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On Getting Churches Totally Wrong

Spoiler alert #1. If you see a film character who is aggressively homophobic, then he is a closeted homosexual, and thus a sleazy hypocrite.

Spoiler alert #2. If you see a church in a film or TV show and it is explicitly described as Catholic, then the priest will turn out to be a sexual predator and child abuser. As well as a homophobe and a hypocrite. It’s exactly what American TV would have been like if they had invented it in the 1840s.

To take another recent example. I am a fan of the series Santa Clarita Diet, a heartwarming family-oriented saga about how everyone pitches in to help when Mom is transformed into a ruthless, ravening, undead cannibal. (Honestly, it’s funny.) Consider it for your church’s film night. And then they introduce a Christian character, who is anxious to have her new lesbian lover baptized. I puzzled over this religious element, until I realized the plot needed a credulous fanatic who would interpret a spectacular series of events as miraculous. So, what else, they chose a Christian, specifically a white one.

Back in the 1940s, if you were making a madcap comedy and you wanted a credulous, superstitious buffoon as comic relief, you always chose a black actor (more often than not, Eddie “Rochester “Anderson). You might even depict said black character at a happy clappy revival meeting, pursuing his child-like faith. Today, all that demeaning racial baggage has transferred to white Christians/evangelicals—do they actually know there are distinctions there? These are likewise presumed to be uneducated, primitive, backwoods idiots. So this is racial progress?

And if they ever chose a Muslim to symbolize religious intolerance? The heavens would fall right then and there.

But getting back to the baptism. The film-makers know this “baptism” is a Christian thing, possibly involved with the “Bible,” and certainly involving the use of water, but that ends their awareness. Hence the act in the show is done in a wading pool in the back yard, with a party. Aren’t many actually done in churches, in the context of services?

Even in my old favorite series The X Files (the 1990s version, not the recent atrocity) they had an episode which sincerely attempted to treat faith seriously and respectfully. That continued right up until agent Mulder remarked that the phenomenon of bilocation was actually described in the Bible, specifically in the passages concerning Saint Ignatius.

Once again, they could have asked someone. I bet plenty of the staff around the halls have memories of their Christian past, or even attend churches presently. I understand that Christians of various shades abound in southern California. Ask them.

As you watch films and TV programs, you’ll find it easy enough to collect your own examples.

So here is a question. Granting the reality of the anti-Christian bias, how much of that might diminish or disappear if media folks actually took the trouble to investigate what that weird Christian thing, that incomprehensible cult, is actually doing? They might even learn to like it. Are they educable?

This article originally appeared here.