Can Television Take People of Faith Seriously?

Written for Acculturated

September 4th, 2015

Modern television shows and Christianity don’t seem to mix. Gone are the old days when, for example, Andy Griffith and Opie went to church. Today we’re treated to shows like TV Land’s Impastor, a show about a conman pretending to be a pastor, which only serves to trivialize Christianity. Many similar examples abound: Christianity was mentioned in the immensely popular show How I Met Your Mother only as the occasional butt of jokes. The Big Bang Theory’s sole Christian character, Sheldon’s mother, is played off for laughs as an ignorant bigot.

Time and time again, television shows give Christianity a bad rap. We all know the archetype. The “television Christian” is almost always portrayed as intolerant and bigoted. They are uptight and prudish (think: Ned Flanders on The Simpsons). Even when they aren’t outright villains, they are never painted as sympathetic characters. But then, last Wednesday, I flipped on the Suits summer finale and was shocked by the show’s positive depiction of Christianity.

For those of you unfamiliar with the show, Suits follows the exploits of a top tier law firm in New York City, focusing on New York’s top closer, Harvey Specter, and his brilliant protégé Mike Ross. Only there’s a catch: Mike doesn’t actually have a law degree.

The latest episode followed Mike as he prepared for his wedding and considered the consequences of continuing his life of lies, especially since it would put his wife’s future in jeopardy. His journey of enlightenment ends emotionally when he visits the church he attended as a child but eventually left, losing his faith after his parents died in a car accident. Helped along by his childhood priest, Mike decides to leave behind his lavish lifestyle as a fake lawyer. More importantly though, he finally comes to terms with the death of his parents and regains his faith.

How incredible is it that a mainstream show took such a heartfelt approach to religion and actually depicted the way people of faith experience it? The episode didn’t adopt any tired stereotypes about religion. The priest (named Father Sam Walker) wasn’t a bigot. He didn’t hate science. He wasn’t a hypocrite. Father Walker was depicted as caring, intelligent, and a genuinely good man.

Beyond its portrayal of Father Walker, the depiction of faith in the episode was moving. In one episode the show illustrated how God can help heal a broken heart and restore faith. Suit’s departure from the typical portrayal of Christianity in television shows is one among a few shows I’ve found that show Christians, and their religion, in a positive light. Another example is Netflix’s Daredevil (which on a side note is absolutely fantastic). Daredevil also strays from TV’s typical portrayal of Christianity. Daredevil himself is a self-proclaimed Catholic, and his confidante and advisor is his priest. In the world of comedy, Community and The Jim Gaffigan Show also offer main characters that are simultaneously beloved and Christian. The eponymous Jim Gaffigan even attends mass with his family on a regular basis in real life.

While it’s true these shows are still a minority, it’s nice to see mainstream television programming treating Christianity and the lived experience of faith with the respect they deserve.