I watched the premiere of ABC’s GCB last night. The low-octane blend of Mean Girls, Saved, any Real Housewives episode, a couple of jumbo cans of Aqua Net and a fifth of Grey Goose was like an overpriced drink; a GCB-tini meant to inebriate, not celebrate. There’s just enough truth inside GCB’s Texas-sized stereotypes about the unwritten rules of some corners of American religious culture to make this a shrill caricature. Religion here is just another way to continue the contact-sport competition in which this pack of spoiled Dallas rich girls-gone-wild participated during high school. The show had its clever moments, but it was sorely lacking in any sort of nuance. Even Amanda, the sympathetic protagonist who claims to have grown past her high school persona reverted to revenge-in-the-form-of-prayer-request by the end of the episode.
A southern belle who used her wealth and influence to challenge the status quo (a la Leigh Anne Tuohy in The Blind Side) would have been a welcome addition to the mix, and could have been a lot of fun to write into the GCB world. Even better, a character or two that was perhaps a healthier, more realistic version of a Christian (less…um…”Good”, more honest and down-to-earth) would have added an interesting dimension to the cast. There would have been a lot more potential for growth than there will be with the show’s current configuration. The conflict and drama would be much more interesting if every.single.character! wasn’t a a blinged-out carbon copy of one another. (Click here to read Karen Swallow Prior’s terrific analysis of the first episode.)
Stereotypes about “church ladies” persist in our culture for a reason. When “Christian” becomes an adjective, as it was in the original working title of GCB, it is often a code for performance-based behavior, and often leads to the soul=killing politics of church cage matches. For some of you reading this, those stereotypes are solely media-generated ones. Your experience has been with believing women who do justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God. These models of a faithful life remind us that we didn’t join a clique when we came to faith in Christ, but became members of a beautiful revolution. But I’d guess that others have either been a part of and/or been hurt by some dialed-down versions of GCB characters.
So with last night’s viewing of GCB in my rear view mirror, here’s my working theory this evening: A church culture that encourages honesty and vulnerability about the real challenges of life and faithfulness will not be a hospitable environment for a GCB cancer to metastasize. Some women I respect have added to conversation about what women’s ministry can be (and sadly, hasn’t always been in the past). Inspired in part by these posts, I took a first step in a new direction. On Saturday, I led an interactive workshop at my church called “Freedom To Flourish” that presented Scripture-rooted information about life stages, the nature of spiritual growth and God’s design in the transitions we all experience. There were about 50 women from their teens through their sixties present. One woman summed up her experience afterwards: “You gave us some new ways to talk to each other and prayerfully process what we’re experiencing in our lives. This isn’t the kind of stuff women’s ministries typically address.” It was gratifying to see this sort of positive response echoed among so many of the women who attended. It is my hope that I’ll have the opportunity to present this meaty material to other churches.
A friend asked me this morning, “What would it be like to be a part of a church culture where it’s safe to talk about the kinds of things you talked about on Saturday?”
I want to find out. Don’t you?