Jump directly to the content
The 'Scandalous,' Nonsensical Portrayal of Christian Faith on TV
Huntington Theatre Co / Eric Antoniou / Flickr

The 'Scandalous,' Nonsensical Portrayal of Christian Faith on TV


Dec 18 2013
Scripted television still doesn’t get evangelicals.

This post contains spoilers for the Dec. 12 episode of Scandal.

A bloody body on the floor is hardly unusual during a mid-season finale, and on ABC's popular drama Scandal, it's practically de rigueur. What the killer said next is less common: "I have committed a sin." And, later, of the victim: "He is a godless sinner and he deserved what he got."

Last week's episode played out Sally Langston's crisis of faith, with an extended soliloquy full of heavy-handed religious jargon, set to tolling church bells. Over five minutes, Sally, played by Kate Burton, rattled off one Bible-influenced phrase after another: "poison fruit," "unleashed a snake into our garden," "sullied my soul," "sold my soul," "cross to bear," "original sin," and "promised land." (Get it now, audience? She's a CHRISTIAN!)

In the guilt and self-justification that follows, Sally's religious hypocrisy continues to glare. On a show that puts antiheroes in "white hats" on a regular basis, she stands out as the character most often in conflict with the rest and the sole one who claims religion as her motive.

Scandal makes its exaggerated characters seem authentic by grounding their actions in pure self-interest, making each loyal to a relatable, if relativistic, moral code and their commitment to a goal. In contrast, Sally claims to stand for evangelical principles, but when her stance (being pro-life, for example) is challenged, she caves to self-interest.

In a show championing heroes of moral relativism, Sally gets cast as the true hypocrite, the one who lies to herself about her motives. The show's other characters, the ones who are so relatable despite their horrific actions, at least admit to acting out of flawed motives.

The focus on Sally's ability to reason herself back into righteousness reveals to us a popular but flawed portrayal of religion on TV: faith as a cloak of justification, not one of grace.

Granted, depictions of evangelicals on network TV are few and far between. Plus, presenting faith on-screen can be difficult, since the nuances of spirituality are often an internal process. But what TV attributes to Christian faith tends toward convenience, rather than conviction.

Nashville and Grey's Anatomy have included side-characters who claimed to be waiting to have sex until marriage because of religious beliefs. Their desire to remain virgins worked as fresh, brief obstacles to romantic subplots, not signs of a faith life. And certainly, this happens in real life, too, as a form of chastity based on "thus saith religion," not "God knows best." These characters' actions almost always get presented as standard religious fare, rather than failures of Bible-faith.

Related Topics:Entertainment; Television

To add a comment you need to be a registered user or Christianity Today subscriber.

LoginorSubscribeorRegister
More from Her.menutics
The Epic Jesus Follower Fail

The Epic Jesus Follower Fail

The cringe-worthy subplot of Holy Week underscores the truth of the gospel.
How Female Farmers Could Solve the Hunger Crisis

How Female Farmers Could Solve the Hunger Crisis

Fighting gender inequity in global farming.
Lent Isn't Just About You

Lent Isn't Just About You

Why one Catholic writer went on a mission to do more than self-improve.
The Divine Grace of the IRS

The Divine Grace of the IRS

Seriously. God’s help comes from the weirdest places.
Include results from Christianity Today
Browse Archives:

So Hot Right Now

Raised in a Christian Cult

‘Girl at the End of the World’ adds to an important line of ex-fundamentalist survivor stories.

What We're Reading

CT eBooks and Bible Studies