The family television series used to be something else: a husband worked at a respectable job, a wife stayed home and watched the kids, and children got into relatively minor trouble which was often easily solved. Watching television sitcoms were as much about escaping from life as they were about relating to it. We wanted to distract ourselves from our real problems, from our real fears, and we wanted to laugh. That was all that mattered.

As the medium of television has matured, television shows about family life have matured as well. Not only have they become more specifically geared toward adult viewers (these are not shows for children or people with sensitive consciences), but they also more deliberately attempt to present the viewer with family dilemma’s, drama, and resolutions that more accurately reflect real life. The focus of a television program about family, and the focus of television in general, has become relatability and relevancy, rather than escapism and laughs per minute.

These are honorable goals, and shows like Modern Family and Parenthood have succeeded on a number of counts. What we quickly discover is that these are meant to be families with issues, and while many dramas might make the issue itself the point of the show, Modern Family and Parenthood manage to place the focus on the toll those various problems take on the families and the individuals within those families. The result is a couple of television series’ that cause me to laugh and cry from a place that is far more genuine than any slapstick comedy or melodrama.

Of course, many Christians find these shows off-putting or alienating on the surface. Two of Modern Family’s more likable characters are a gay couple who have adopted a baby in order to complete their family. For many Christians, this is both a normalization of a sinful lifestyle and is an uncomfortable and loaded inclusion into an otherwise charming show. On both counts, they’re basically right. But what if such a loaded inclusion is not only inevitable but necessary? When will Christians move beyond being revolted and scandalized by homosexual couples and move on to loving them like Christ loved us? Laughing with Modern Family‘s Mitchell and Cameron is probably a good place to start.

And the fantastic thing about Modern Family is that this couple is just as dysfunctional as the other two primary families in the series. Rather than being written as a shining beacon of pure love, they suffer real problems and have real flaws.  Just like the nuclear family featured in the show, their own paranoia and self-consciousness often turns their life into a laughably uncomfortable mess.  In Modern Family, every individual lives in the midst of the ludicrous results of their own decisions and tendencies. If you can’t relate to and learn from this, you’re not paying enough attention to yourself or the television you’re watching.

Parenthood makes many uncomfortable for an altogether different reason: it is an off-putting acknowledgment of all sorts of conflicting parenting and relational styles. You get the sense when you watch Parenthood that you are watching a beautiful mess of a family, not just annoying one another with their various expectations and techniques, but sharpening one another, and in the process, sharpening the viewer.

Various approaches to disciplining children, to family togetherness, to the marriage relationship, and to familial encouragement all show their faces. Many of the solutions that we see come to light strike us as less than ideal. And yet, when the show is through we are left with a real affection for the characters themselves and an understanding that there are those in the world who are having to make decisions in less than ideal situations. A young man finds out he has missed the first five years of his son’s life because he had no idea he existed. A young mom attempts to raise her unruly daughter with no real job, no house of her own, and no husband to help. A traditional family finds out that their son is autistic and is forced to come to grips with that fact. All of these situations serve a sole purpose: to challenge the characters preconceptions about relationships. This is an honorable writing technique because it’s exactly how life – and by extension, God – works in our own relationships.

Both Parenthood and Modern Family provide the Christian viewer not with liberal propaganda or a mere deconstruction of the nuclear family, but instead present an opportunity for thoughtful and edifying viewing. No longer are we merely laughing at our characters or staring mouth agape at the latest dramatic turn of events. We’re laughing with them, joyful and saddened for them, because we’re invested in them. We know that, like in our own lives, there will be no quick and easy resolutions to these problems they’re having, but it doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy the show.


6 Comments

  1. In the same way that we do not wish people to look at us and consider us “Christians” by someone else’s standards (like say, those of Westboro Baptist Church), I believe it’s unfair to call someone living a homosexual lifestyle simply a “gay.” Is that really the essence of their being? Their sum total of their worth to this world is that they prefer someone of the same gender, regardless of what one believes to be right or wrong? People are people and deserve recognition for everything that comprises them. In the same way that a concerned “conservative Christian mother” might see a homosexual in a TV show as liberal propaganda for a sinful lifestyle, a person who doesn’t subscribe to any religion or even the existence of any gods might view the 700 Club or a show with a Christian character as an invasion of their home in the same regard. People will never cease to be just that, and in that imperfection there is a beauty that was purposefully created. We are cracked, we are flawed, and, at the end of the day, we were all sculpted in the same image to start. To go any further would be stating the obvious, but in summary, love one another.

  2. I like most of the articles Christ and Pop culture brings to the fore. I like reading about pop culture and theology. But more and more, I’m skipping many articles because of the conservative christian slant they’re written in. But whatever it’s worth, even when I don’t agree with the theology espoused, it’s good you’re engaging with the world.

  3. Saskia, I appreciate the compliment. All I can say in reference to your complaint is that it probably won’t change any time soon. We want to be level-headed, compassionate, empathetic, optimistic and tolerable Christians. But we also have a pretty high and specific view of Scripture, so you’ll probably see that reflected in our writings.

    Cannerus, if I’m not mistaken, there are those who consider themselves “gay” and refer to themselves as such. It’s not meant as a de facto insult or a summing up of their entire person as much as an acknowledgment of a lifestyle. We’re not talking about worth here, and in fact if you read my article carefully you’ll realize that I’m basically saying exactly what you’re saying: just because a person is gay doesn’t mean we have the right to write them off as human beings.

  4. I understood your article, I was just expanding on that point. :) And I wasn’t referring to actually calling someone “gay,” I was referring more to the overarching label or slapping them with a stereotype. In response to Saskia, I actually appreciate the point of view on this site. I use a number of forums and it’s nice to have something that echoes back to my roots, even if I’m not in line with them 100%. It’s good to see the solid, predictable core without all of the expected pre-judgments or drop-of-a-hat level of offense. Expect me to stick around if you’ll have me.

  5. Awesome, Cannerus. Your point is well-taken, now that I understand it. Anyone willing to join in on the discussion in a helpful way is welcome.

  6. Hey Richard Clark,
    thanks for writing on the topic. I haven’t watched the show and I was trying to discern what a Christian response would be to this show. I don’t want to sound nit picky, but something stood out to me and I wondered if you could clarify. You stated,

    When will Christians move beyond being revolted and scandalized by homosexual couples and move on to loving them like Christ loved us?

    I am not opposed to loving homosexuals, but at the same time I don’t think that means I should cease to be revolted or scandalized by the act of homosexuality. Sin is repulsive to God. And as Christians we are to align our hearts to hate and love what God hates and loves. For example, I hate abortions because I love babies. I am revolted and scandalized by the idea of killing a child in the womb. And I should be. However, at the same time, I am to love my enemies, pray for them, serve them, and seek to win them to Christ.

    My fear is in my generation, in hopes to not be unloving to our enemies, we will lay aside our convictions or soften them. And the world doesn’t need that. It has enouogh people who soften their convictions to be less awkward or uncomfortable. What the world needs is people who hold strongly and faithfully to their convictions. Truly love what is right and hate what is sin, all the while loving our enemies.

    I appreciate your thoughts and I pray for the LORD to use your writings to further His kingdom!
    Blessings!

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