I don’t watch many television programs. I do give some time to watching the Atlanta Braves; I also like to watch good college football games, especially those involving the Georgia Bulldogs. I try to watch a good movie now and then; I am especially fond of 1940s and 1950s film noir. But I don’t watch many current television programs.
Debra and I do have a few programs that we enjoy watching together. We watch The Closer during its summertime run on TNT and we watch CSI on Thursday nights on CBS. For several years we have also been watching Cold Case on CBS. Its customary spot is 9:00 on Sunday night. I like having a dependable crime drama that I can watch after church on Sundays; it helps me to unwind and to prepare for the coming week.
What can I say? Some things are unexplainable.
So on Sunday we sat down to watch a new episode of Cold Case. Let me fill you in on the premise of the program in case you haven’t seen it. The program centers around a detective named Lilly Rush and the team with which she works. Their job is to try to solve crimes that have been placed in a cold case file, meaning that they have gone unsolved for a long time. The shows are usually interesting, especially when they examine the dynamics created when witnesses and suspects are interviewed about events that occurred long ago. Most of the time the crime in question has had a lingering impact on the lives of many people. As would be expected, there are always issues to be resolved that go beyond the mere solving of the crime.
Sunday’s episode, entitled That Woman, involved a fifteen year old girl named Carrie who had been found dead in 1998. She had been killed by blows from large stones. The case was reopened when a piece of clothing belonging to her was found. As the detectives investigated the case, they found that Carrie had been sexually promiscuous, apparently because, judging by her own comments, she wanted to be liked and appreciated. But, she wanted to change her life, so she joined a “chastity club” that met on Saturdays. It was a “True Love Waits” sort of thing, but they didn’t use that name. The group was small; it consisted of five teenagers including Carrie plus a twenty-two year old youth pastor who was the advisor to the club.
We find out that the members of the chastity club weren’t very chaste. One boy and girl were having sex with one another and they were afraid that the girl might be pregnant. Another boy, while there was no hint in the show that he was sexually active, was probably gay. And the third girl in the group, the one who was the apparent leader of the pack, was in the middle of a doozy of a mess. She was having sexual fantasies about the youth pastor; she was telling him about them and he was letting her tell him. He was apparently enjoying hearing them.
When Carrie came into that group, the dynamics changed. I think that there was actually a pretty good message there, in that Carrie was the only one in the group who really wanted to see things like they were and to confront reality. She seemed to know that only in facing who you are and in realizing that God loves you could you find hope for a fulfilling life. That’s a good message. And, it’s not unrealistic to have a group that prefers to wear masks and to play charades react negatively to the presence of someone who comes bearing and insisting upon truth. Real Christian faith should deal with real life in the real world, not in sanctimonious platitudes and hypocritical assertions.
Still, some aspects of this episode troubled me. The chastity support group was presented in what struck me as the worst possible light. Now, I’ll grant that the effectiveness of such a group can be questioned. I’ve read that there are studies that show that the chances that young people will engage in premarital sex are about the same whether or not they are in such groups and whether or not they take a chastity pledge and wear a chastity ring. But I would bet that you would have a difficult time finding such a group in which everybody is behaving hypocritically. I mean, couldn’t the producers afford to hire five more young actors who could be presented as sincere and even chaste (On television? Surely he jests!) teenagers? That would have at least made things seem more realistic.
Oh, and the poor youth pastor—he was of course troubled about the way things had gone and he felt terrible about the contribution he may have made to the problems of those young people. He was pictured in the present as still trying to minister and he seemed to be involved in some worthwhile ministries to hurting and needy people. We even saw him praying, and it looked sincere. Maybe I saw what I wanted to see, but I saw some hope for redemption for him. Still, I must admit that I continue to crave portrayals in the media of ministers who are at least doing a pretty good job of trying to be faithful and who are at least doing no harm. Such portrayals are few and far between.
(Some of you will remind me of the minister on The Simpsons; I’ve read about him but I’ve never watched an episode of the show. Now that someone has given you smelling salts and you’re back up off the floor, I’ll also say that I kind of liked the father/pastor in Seventh Heaven, but I had a dickens of a time figuring out what kind of minister he was. He worked at a church that looked like a Christian church but I’m not sure that I ever heard him say the name “Jesus.” But, to be fair, I didn’t watch it that much. I did like the fact that he was portrayed as a real man with a real family living a real life and having real struggles and real victories. Shoot, every time he got romantic it was with his own wife. Hallelujah!)
I won’t give away the ending of the episode in case some of you want to catch it in reruns, except to say that if you ever read Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, you’re on the right track. (Sorry for the railroad pun.)
I’m not one of those Christians who think that behind every TV show and movie lies a conspiratorial network that wants to defame, vilify, and mock our faith. Goodness knows that we create plenty of opportunities for satire and parody. Still, I do wish that the writers, directors, and producers of those shows and films would be careful to at least present a balanced portrayal when they have the opportunity. In that way, they could perhaps contribute to a civil discussion in our pluralistic society. But such an approach might not help the ratings.
Next Sunday, Cold Case, which is set in Philadelphia, will air an episode about a teenage Amish girl who got killed in 2006 when she went to the city as a part of the Amish rite of passage known as rumspringa. The word means “running around” and refers to the practice in which Amish teenagers can, upon turning sixteen, go out to experience some of the things of the world before committing themselves to the church.
Two murdered teenage girls with Christian connections in two weeks—I hope I don’t see a pattern emerging!