Viewers of CRC persuasion were highly surprised when a character in Sunday’s episode of “The Good Wife” identified herself as a member of the Christian Reformed Church in North America.
Rev. Pieter Pereboom, pastor of First CRC in London, Ontario, said his reaction was, “Wow! I am not used to anyone other than Paul Schrader recognizing the CRC in the mass media.”
LuAnn Westerhuis, 56, from Fleetwood CRC in Surrey, British Columbia, was another surprised viewer. “I immediately looked up the writers of the show expecting to find a disgruntled Calvin College alumnus, but that was not the case,” she said.
“The Good Wife” is one of the most popular dramas on network television today, broadcast on CBS in the U.S. and on Global in Canada. (The episode can be viewed on the web until December 11.)
In the episode called “Parenting Made Easy,” the CRC character was fired from her job as a professor because of her religious views about homosexuality. Her views were aligned with the fact that she is Republican. She was being defended by the show’s main character, lawyer Alicia Florrick (played by Juliana Margulies).
In fact, it was a college connection that led to the CRC being mentioned in the show, but it wasn’t Calvin.
The show’s executive producer and co-creator, Robert King, attended Westmont College, a Christian liberal arts school in Santa Barbara, Calif., many years ago. He told The Banner that it was there that he encountered some students who belonged to the CRC. He did not know them well. King wrote the episode in question.
“We try to do television differently,” he said, “taking issues normally ridiculed or patronizing and take them seriously.”
He noted that many portrayals of religion are lumped into Baptist, Roman Catholic, or Jewish. He wanted this character’s denominational affiliation to be more specific. “It felt like the CRC fit our interests,” he said. He said they realize that the range of views on homosexuality don’t necessarily match what’s on paper in terms of a church’s official stance.
“We wanted the character to be a little more hard line working in an environment that was hostile,” he said. “I liked that she had a strong argument for her beliefs, and I liked her view that Jesus tempered the need for punishment, hard line but not without compassion.”
The show has matters of faith in several of its story lines, most noticeably the daughter of Alicia, Grace, played by Makenzie Vega. In this episode, Grace sneaks off without her parents’ knowledge to be baptized in a United Church in a strangely private ceremony. Grace has been exploring Christianity, an activity that flummoxes her mother. “We wanted to play off liberal parents whose children rebel in unexpected ways,” said King. “Alicia is so open-minded and liberal and her child becomes more religious.”
The show also has openly gay and bisexual characters.
King said he believes in original sin, and that everyone is in a sinful state. “The show is showing people in a fallen state,” he said.
CRC viewers weren’t necessarily happy with how the CRC came across in the episode. Westerhuis said, “The portrayal of the character could very well fit a CRC church member, but certainly not all CRC members have the same political or social views. CRC members [in Canada] find themselves on a continuum from conservative to liberal, depending on the issue.”
Andrea Kloet DeVries, 42, was flattered that the show was accurate about the church’s name. She felt that the character could easily be a CRC member, but “as she is only one person, she was not a full accurate portrayal of the entire church.”
She did not like it that in an appearance on prime time television, the church was associated with the controversial topic of homosexuality. “Christianity is much more than one topic,” she said. DeVries attends Meadowlands Fellowship CRC in Ancaster, Ontario.
Pereboom thought the portrayal of the church was largely negative, but he did appreciate that the character insisted on reading the Old Testament command in the light of the grace and mercy won for us in Christ.
Heather Fieten, also from First CRC, said, “I would have preferred it if the writers had chosen another faith group to ‘pick on.’ The idea that if the professor was a member of the CRC then she must be a Republican and anti-gay is somewhat annoying.”
Rev. Joel Boot, executive director of the denomination, wrote a letter to the Kings and CBS, objecting to what he termed the caricaturing of the CRC’s position on homosexuality.
“What was not shared or even hinted at in the episode was what our church actually believes and teaches about homosexuality” he wrote, laying out four main points of the CRC’s position. He requested that CBS post a link to the denomination’s website where the CRC’s position is described.
He also asked that CBS not re-air the episode without either editing it or providing an apology for misrepresenting the CRC’s position “on this important and sensitive topic.” (See below for the full text of the letter.)
[Letter to CBS from Rev. Joel Boot] Dec. 9, 2011
Robert and Michelle King Creators and Executive Producers, “The Good Wife”
Dear Mr. and Mrs. King,
On behalf of the more than 250,000 members of the Christian Reformed Church in North America, it was a surprise and a shock to hear our church being singled out in a recent episode of “The Good Wife” that aired on CBS on Dec. 4, 2011.
Episode #58, “Parenting Made Easy” highlighted and then caricatured the Christian Reformed Church with regard to our supposed position on homosexuality. This misrepresentation does a disservice to both our church and to your viewers.
What was not shared or even hinted at in the episode is what the Christian Reformed Church actually believes and teaches about homosexuality. We hold that all sexuality for all persons has been broken as a result of sin in the world. We recognize a distinction between homosexuality as a human condition and homosexualism as a lifestyle. We believe that the church is called to provide community and pastoral care to all persons, including those with a homosexual orientation. We are called to love all persons even as we also uphold identified biblical injunctions regarding lifestyle.
I believe that an appropriate response would be for you to provide a link to the Christian Reformed Church’s stated position on homosexuality. That position is described on our website at: http://www.crcna.org/pages/positions_homosexuality.cfm. Our website also contains links to additional materials regarding homosexuality. Even if you do not agree with our perspective, please let viewers judge what we teach and believe from factual statements, rather than the caricature that was presented in your program.
In addition, I ask that Episode #58 not be re-aired or put into any seasonal episode package without editing or providing a statement of apology for misrepresenting the Christian Reformed Church’s position on this important and sensitive topic.
I appreciate your review and consideration of this matter. I am available for further discussion about how CBS portrays people of faith and particularly the Christian Reformed Church in North America.
Rev. Joel R. Boot Executive Director, Christian Reformed Church in North America