(Photo courtesy ABC/Disney)
A lot of ink (and pixels) get spilled when TV shows mock or put down Christianity, but ones that treat it respectfully often fly under the radar. Since The Christophers believe in lighting a candle rather than cursing the darkness, let me tell you a little about the recent episode of the Tim Allen sitcom “Last Man Standing” that handled a religion issue nicely (and comedically).
“Last Man Standing” is currently in its fifth season, and Tim Allen’s goal was to make it like a modern “All in the Family,” in which politics and religion would sometimes get discussed. Allen plays the conservative Mike Baxter living in a house with a wife and two of three daughters who are more liberal. His youngest daughter, Eve, is conservative like him. Each point of view gets its share of zingers, so it might actually be the most fair-minded show on TV.
Two of the characters have differing religious viewpoints. There’s the innocent and religious Kyle (Christoph Sanders), the store clerk who’s dating Mike’s daughter Mandy. Then there’s Ryan (Jordan Masterson), the atheist who’s married to Mike’s daughter Kristin.
On the recent episode, titled “Eve’s Band” (written by Michael Shipley), Kristin and Ryan believe that their nine-year-old son Boyd has stolen candy from a store, but refuses to admit it. They try to coax the truth out of him in subtle ways to no avail.
One night, Kristin and Ryan go out for date night and leave Mandy and Kyle to babysit. They mention their predicament to Kyle before they leave. When they return home, Boyd admits to them that he stole the candy. When they ask why he finally told the truth, Boyd says it’s because Kyle told him about Jesus.
This makes Ryan angry because he assumes Kyle told Boyd that God would punish him for not telling the truth. I guess Ryan forgot what happens when you assume. This is the exchange that takes place when Ryan confronts Kyle.
Kyle: What’s going on? You sounded upset on the phone.
Ryan: Yeah, actually I am. Boyd finally confessed to us that he stole the candy…And he told us it was because you told him about Jesus.
Kyle (confusedly): Nooooo.
Ryan: You have no idea why I’m upset, do you?
Ryan: Look, I want Boyd to tell the truth because it’s the right thing to do, not because he thinks he’s going to be punished by an angry God.
Kyle: I never said that. Boyd was scared that if he told you what he did, you wouldn’t love him anymore. I said you were like my friend Jesus. Even if I do something bad, as long as I’m honest, He still loves me.
Ryan (humbled): Oh.
Kyle: Hey, sorry I said you were like Jesus – even though you do have a beard and you do wear sandals a lot.
Ryan: Well, it’s cool. I’ve been called worse.
Kyle: Look, I would never try to push my religion on your kid. I respect you way too much for that.
Ryan: Thank you, Kyle. I appreciate it.
Kyle: You know Ryan, maybe it would help if I told you about my friend.
Ryan: This might surprise you but I know quite a little bit about Jesus.
Kyle: Uh no, my friend Tom. He’s got a kid that steals, too. (audience laughter)
So here you have two perspectives on God. The first is the stereotypical one that some non-believers hold about people acting morally only because they feel threatened by an angry, vengeful God. The other viewpoint demonstrates that love can be the most powerful motivator in doing the right thing – and it goes so far as to invoke the name of Jesus in that argument.
In essence, Kyle’s approach is more representative of the heart of Christian teaching than Ryan’s. That’s not to say there aren’t Christians who think like Ryan and emphasize angry, punishing God over merciful Jesus. But Christianity calls us to act in certain ways out of love, not fear. Love is always the ideal, and it was a pleasant surprise to see that argument validated on a situation comedy.
Good job, “Last Man Standing.”
(“Last Man Standing” airs on ABC Friday nights at 8/7C)
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