As I read about the brewing evangelical storm over the new TV series, “The Book of Daniel,” I was tempted to paraphrase the immortal words of Ronald Reagan. “Well, there you go again.”
I am referring to the call by the American Family Association to boycott the show and put pressure on local affiliates and NBC to not air the show. The strategy includes downloading a document, filling out the call letters and phone number of the local NBC affiliate, and passing it out at church services around the country. Then churchgoers are to call the local affiliate and besiege some poor receptionist who will likely resign and never go near a church again. Christians are urged to forward the email located on the website to get the word out. Here is the description of the show from the American Family Association site.
- While the public has not seen the program, NBC is promoting “The Book of Daniel” as a serious drama about Christian people and the Christian faith. The main character is Daniel Webster, a drug-addicted Episcopal priest whose wife depends heavily on her mid-day martinis. Webster regularly sees and talks with a very unconventional white-robed, bearded Jesus. The Webster family is rounded out by a 23-year-old homosexual Republican son, a 16-year-old daughter who is a drug dealer, and a 16-year-old adopted son who is having sex with the bishop’s daughter. At the office, his lesbian secretary is sleeping with his sister-in-law. NBC and the mainstream media call it “edgy,” “challenging” and “courageous.” The series is written by Jack Kenny, a practicing homosexual who describes himself as being “in Catholic recovery,” and is interested in Buddhist teachings about reincarnation and isn’t sure exactly how he defines God and/or Jesus. “I don’t necessarily know that all the myth surrounding him (Jesus) is true,” he said. NBC considers The Book of Daniel a positive portrayal of Christ and Christians.
Okay…let me say right off the bat that I don’t suspect I will be a huge fan of “The Book of Daniel.” But who knows? Maybe I will be pleasantly surprised. I at least plan to watch the show to be able to respond intelligently.
The Mercury News review written by Charlie McCollum described the recurring appearances by Jesus. Kenny (series director Jack Kenny) maintains he (Jesus) is not some kind of imaginary theological friend to Webster or a plot device to be played for laughs. “He’s not imaginary to Daniel,” he says. “We’re not doing `I Dream of Jesus.’
“I was raised in my faith to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ,” says Kenny, who grew up in a Roman Catholic family. “Jesus is the embodiment of Daniel’s faith. He is the best part of Daniel. He grew up with Daniel and he’s his best friend. He’s the guy he talks to. That’s Daniel’s personal relationship with Jesus. That’s how he relates to Jesus. I think every Christian has their own individual relationship with Jesus.”
Jesus Christ, pops up every now and then for advice, conversation and snappy repartee. (in over forty years of describing Jesus the phrase “snappy repartee” has never made my list)
Whether Jesus is portrayed as Lord of Lords or king of one-liners I still believe that overreacting to a show before it even hits the air will not accomplish the goals of AFA. I believe they are sincere in their desire to make a difference in the culture. I happen to believe this is the wrong approach.
Exhibit A. The Disney boycott. You probably missed the rather quiet announcement last summer that the Christian boycott against the company had been lifted. What was the net result of the boycott?
”It had very little effect,” according to Roberta Clarke, a professor at the Boston University School of Management. Clarke noted that Disney had nine record years during the nine boycott years. Take that Mickey! Don’t mess with us!
But I would argue that the boycott did have a larger and more insidious effect. I believe it did damage to the message of Christ by drawing attention to an issue that is not the central theme of the faith. Many people used this as one more example of how narrow minded Christians can be and how out of touch. I can understand that parents did not want to take their family to Disney World during the Gay Days week at the park. But I would not want to take my family to Daytona Beach during the MTV Spring Break parties. Should we boycott Daytona Beach this year?
KARK-TV in Little Rock, Ark., and WTWO-TV in Terre Haute, Ind., announced Wednesday they would pre-empt “Daniel,” when it premieres Friday at 9 p.m. Both are owned by Nexstar Broadcasting Group. This will be the focus of stories about how Christians are “censoring” the networks.
I suspect that a few people have already fired off an angry email to me telling me what a bad Christian I am and how I don’t know what I am talking about. Perhaps they will even make a point I disagree with.
But the question for those still with me might be how would I handle this issue if I were the leader of the evangelical world? My first act would be demoting several of the current spokespeople (I have already abused my imaginary power!). My proposal for dealing with the “Book of Daniel” would be to challenge Christians to watch the show, note their disagreements, craft a well thought out position, and discuss it with those you encounter in a graceful way.
I must note that turning red, sputtering, and shouting, “Oh yeah, you’ll be sorry in eternity” is not a cogent apologetic. Maybe the very real problems the family in the show faces could be a springboard to discussing how faith intersects with real life. Perhaps the portrayal of Jesus could cause a discussion about who Christ is. Remember this exchange between Jesus (sans snappy repartee) and His disciples.
Jesus and his disciples headed out for the villages around Caesarea Philippi. As they walked, he asked, “Who do the people say I am?”
“Some say “John the Baptizer,’” they said. “Others say “Elijah.’ Still others say “one of the prophets.’”
He then asked, “And you–what are you saying about me? Who am I?”
Peter gave the answer: “You are the Christ, the Messiah.”
Who does that viewer say that He is? A good man? A prophet? A teacher? Does the viewer agree with the way Jesus is portrayed? Can you explain why you believe He is Christ, the Messiah? How about asking if they think you can have a relationship with Jesus like the priest in the show? How does that look? If the priest is a man of God why is he having so many problems? Can a godly family have ungodly kids?
This show would seem to be a gold mine of talking points dropped right into our cultural laps. The same issue will pop us this May when the Da Vinci Code debuts in theaters. Instead of huffing and puffing about the heresies of the film how about learning about the book, getting educated on the Biblical and historical facts, and using that movie as a way to engage the culture. I view it as a huge positive that the popular media is attempting to stick a toe in the faith pond. They are throwing open doors of discussion and we are simultaneously trying to nail them closed. Remember Paul engaging the Athenians in the book of Acts by noting they had “many gods” in the city? His well thought out reasoning about the real God won some over and caused others to think more about the faith.
If we must boycott I would prefer that we boycott our fear of engaging the unchurched. How about boycotting ignorance of biblical truth? Maybe we should boycott stereotypical overreactions from the Christian community about everything we disagree with. Let’s boycott ungraceful reactions.
“Boy, sure didn’t see that coming,” says Jesus after one particular twist in Webster’s life. That is another point of theological disagreement that I could discuss with viewers of “The Book of Daniel.” I am suggesting that we use this show as an opportunity to lovingly be salt and light to our culture. I would bet they won’t see that coming.