Lamenting The Loss of the Sacred in Broadchurch

Lamenting The Loss of the Sacred in Broadchurch February 5, 2018

There is an ancient spiritual discipline that we have lost in the modern church called lament. Lament happens when bad things occur and we choose to sit in our grief and express our sorrow to God. Lament is all over the Bible. Over half of the Psalms have some element of lament. We have a whole book in the Old Testament called Lamentations, and the prophetic books are full of prophets lamenting evil and the inability of God’s people to be faithful to God.

As I watched the final episode of the 3 season BBC show Broadchurch (airing in the US on Netflix), I realized that what I had been watching for 24 episodes was an extended lament on the loss of Christianity and objective morality in England and the West.

The series begins with the death of an 11 year old boy named Danny Latimer. Detectives Ellie Miller (Olivia Coleman) and Alec Hardy (David Tennant) investigate the death, which turns out to be murder. Season 2 is the story of the murderer’s trial. Season 3, while including most of the characters from the first two seasons, details a new crime, the rape of Trish Winterman (Julie Hesmondhalgh).

One of the first impressions of Broadchurch is its geography. We see a seaside town with lush, steep cliffs overlooking a beautiful beach. As with most towns in England, there is an elegant Anglican church with the requisite graveyard where most everyone comes to be baptized, married, and buried. The village pastor, Rev. Paul Coates (Arthur Darvill), is a constant presence in the show, and as the series progresses, particularly in season 3, Rev. Paul becomes increasingly frustrated at how people occasionally come to him for advice, but don’t come for worship or discipleship. It’s striking how the show views Rev. Paul as a good man and feels sorry for him more than anything, whereas had this show taken place in the 60’s or 70’s, it’s likely that the pastor would have been one of the bad guys.

The idyllic setting of the show clashes with what’s actually going on in peoples’ lives. We experience much of the action through DS Miller’s eyes, and she especially is shocked to find out the prevalence of pornography and sexual abuse, as well as the fact that seemingly every husband is having an affair. We watch Miller and Hardy become increasingly angry at all the liars, adulterers, and abusers they have to interview. Their outrage reaches a pitch in Season 3 when they’re interviewing a man who has admitted to serial rape and he says, “It’s just sex. They’d all had sex before, why does one more time make a difference?”

The absence of the sacred is also underscored in the Latimer family’s storyline. When Danny dies, Mark (Andrew Buchan) and Beth (Jodie Whittaker) are understandably devastated. However, two years later, they still have only taken minimal steps out of their grief with Mark continually being on the verge of giving up completely. While we certainly don’t expect them to recover from such a tragedy quickly, and indeed their lament is a proper response, it is interesting that there is no real prospect of forgiveness or idea of how God can minister to them. Their default grief is essentially secular despite being members of the local parish- let’s muddle through for the sake of our kids who are still with us.

Regardless of how a real-life couple would handle the death of their child, what is telling for us is how much time is spent on the grief of this couple, even during the season (Season 3) that is not about their son. The show seems to be reminding us that the loss of a Christian sexual ethic and family mooring has consequences far deeper than we want to acknowledge.

A key scene happens in the last episode of the series. Rev. Paul has prepared a last sermon before he leaves town for what he hopes will be a more interested parish (where he can write a sermon for more than “7 people”). But, at this service, everyone comes and they’re all encouraged by the turnout and the chance to worship together, or at least be together. It’s one of only three scenes (along with a confrontation in Season 2 and a rally in support of abuse victims in Season 3) where the community is shown as truly coming together.

It’s as if the writers of the show (whom I know nothing about, so I’m merely extrapolating from what’s on screen) are saying: if only we could come together over this shared faith that we seem to have lost, we’d be a lot better off. When we trade in the sacred traditions of worship, faithfulness, and chastity, we often are not prepared for the kind of grief that will inevitably accompany the tragedies that ensue. Kudos to a group of writers who are willing to acknowledge and lament the situation our modern culture is in.

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  • Guthrum

    England is certainly going down the drain spiritually, morally, and as a world power. The US needs to take notice.

    • Treyarnon

      Might be wise to refrain from opining on a culture you know nothing about or we’ll not hold back on returning the compliment.

    • Jeffrey

      If England is going down the drain, America has already reached the sewage treatment plant.

      • Myles

        Cleansing the world of religious evil is one small step for humanity.

