Because I know I can’t be the only one, I’ll go first. Yes, I’m a Christian, and yes, I’m a fan of the HBO series True Blood. I know, I know: any good Christian worth her weight in salt (and light) has no business watching a show detailing the life of a small-town Southern waitress, her 200-year-old vampire boyfriend and a cast of characters that explores every deep (and very, very dark) corner of humanity. Sin is definitely in in this town, that’s for sure; but we all have our guilty pleasures, and I’m a sucker (no pun intended) for good writing and plots that keep me on the edge of my seat.
But if ratings have anything to say about it, the show, currently in its second season, has become a bit more than just a guilty pleasure. It has become a window into our culture, painting an unforgiving picture of America. The show’s characters are as vivid and as real as people you’d meet on the street. Choose an outcast, any outcast, and you’ll find them: the gays, the alcoholics, the lonely, the divorced, the sex-addicted, the murderous, the not-so-bright. In short, the fictional Bon Temps, Louisiana, where True Blood takes place, is chock-full of the sort of people Jesus would’ve hung out with had He come down a few centuries later. And it holds nothing back: although highly entertaining, each episode is usually peppered through with graphic scenes of violence, sex, salty language and the creepy darkness of the vampire underworld. Oh, and, um, blood.
But the parts that made me most wary about the show didn’t have to do with any of those things. They had to do with religion. When the storyline began to explore the fictional "Fellowship of the Sun" church, a non-denominational congregation focused on the annihilation of vampires, I instantly groaned.
"Here it comes," I cringed, "The same old boring, hurtful Hollywood caricatures lampooning all Christians as crazy, buttoned-up loons with a hatred of all things not like them."
And to some extent, the show played into it: most of the second season followed one of the main characters, Jason Stackhouse, as he joined the Fellowship of the Sun; and the viewer was met with the stereotypical, zealous young pastor and his beautiful perfect-package wife. They were wealthy, vain, and through their blinding-white, smiling teeth parroted the same black-or-white thinking many American churches embrace: either you’re for us, or against us. No mercy unless you conform to our standards; otherwise, pack a mighty fine sunscreen in your casket, because it’s Hell for you for the rest of eternity. In their eyes, and the eyes of the congregation, there was no room for compassion, no room for understanding. It was their way—which they were so certain was God’s way—or the highway. If you weren’t perfect, the church was not for you.
The more on-screen time the fictional Fellowship got the worse I felt, because I saw so much of what people really perceive Christians as today: fake, plastic people who use Jesus’ name to push their own agendas, ones usually against anything Jesus would’ve preached about (and violently, if necessary). In one instance, Fellowship members aim to preserve human rights by threatening to ignite a vampire alive by setting it directly in the sun; in another, one of its members becomes a suicide bomber and detonates himself in a vampire’s home, killing some and wounding more, all in the name of Jesus. Sound familiar?
So imagine my surprise when one of the most Christ-like characters on TV in recent history happened to not only show up on True Blood, he also happened to be a vampire. A 2,000+ year old vampire named Godric, to be more specific, who evolved from his start as a bloodthirsty, savage warrior into a docile, merciful pacifist who mournfully laments the inability of vampires and humans to peacefully coexist. Godric is old enough to have remembered Jesus; and although he admits he never met Him, he exhibits the same Christ-like traits of mercy, understanding, compassion, and self-sacrifice. It is through this character that the real message of Christianity—love—is exhibited; and made me the happiest viewer this side of the Mason-Dixon.
"Yes," I thought, "Finally. This is how I would describe Jesus to someone who’d never met Him: someone who had seen destruction and was bone-tired of the pain it caused; someone who was merciful, someone who pardoned in the name of love and forgiveness. Someone who saw both sides of an issue, but ultimately—and with compassion—stood up for what was right, even if he wasn’t understood." His character stayed with me long after his story arc did (no spoilers here!), perhaps because it was such an affirmation of what I have believed about Jesus my whole life.
And by and large, True Blood viewers liked him. Internet message boards lit up with Godric sympathizers, viewers who agreed with his points of view and how he handled himself around vicious characters (both vampire and human) who couldn’t see past their own bloodthirsty desires to destroy everything—and everyone—around him. It reminded me of those people who respect Jesus and what He preached, but can’t stand His church because of what they’ve witnessed through His followers.
So is Hollywood finally getting it? The message that Christianity can exist in those gray areas of life where black-and-white simply can’t cut it? Maybe. Maybe not. I can say, with full confidence, that True Blood is not a Christian show. But Christians—real Christians, like you and I—know that Jesus shows His face where we sometimes least expect: in line at the supermarket, in the homeless man outside of church and even on HBO.