If you are an SBS fan as I am then you will have seen the recent doco / reality TV series Christians Like Us, where 10 Christians from diverse backgrounds are thrown together in a house for one week, while being peppered with hot potato contemporary issues and having to grapple with one another’s theology, biases and prejudices.
It was always going to be a tough gig. Amongst the participants were Steve – abused repeatedly by the church he grew up in, Chris, the ex-Baptist who is the gay Christian on board. He shares his experiences of ‘gay conversion therapy’ and eventually coming to the conclusion that he is gay and Christian. Jo, the Catholic may have been given a raw deal by the editors, but she comes across as endlessly pompous and dismissive of the conservatives in the room. A surprise starter for many of us would have been Hannah, the Mormon, who in her words feels like she ‘just wants to follow Jesus, so why can’t people see me as much a Christian as them?’ Tiffany the ‘progressive Anglican’ priest on board finishes the show by declaring her belief that Hannah is actually a Christian and apologises for her harsh judgment of her.
There is also Assumpta, the Hindu converted to Christ and now a conservative (Sydney) Anglican, Daniel the young Coptic Orthodox, Steve the youthful Asian pentecostal pastor, Marty the charismatic pastor and charity worker and Carol, the Uniting Church elder and gynaecologist who ‘comes out’ in Episode two as a doctor responsible for performing abortions – generating another tough conversation.
Spoilers ahead – don’t read on if you want to watch it…
If there was a focus to the content of the show then it would have centred around the contemporary hot buttons of sexuality, abortion and child abuse. A large swathe of time was given to showing the participants engaging and debating (generally quite graciously) on these topics.
Of course any time there is a still raw and fragile abuse victim in the room that subject is always going to be tense. Steve appeared as honest, broken and struggling to find his way. A cameo by the motorcycle group ‘Longriders’ seemed to be the closest he would come to finding his way back into Christian community, however as the show ends, he has given this away and put his hope back into ‘family’. Steve’s story is beyond tragic and the damage done all too visible. What can you say to that? It must have taken some courage to step into the show, but whether it was good or bad for him, only time will tell.
The sexuality question was raised by having Chris present – another person for whom the struggle is still very real. The conversations were careful and cautious and it was clear he was on guard and in fight/flight mode in the early days of being there. As expected the house was divided on where homosexuality fitted in biblical Christianity. With card carrying ‘progressives’ and conservatives in the room there was never going to be agreement and at best there was a re-voicing of the positions we already knew. I didn’t think it was the most productive use of the time there.
I guess my ‘mob’ were the protestant conservatives, but I didn’t find myself feeling represented by any of them quite as I would have liked. Probably the closest to me would have been Assumpta – yeah a Sydney Anglican – who would hold similar theology, and who actually did a very good job of expressing it, but I also felt an affinity for Tiffany – the ‘progressive’ Anglican who was more open and easier going. The pentecostal guys represented their mob well, but they just aren’t my tribe – more culturally than theologically.
At the end of the day there was a lot of discussion around contentious, topical issues and less around Jesus and the shape our discipleship takes in the world as it is. Perhaps a large slab of our discipleship revolves around these social issues whether we like it or not, but I would have liked to hear more discussion between the participants around their take on Jesus and how he has shaped their lives.
And to be honest the Mormon girl got me thinking again. I understand that Mormon theology deviates from Orthodoxy in many ways, but if she is following Jesus as best she knows how, then where does that put her?