It’s the rare TV series that jumps the shark in the first episode. But ABC’s season premiere of its new show about mean girls who become desperate housewives in the Bible Belt did exactly that with “GBC”: “Good Christian Bitches.” The title, from the book by Kim Gatlin, engenders a level of cognitive dissonance last seen on TV when Arthur Fonzarelli replaced his leather jacket with waterskis.
The disparate elements combined in GCB’s original title (which ABC has now bowdlerized as “Good Christian Belles”) recalls Voltaire’s sardonic observation that the Holy Roman Empire “was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire.” In the same way, the subjects of “Good Christian Bitches” are neither good, nor Christian, nor - well, two out of three’s not bad.
On the same day as GCB’s premiere, the Archdiocese of Washington held a Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion for adults seeking baptism or full communion with the Catholic Church. Thousands of faithful packed the basilica to capacity, where throngs of new entrants into the church streamed up the aisles. The roster of names filled 16 pages of small print. For the second week in a row, a capacity crowd welcomed the Church’s newest Catholics.
The ladies (let’s call them) of ABC’s new show are as hypocritical as the discordance of the kitschy jewel-bedecked cross festooning the cleavage prominently displayed on the front cover of Gatlin’s book. They stab each other in the back, obsess over their social standing and subsist in personal disarray.
Pointing out Christian hypocrisy is a sport enjoyed by the types of marksmen who also like to shoot fish in a barrel. Hypocrisy is not limited to professing Christians. Those who are wary of the institutional church “because it is full of hypocrites” might consider Tony Campolo’s response. These people, he says, fail to understand that they will be right at home precisely because the church is filled with hypocrites.
We in the church, Campolo says, acknowledge our hypocrisy, no bones about it. “We believe everyone is a hypocrite, if by ‘hypocrite’ we mean someone who does not live up to his or her declared ideals and does not practice what he or she preaches.” We “recognize that we fall short of our goals, but we acknowledge our shortcomings and have come together to help one another overcome our failures.”
One of my Facebook friends recently posted about her inaugural lesson as a children’s Sunday School teacher. She sheepishly suggested that those who knew her might consider her unworthy to teach Sunday School. She may have worried about appearing hypocritical for teaching children about faith despite having failed to lead a life in strict accordance with the faith’s precepts. But so have we all!
My Facebook friend later revealed in another post that her first time teaching God’s Word went well, despite being slightly hung-over, and perhaps commensurately hypocritical.
Jesus did not hesitate to expose hypocrisy. “Woe to you,” he told the scribes and Pharisees. “You hypocrites!” He continued, likening them to whitewashed tombs, beautiful on the outside but, inside, full of dead bones and everything unclean. “In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.”
Hollywood loves to point out the hypocrisy of Christians and especially wayward Catholic priests, in truth because they are easy marks for ridicule. To paraphrase Warren Buffett, it’s like shooting fish in a barrel, after the barrel has been drained and the fish have quit flopping.
The Christian faith is difficult, and the path is a narrow one. The standards are so high that the crux of the Christian faith is that no ordinary human can live the Christian life by sheer will power alone.
Instead, Christian believers rely on the sacrifice of God’s son, Jesus, who completely humbled himself so that Christian believers might be made right with God and dwell with him forever.
Shows like GCB highlight a point known all too well by Christian believers. Michael W. Smith asked in “Cross of Gold” the meaning of a cross necklace. Is it a statement of belief, just a decoration, or some type of quasi-religious head-fake?
Pop culture crosses confuse him. Do the necklaces represent “a flame, a passion, a symbol of the love living in you”? Or is it more like the ladies of GCB, “a game, religion in fashion, some kind of phase you’re going through”?
He acknowledges that we all go to extremes, “from cellar to rafter.” Christ sought out those in the cellar and the gutter. In their lowest moments, he was heard most clearly. Those at the heights of society, the lawyers and religious leaders, were least likely to comprehend his message.
The ladies of GCB enjoy all the privileges of American high society, but they shame the crosses they wear by their materialism, their gossip, and other vices. If the show encourages Christians to make sure they are not whitewashed tombs full of bones, then the show will serve a good purpose, perhaps despite the intentions of the show’s creators.
In concluding the Rite of Election, Cardinal Wuerl remarked that the Christian journey may sometimes be a very lonely road. He encouraged the thousands assembled to remember that day and recall the hundreds of catechumens and converts who stood shoulder to shoulder, solemnly agreeing to continue the journey together.
My husband and I were among them. “Who does this?” I have constantly asked myself over the last year in my ecclesial transition to the Catholic faith. Many have asked me that as well, wondering why I would join a church that the mainstream media would suggest everyone is leaving in droves.
I now have the answer. I have seen who does this, and I am not alone.
They join in droves. They come from all nations and speak all languages. They are women, men, young, old, healthy, ill, hearing, deaf, all colors, and ethnicities.
We are all hypocrites. We fall short of our goals but acknowledge our shortcomings and join together to seek God’s help in overcoming our failures.
We can all go forth as good Christians, despite our hypocrisy. God honors our efforts, even when they don’t meet his impossibly high standards. In fact, it is when we seek God’s guidance despite our flaws that we hear him speak to our souls.
Gayle Trotter is a writer, lawyer, and mother of six who lives in Washington, DC.