“I’m not scared of you ‘cause I got God by my side. And He told me that you ain’t worth nothin’… and He wants me to smite you. She-devil…that’s what you are. You’re the devil and I’m the angel of God …’cause God loves me. He don’t love you. ‘Cause you ain’t worthy of God’s love. You ain’t worthy of nobody’s love.”
This bit of dialogue was spat during the last three minutes of Orange is the New Black’s season 1 finale as antagonist Tiffany “Pennsatucky” Doggett tried to stab protagonist Piper Chapman with a wooden cross that had been sharpened to a point.
It’s a hard scene to digest and an even more difficult one to fathom actually happening. And while this is certainly an extreme example, it’s the type of behavior the writers of scripted television and films seem to assign any Christian characters they deem worthy of screen time.
Judgmental, ruthless, ignorant, empty of understanding or grace and with a heavy Southern accent—this is how the entertainment industry chooses to portray a large majority of Christians. Whether it’s a comedy such as Community, a “dramedy” like Orange is the New Black or an off-the-deep-end drama like Scandal, it just does not matter. If there’s a Christian character bouncing around, more than likely they’re going to viciously judge, ridicule, argue with or straight up murder the faithless, more secular characters, all while sporting a straight-from-the-trailer-park Southern accent.
Why is it that a very large majority of fictional Christian characters fed to us by mainstream media are so completely and insanely dogmatic? There is no grace, no understanding, no forgiveness in these characters.
Even on a show with lighter fare like Community, where the singular Christian character isn’t as rigid or downright mean (or Southern) as other shows, Shirley Bennett’s faith is still frequently played as a flaw.
Why are these types of character models accepted as the norm when representing today’s Christian?
Maybe it’s because our faith in the unseen but not unfelt makes us easier targets. Perhaps it’s because bad experiences with the Church and its people influence these writers and these easy-to-hate characters are their sweet revenge. Or maybe it’s simply because these fictional characters are based in everyday reality.
The truth is that there are some so-called Christians who quite closely mirror the Christian characters we watch on television and film. They’re loud and proud and angry in God. They stare down their “opponents” with judgmental eyes and damning language. They protest funerals and vomit epithets at people they’ve deemed sinners.
And on some level, most of us are guilty of some of this type of behavior. Maybe not to those extremes, but we too judge, condemn and feel “better than,” while refusing to admit our own faults. For the more dogmatic Christians and for us, it doesn’t matter that how we behave, how we treat people, how void we are of love and grace is a direct and vicious contradiction of everything the Bible teaches us of God and His ways.
But since this type of behavior and the actions of the hateful type of “Christian” are often more apparent than the self-sacrificing love that comes out of following Christ, this becomes how screenwriters and pundits view the Christian whole. The prudish, judgmental Christian is the standalone example we seem to be stuck with for the time being.
And while this portrayal is worrisome in and of itself to those of us who worry about these kinds of things, it’s also a hampering of our reach on the world. Those souls who may be unfamiliar with God and our faith may not be too willing to listen to the Gospel if all they know of Christians is what they see on television and movies.
So what can we do to alter how we Christians are portrayed and brandished to the world? How can we be the change we want to see happen?
In short order, we can be the exact opposite of the Christians they witness on those silver screens.
When we focus on Christ, we can allow His grace and love to flow through us, enabling us to approach the world’s citizens and each other with love and grace instead of fiery contempt and aching judgments. We can love this world as God loved it, wholly and completely, without reserve. We can give and give and then give some more. We can reach to those in need and share the mighty, life-shaking love we’ve been given. We can shrug off the dogmatic examples that fill our screens and be the antithesis of them. And most of all, we can quit arguing and fighting with each other over ducks and dynasties and everything in-between.
This doesn’t make us less committed to our faith in God. And it certainly doesn’t mean we’ll be swayed from what we believe and practice. It only means we’re doing as we are called to do in and through Him.
The fact of the matter is that those loud and proud and angry Christians will likely always draw a crowd. That’s just how the world works. But we can strive to show the true nature of the Gospel. We can push to become the true Christian example we want this world to witness and realize. We can show God’s love in all its life-altering glory, and when we inevitably mess up, we can apologize and admit that we are all sinners.
Maybe TV and film will always portray us as those reckless, judgmental souls who would rather condemn than love, but we can do our Godly best to prove it wrong and to share the Gospel not only with those outside of Christian circles, but also with those who are perhaps too entrenched in their form of “Christianity.” It’s our calling. It’s our honor. Now it’s time it becomes our priority. Not just so we’re portrayed in a better light, but so that every aspect of the Christian faith glorifies He Who blesses us with life in the first place.
Cory Copeland is a writer living in Little Rock with his wife, Bri. You can follow him on Twitter @Cory_Copeland and read more of his writing at CoryCopeland.net.