When he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about the parable. 18 He said to them, Then do you also fail to understand? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile, 19 since it enters, not the heart but the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? (Thus he declared all foods clean.) 20 And he said, It is what comes out of a person that defiles. 21 For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, 22 adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person. (Mark 7:17-23, NRSV)
I sat and watched horrified last week when a new show debuted on TLC cable channel. The show was entitled ‘Sisterhood’ and supposedly chronicles the wives of American pastors in Atlanta. While advertised as an informative show that seeks to “capture a candid look into the lives of devout yet fierce preachers’ wives.” In reality, it was a much more embarrassing image of Christianity in general and Christian marriage in particular.
My problem with the show is indicative of all shows of the ‘reality’ genre. Shows like ‘Real Housewives’, ‘Basketball Wives’, “Honey BooBoo’, ‘Love and Hip-Hop’, and all like them perpetuate false narratives about what we really are in our lives together. These shows find the most extreme of our behavior and turn it into a ‘sideshow’ (pun intended) for profit. These shows essentially degrade our lives to the most sensational, most entertaining, most retrograde behaviors in pop culture fads that undermine family, faith and friendship.
I have always said that a show like Real Housewives was neither real nor starred housewives. But this new show called ‘Sisterhood’ seems a bit beyond the border. It features a group of ‘Christian’ women that apparently have come together for the sake of the show. They share the experiences of hurt and pain, joys and concerns about being “Christian married women” facing the challenges of life and ministry in the way they know how.
The premier episode featured argument, theological bickering, and hypocrisy that counters everything Christian, marriage and relationships and the role of women in ministry. The show hopes to “follow them as they navigate through marital troubles, financial issues, parenting challenges, personality conflicts and even demons from the past.” Instead, this show and most shows like it serve nothing more than to feed our need for elitism and the desire to “at least not be that person”. It’s disgusting and beneath us a people living in relationship with each other.
My view point may be naive and I will take that criticism, but selling your life and your lifestyle for the sake of television fame is not the will of God for any of our lives. Celebrity, fame, fortune as motivators for your life is quite simply, insufficient. Our text for today highlights the problems of piety and religious traditionalism built on performance. More specifically, Jesus states the obvious: behavior does not defile and make unclean. Defiling behavior has its source in the human heart. Jesus has to chastise the Pharisees, educate the people, and warn the disciples that simple pious behavior is insufficient to show faithfulness. God is ONLY pleased with a human heart oriented toward God and a behavior that is in sync with such a heart.
For Jesus, it is not that behavior and actions don’t matter; they do! Jesus wants us to place behavior in its proper place. It isn’t doing the right thing that makes you righteous, it’s the belief in the right thing that motivates the behavior. Doing what we as a society believe is correct is not always the right thing in God’s economy. Taking care of self, cleanliness and obedience to family are all socially constructed norms; but Jesus overturns every single one of these teachings at one point or another in his ministry.
As a society, we often spend so much time being concerned with the way people behave and act and if that behavior conforms to the prescribed norms of our lives. We then use our behaviors to define a mainstream and then use any and everything outside that norm as entertainment, exploitation and for profit. It is truly a sad state of affairs when a channel that markets itself as “The Learning Channel” has devolved into little more than a carnival show for every aspect of life.
We deserve better and should require more of ourselves than mere voyeurism. Seeing marriages fall apart, drama and fighting between women, promoting backbiting and lying all in front of television cameras for the sake of fortune and fame is defiling. No matter the stated intentions of education, or promoting or insight or even “FYI”, we are essentially defiling notions of family, friendship and faith.
My grandmother had a simple saying that “just because you can do a thing, doesn’t mean you should do a thing.” I modify this homespun wisdom to say that just because it’s there doesn’t mean it needs to be seen. Broadcasting hurts, pains, curiosities and the frivolity of all that there is in the world is irresponsible. The need to know is not so great that it warrants the selling of one’s lifestyle nor the exploitation of individuals for mere entertainment.
In this new year, let’s avoid the voyeurism and seek a vision of truth instead.