    • Salvatore Anthony Luiso

      It seems that at least two of our friends in England have taken offense at your comment.

      In my view, all of the countries of the West are already in such a low state morally that none of us should look down on another. We differ in our moral deficiencies, so in certain respects the English may be less bad than us, and in others we may be less bad than them, but neither of us is morally good. Neither of us can bear recognizing how far we have fallen.

      Both of us ought to take this for an example:

      And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.
      –Luke 18:13

      • Guthrum

        Thanks for the thoughtful reply and information.

  • Salvatore Anthony Luiso

    I knew nothing of Broadchurch until I read this article. I have just read a little of the Wikipedia article about the series. It says that Fox made an American version of the program entitled Gracepoint, which was broadcast in the autumn of 2014, and which received such low ratings that it was discontinued after only one season. Both programs were created by Chris Chibnall.

    One might wonder why the American version was much less successful than the original one, seeing as both were made by the same man. Could it be because of differences between English and American culture?

    I agree with the author of this article about the absence of lament among Christians in America. We are averse to it. We so much prefer to be optimistic and happy rather than realistic and sad that we often ignore reality. It’s one of the reasons why we have a deserved reputation for being shallow–unlike Christians of past times and places, such as those of the Early Church. How would an American congregation react to hearing a pastor preach something like this?:

    Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded.
    Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness.
    Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.
    –James 4:8-10

    • HpO

      Were St Bede’s church folks in the movie supposed to “react” the same way? Not a single character is a born-again Christian all fired-up for THE Christ Jesus and the gospel of salvation through His crucifixion, burial & resurrection! What are you “lamenting” about and for?

      • Salvatore Anthony Luiso

        I haven’t seen the movie to which you refer, so I cannot answer your first question.

        As to your second question: I have already quoted James 4:8-10. I refer you to Romans 9:1-5, I Corinthians 5:1-2, and II Peter 2:8 for other reasons. Jesus wept over Jerusalem (Luke 19:41-44). He told other people to weep over it (Luke 23:27-31). Do you never hear news that grieves you?

        Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep.
        –Romans 12:15

        • HpO

          See this is this article’s fault, making us think that Broadchurch’s producers, directors, writers wanted viewers to lament over the loss of Christianity, etc. No, they don’t. This is why your comment is a segue to, I don’t know, impertinence to the film, but only relevant to what this article is grieving about.

          It’s an excellent film, Broadchurch. Way up there with the likes of Wire. But no, it’s not about the loss of Christianity. Any hint of religion in the movie is influenced by the progressive religious left. And you know what they’re grieving about and for: the dominance of Christian right and Christian nationalism! I’d be weeping with them there too, to be honest.

          And to answer your question, when “Jesus wept over Jerusalem” – puhleese – He didn’t weep while watching Broadchurch – puhleese!

    • Myles

      On your knees, SCUM.

  • HpO

    How can it be “that what [brother Jonathan Dorst] had been watching for 24 episodes [of “Broadchurch”] was an extended lament on the loss of Christianity … in England and the West”? Did the “Broadchurch”‘s directors project such lament purely of their own onto him? Yes, they did, he claims, by “reminding us that the loss of a Christian sexual ethic and family mooring has consequences far deeper than we want to acknowledge.” Does he have proof to go with that claim? Well, here you go, he says – the “key scene … in the last episode [with] Rev. Paul [Coates and, based on Hebrews 10:24-25, his] … last sermon … saying: if only we could come together over this shared faith that we seem to have lost, we’d be … prepared for the kind of grief that will inevitably accompany the tragedies that ensue.”

    Just one problem with that, however, which brother Jonathan Dorst in his state of co-lamenting with the “Broadchurch”‘s directors, cared less to address: doing what Hebrews 10:24-25 say without consideration of, and belief in, what Hebrews 10:19-22 testifies, amounts to an act of abomimation in the eyes of God & Jesus.

    This gospel proclamation wasn’t in the movie: “Since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us …” (Hebrews 10:19-22) So brother Jonathan Dorst’s lament really was all for nothing. I just hope, though, God & Jesus didn’t get tested by “Broadchurch”‘s directors and viewers!

  • Myles

    Morality has nothing to do with religion. Getting rid of religion would certainly improve the moral tone.

    • Dave_1958

      as evidenced by the behavior of the secular left? That’s not morality it’s destruction

      • Myles

        The “secular left” exist only in diseased minds. Do you qualify?