Sunday, April 15, 2007

A "Law and Order" Smirk at Evangelical Hypocrisy

Charismatic evangelical mega-church pastor campaigns against homosexuality. Disgruntled former lover/male prostitute threatens to out him as a hypocrite. Pastor denies being gay. Another former gay lover admits to 20 to 30 “encounters” with the pastor, who he claims indulged in drug use during their trysts.

Sound familiar? The Ted Haggard story written in summary fashion? No. Last night’s episode of the popular NBC drama, Law and Order trotted out this “straight from the headlines” (no pun intended) episode.

The drama, replete with the obligatory snickers and snide asides at evangelical Christianity was trying of one’s patience at best. My longsuffering wife even walked out of the room in an uncharacteristic fit of aggravation. In the Law and Order revision of the story, the pastor’s loyal wife killed her husband’s gay lover, not out of outraged morality or because of some Levitical Code about the proper end for people who commit certain behaviors. No, she did it for the old fashioned reason: self-interest. You see, she did not want to see the church she helped her husband build into an operation with $35 million gross annual receipts (not to mention the $50 million in licensing fees) suffer losses due to the public scandal.

And, in a typical Hollywood reductionism of Christian motivation, the wife ultimately pleads guilty to the crime, not out of a surplus of Godly sorrow, but in order to prevent the congregants from discovering that she had been a drug-addicted hooker prior to her marriage to the good reverend.

The Haggard tale does make for a juicy morsel of hypocrisy, even the venerable Dr. Dobson was taken in by the duplicity in the original story. And, you could hardly expect more from the mainstream media than a few moments of cheap schadenfreude. Detectives Ed Green and Nina Cassady, along with Lt. Van Buren, all got to take turns beating up on evangelicalism. It was like watching people taking swings at a piƱata, but without a blindfold.

One irony of the program relates to the presence of another actor in the cast. Possible Republican candidate for President, Fred Thompson (aka District Attorney Arthur Branch), uttered his requisite number of dyspeptic observations with his usual folksy gravitas. But, at least in my viewing, the writers avoided putting Christianity bashing lines in Thompson’s mouth. Maybe it seemed out of character for the Bible-belt back-story of DA Branch.

So far, Hollywood writers prove remarkably tone deaf with issues of faith. Even when they portray a larger than life hypocrite, caught humming his own false tune, they get the words right, but not the melody. Haggard may be an easy target. But, certainly evangelical Christianity with all of its faults represents a more complex reality than last night’s
Law and Order.

Before the MSM recites the words of 1 Peter 4:17 (“For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God”) too gleefully, they better take note of how it ends: “. . . and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?”

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