Each Friday in The Televangelist, Richard Clark examines the met and missed potential of television.
Here’s the key: GCB, ABC’s new drama, isn’t about us. It’s not about Christians who actually believe the tenets of their faith or who value the church as anything besides a venue for competition and subversion. The vulgar and misguided title, when spelled out fully, clarifies the subject matter expediently enough: Good Christian Bitches. That title, extrapolated, conveys everything you need to know about the show. Let’s work backwards, shall we?
The sexist, sneering slur conveys a vision of callous, frustrated women — the all-too-common portrait we see from the reality stars who aren’t there to make friends. GCB is best viewed as a fictionalized account of a game or sport, played to win at all cost and with church as its stadium. Prayers are opportunities to score points against the opponent, and enemies are given little to no grace. These women fall predictably into ham-fisted stereotypes, wreaking ho-hum havoc on one another. Their husbands, in contrast are reasonable, enlightened, and knowing.
Or at least a skewed, cynical portrait of what the world identifies as “Christian.” Who can blame them? The American church has characterized itself in recent years as politicized, insular churchgoers who prize status and righteousness above and beyond grace and healing. It’s the stereotype we presented to the world, and now we’re doing our best to dig ourselves out of that hole.
I felt sick watching the show, seeing people of faith portrayed as one-dimensional hate-mongers without a care in the world besides themselves and their own family. I raged inside, and it spilled over onto the social networks, two weeks in a row. But this is what it is to identify with a religious group, to commit to the universal church, to allow yourself to be grouped in with spiteful housewives in Texas. It’s a struggle as old as the church itself, and it’s a struggle that we’ve committed to. Okay.
This aspect of the show twists the knife, capping off an unfair and one-sided portrayal of church members by sarcastically referring to them as “good.” Of course, that label is in reference to the characters’ own viewpoint: Kristin Chenoweth’s Carlene Cockburn is utterly convinced of her own goodness, but she is also completely and utterly blinded by that belief. She views herself as a spiritual leader, a believer in God, the Gospel, and the inerrancy of Scripture. Meanwhile, she follows her whims as though they are the ultimate source of truth and finds opportunities to quote Scripture at the worst possible moments, as if God has her back in the midst of her treachery. She does these things and calls herself “good.” Worse, her friends and her church see her as “good” as well. The only one who knows better is the outsider, or “unbeliever.”
After all, from this show’s viewpoint, true goodness comes not from acknowledging the true faith and living it out, but from abandoning the faith and the institution of the church completely. Inevitably, as each episode winds to a close, the characters simply let go of their biblical hold-ups and embrace what feels good and nice in the moment. It makes for a simple, easy resolution, but it’s not truthful in the least.
Hateful, selfish, and spiteful characters like these can’t be changed by simply letting go. They’re changed by giving themselves over to something greater than them wholly and fully, letting their petty desires and grudges fall to the wayside in the name of someone who did the same for them.
In the meantime, this show demonstrates the real danger of bad art: It engenders misunderstanding, judgment, and frustration on all sides. At one point in the second episode, Carlene Cockburn takes the show’s non-believing protagonist, Amanda Vaughn to the middle of nowhere to a great little barbecue place so they can have a bridge-building conversation over lunch. Instead, we witness a comically passive-aggressive exchange capped off with Amanda being left without a ride, reduced to riding home in the back of a truck with the pigs. GCB draws battle lines and tells us there is no chance at understanding between the two sides. Under the convenient label of “satire,” GCB encourages its audience to laugh with and at us, without actually asking them to get to know us.
So we just keep repeating the mantra: It isn’t about us.