Magazine article The Christian Century

Soul Men

Magazine article The Christian Century

Soul Men

Article excerpt

CLERGY USUALLY show up on TV programs as grandfatherly men who are needed to officiate at the weddings and funerals of people who otherwise never go to church. But this fall's line-up includes four shows in which ministers are the main characters.

ABC's hourlong drama Nothing Sacred has attracted the most attention for its treatment of issues like abortion and priests' sexuality. It features a reluctant young priest known as Father Ray (played by the tousle-haired Kevin Anderson), who is given to Hamletesque brooding. It sometimes seems that Father Ray would rather be a community organizer than pastor of a poor city parish. The viewer finds herself wishing that Father Ray would discover in parish life some concrete answers to his vocational questions or at least figure out which of his questions are important in the grand scheme of things. In any case, the show makes little overt reference to grace, love or forgiveness, and Father Ray seems to find nothing compelling about the person and ministry of Jesus.

Nothing Sacred bludgeons us with the notion that sometimes the line between right and wrong is not clear and that life is often a matter of improvising. Other television dramas (Homicide: Life on the Streets, for example) have explored those themes more engagingly. The writing for Nothing Sacred is pretentious and the plots are not riveting--which is hardly because urban parish life? is dull. If Nothing Sacred is going to last, it will have to stop preaching to us about how religious life is complicated and start showing us.

Garnering approval ratings from the family-values watchdogs is WB's Seventh Heaven, returning this year for a second season. This drama follows the day-to-day experiences of a pastor, his wife and five children. Thankfully, it doesn't strain to cover all the hot issues torn from today's headlines but explores the daily joys and struggles of a suburban family.

Seventh Heaven is entertaining, and it portrays the pastor in a human light while taking his work seriously. But it commits a common TV sin of trying to resolve all plot complications in one episode, which takes away from the realism the show otherwise engenders.

For example, the first episode of this season included a subplot about a conflict between a teen and his divorced mother, both church members. The young man goes to the roof of his apartment building to be alone and think. Onlookers interpret this as a potential suicide attempt. The police call the pastor to the scene, and he eventually brings the mom and son together. …

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