but simply offers a sampling of shows, and long-standing, popular shows at that, that have had entire shows or continual references to Christian faith, as recent as this week and as long ago as their initial inception demonstrating that this is a modern issue that has long been active.

(2) Having never watched this show, I can only comment upon what producers have issued as promotional materials about the premise of the show or the details of production that I know about and not on that actual content itself.

Photo by Frank Okay on Unsplash