Alternate Reality: Modeling Christ
on Reality TV
By Elliott Ryan
Last week in this space, I wrote about the need for us
as believers to remember that the world around us forms opinions
on Christianity and even Christ based on their observations of
believers. I mentioned how Paul stated that we are Christ’s
ambassadors – His representatives to a lost world.
I went home that night and watched a TV show I don’t normally
watch. It is called “Trading Spouses.” I’ve
seen bits and pieces of this “reality” show as I flipped
through the channels in the past. I’m sure just the title
turns off many believers from watching the show. But, of course,
no one actually trades spouses. Instead, the mother of one family
trades places with the mother of another family to see how other
people live. A better name for the show might be Trading Families.
The families chosen for this social experiment are always opposites
in some significant way to ensure a good deal of conflict. For
example, take last week’s episode: A Christian family and
a family of astrologists switched moms for a couple weeks.
It is because of the fact that the series was advertising the
religious theme of this episode that I tuned in. Perhaps you saw
the advertising too. The commercials Fox was airing to promote
the show featured the Christian mom screaming for demons to get
out of her house in Jesus’ name.
Of course, reality TV isn’t reality at all. The producers
of the shows lump together eccentrics who fit various stereotypes
and put them in situations where controversy is certain to abound.
The entertainment value of these shows comes from seeing how these
various people react to the contrived circumstances such as interacting
with their “new family.” Or dealing with their project
managers. Or winning the immunity challenge. Or winning this leg
of the big race. Or eating bugs.
Many of these reality shows have featured religious participants.
Producers always seem to hope their token Christian will brawl
with the token homosexual or token pagan or some other token stereotyped
participant. Sometimes the Christians on these shows do a pretty
good job of living out their faith on national television. But
usually not so much. Ordinarily we complain that Hollywood and
the media try to make us look bad. That complaint doesn’t
really apply to reality shows because they are just showing us
how real people react to certain contrived situations. Or at least
how they react when cameras are on them. While we never know for
sure what is edited out of the shows, in the end if a Christian
looks bad in these shows, it is usually more of their own behavior
than just a bad editing job.
All of which brings us back to last week’s “Trading
Spouses” episode. The astrologist wife was staying in the
home of the Christian family. The family invited some of their
friends from church over to meet their new (temporary) mom. It
didn’t take astrology for me to know in advance this was
not going to be pretty.
The good Christian ladies greeted the spiritually lost new mom
by grilling her about her religious beliefs. She admitted to believing
there was “a god” but communicated that she definitely
was not a Christian. The church ladies proceeded to make faces
whenever the non-Christian mom said anything and generally ignored
her. She commented during a later interview about how unwelcome
and unwanted they all made her feel.
The next day, on the show’s Web site, viewers filled their
message board with testimonies about the times Christians had
made them feel unwelcome. Now, Christianity is going to make the
unrepentant feel uncomfortable. But we are not called to make
people feel that we look down on them because they are lost. We
should certainly not tolerate sin. But every sinner is a person
created in God’s image. They are loved by God who wants
us to extend His salvation to the whole world.
As I watched “Trading Spouses,” I was embarrassed.
I wanted to jump into the TV screen and apologize to that woman
and everyone watching on TV for the behavior of my fellow Christians.
Imagine how different things may have been if the Christians were
loving and welcoming – not of their guest’s belief
system – but of the guest herself. She obviously came in
with hostility to organized religion. What if they had shown her
Christ’s love? Instead of commenting about how inhospitable
the believers were, she could have talked about how surprised
she was by the love and joy and grace of these Christians. Would
the millions of people watching the Fox network that night have
come away with a different idea about Christianity?
At the home of the astrologist family, things degenerated just
as badly. The Christian mom visiting that home ended up having
a total breakdown and screaming about being surrounded by demons.
Demons are of course real and do have an influence in this world.
She certainly should not have been a participant in any occult
activity. But perhaps having a sane discussion about why she would
be unable to participate would have gained her an audience with
the family she was visiting. Maybe she could discuss why her beliefs
are so important to her and why those beliefs prevent her from
participating in pagan rituals. Perhaps it could have been a teachable
moment. Instead, a national TV viewing audience and a family of
non-Christians saw the emotional meltdown of another “judgmental”
Any non-believer that watched that show last week came away with
“further proof” that the church is unloving and judgmental.
The message seems to be that if Christianity is true, the average
lost person isn’t good enough to make it into God’s
My fellow Christians, allow me to pass on some advice: Just in
case you ever find yourself on a reality TV show, remember that
cameras are always on you. You are always being watched. Everything
you say and do will influence people’s opinions of the church.
That may not be fair. None of us is perfect. We all fall short
of being a good witness at times. But I don’t think the
world expects perfection of us. They should however be able to
expect love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,
gentleness, and self-control. If we aren’t exuding these
things, perhaps we shouldn’t put ourselves in situations
where we are followed around by a camera crew.
On the other hand, as I said last week, we are always being watched
by people who will draw conclusions about Christ from our behavior.
Even when we aren’t on reality TV. So maybe we should just
work on living out our faith all of the time.
peace with God.
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