In HBO’s The Righteous Gemstones, which just finished its second season, Danny McBride follows in the footsteps of his past characters from Vice Principals, Eastbound and Down, and Tropic Thunder, and portrays a narcissistic, foul-mouthed blowhard.
The main difference is that McBride’s character in The Righteous Gemstones (warning: language, sexually explicit situations, and nudity) is that he plays Jesse Gemstone, mega-church pastor and eldest heir to the massively lucrative Gemstone evangelical empire. Despite its explicit content, The Righteous Gemstones’ appeal for the Christian viewer is that we get a satirical view of the church and, more specifically, the subculture of the American mega-church. This should, at the very least, concern us enough to examine our own local church cultures and evaluate how much of it overlaps with the hypocrisy we see on the show. More specifically, the show demands Christians to ask how much has capitalism—and its bottom-line objectives—been adopted by the church as normal ecclesiastical operations. Has the machine of the church overtaken the mission of the church? Have we been willing to upend our biblically mandated moral convictions for the sake of … fill-in-the-blank?
In one episode, there is a couples prayer group that "spontaneously" turns into a sales presentation for a church business venture called Zion's Landing, “a luxury timeshare resort … for Christian families." The big reveal at the end of the “prayer meeting” is not an opportunity to hear the gospel or to receive prayer. Instead, lo and behold, members of the prayer group get a 15% discount for TONIGHT ONLY. I would laugh at such a scene if only I hadn't been to a few church gatherings that served as a veiled attempt for in-church product marketing.
It seems that the only morally decent character on the show is the prodigal grandson, Gideon (Skylar Gisondo). Formerly estranged from the family, Gideon’s return to the dysfunction of the family (church) business and his accompanying naivete is refreshing amid a backdrop of corruption and religious syncretism. In this sense, Gideon can be viewed as a Rahab of some sorts—an outsider perceived as a religious outcast yet righteous in action and deed.
The Gemstones’ massive family compound gives us a window into the show’s commentary on religion. The gates to enter the compound are adorned with a sign that reads, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. No Trespassing.” Depending on our willingness to look into the mirror and see our poor reflection of the body of Christ, the sign is indicative of a cultural-Christianity that is devoid of morality, kindness, and decency. Will we take heed? (HBO Max)