A Review of Greenleaf

This comes a little late, as Greenleaf is coming to the close of it's second season in real time. As a Netflix watcher, I'm a little behind the times. Nonetheless, after watching the show I wanted to express my opinion. In short, I feel like Greenleaf is a show about God, in which God never appears...

Introduction

Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.Philippians 4:8 KJV
Lately, I've really been cutting back on "entertainment." I've been paying close attention to what I'm feeding my soul, and that includes what I hear and what I see. I started cleaning out my iTunes library last year (I have way too much music), and I've been re-evaluating the shows I watch on TV. I was particularly convicted by Phillippians 4:8. Were the shows I watched honest, just, pure, lovely, and of good report? Did they have virtue or praise God? My DVD collection is quite bipolar; it consists of cartoons (mostly Disney & Studio Ghibli) and action movies. If it isn't a cartoon, you can bet that in the first 5 minutes either someone dies or something gets blown up. X-Men, The Fast and the Furious, Lord of the Rings, Underworld, and Transformers were my favorite franchises. I was thoroughly hooked on How to Get Away With Murder, The Originals, The Vampire Diaries, Pretty Little Liars, and Star Crossed... But I started to think about what this said about me.

I always hated the saying "you are who your friends are," but who you choose to associate yourself with does say something about you. The same way what I consider entertaining says something about me. In the Dark Ages, Romans found it entertaining to watch people be fed to the lions.[1] Less than 100 years ago, people found it entertaining to visit "zoos" that kept humans as side show attractions.[2][3] Don't we find this disturbing?

The TV shows I watched all dealt with themes that are completely against God's way of life. The Vampire Diaries, The Originals and Underworld feature vampires and werewolves (Deuteronomy 12:23, Acts 15:20), witches (Deuteronomy 18:10, Galatians 5:19-21), excessive drinking (Proverbs 23:21, Ephesians 5:18), premarital sex (1 John 2:16), communing with the dead (Deuteronomy 18:10-12), and more. Why should I enjoy watching these things?

Think about it, Jesus died on the cross so we could be forgiven of all sins, including murder and adultery. It pains Him to see us commit these sins, so why would we think it could be entertaining to watch someone pretend to commit these sins?

After coming to this realization, I started applying Philippians 4:8 to everything I watch. Sometimes, it's necessary to show sin to convey a good point (after all, the Bible gives us plenty of examples), but many times, this behavior is not used to make a Godly point. In the latter case, I stay away from the show. So when Greenleaf appeared as a suggestion on Netflix, I was pretty excited. I thought here was the show I'd been looking for.
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Premise of the Show

Photocredit: OWN/Greenleaf
For those who haven't seen the show, it follows a megachurch operated by the Greenleaf family. The main family consists of the Bishop, his wife (the first lady), their four children, and the spouses of those children. As with most families, there are secrets, lies, and drama. The show touches on major issues that plague churches such as infidelity, rape/pedophila, the LGBT community, greed, and corruption.

General Conclusions

I'll start with what I like about it. First, the actors are great. At the end of the first episode, I definitely felt compelled to see how the story would play out for each member of the family. Second, I'm always happy to see a show/movie where they show Black people that aren't charaicatures of stereotypes.

Most of the negative reviews about the show I've read deal with the image of the church. I don't mind the church being shown as imperfect, because it's true. I don't mind serious issues and topics being tackled, because that's real life. We don't expect our pastors to preach unicorns and rainbows when a hurricane is happening outside! I think the premise and the acting talent set the show up perfectly for addressing how hard it is to stay faithful in today's society as individuals, and comment on how we can improve our churches.

What I don't like about the show is that it's devoid of God. The solutions and resolutions have nothing to do with God. Most of the church leadership is unlikeable. They exemplify the "church people" no one wants to be associated with. I imagine many lost souls will describe similar characters as why they left the church. The main character is assumably who we are rooting for, but her faith is completely shook. She's come back to town to "fix" her family, but she doesn't even know if she believes in God! Is this who we are supposed to be rooting for? The one person on the show that seems to have a heart for God and be doing ok morally is pretty much tossed to the side... (Of course, this pretty much describes our world in truth: the corrupt are leading, the lost are trying to dethrone the corrupt, and the true believers are struggling to be heard). When God is brought into the conversation, the theological viewpoints held by the characters aren't always Biblically sound. As I said earlier, it's a show about God, but God doesn't seem to be present in the show.

Characters & Examples

The following summaries contain spoilers. While I don't particularly recommend watching the show, if you have plans to do so, I am giving you fair warning that the text below contains many spoilers for the first season.

Grace

Grace is the main character. She is the eldest daughter of Bishop and was once a "prolific" pastor at the church. She leaves home when her parents refuse to listen to her about a family member raping another family member. The premise of her return is to right the wrongs she left behind and avenge the family member who has since committed suicide due to the rape. I guess she's the character we're supposed to be rooting for. Except, she doesn't seem to be a Godly person at all. When she shows up questioning her faith and unsure of what she believes, I thought the show would follow her road to being reintroduced to God. Instead of seeking out God and cultivating personal growth, she mostly just uncovers problems within the church. These problems don't really lead her closer to God; instead, the viewer is left to believe the "Christians" are bad people and the one who questions the existence of God is the good person. If that wasn't enough, Grace takes the position of associate pastor knowing she doesn't believe. As associate pastor, she knowingly and willingly has sex with a man who is engaged to be married to another woman! We would expect this to be her breaking point of redemption, where she realizes her mistake and repents—nope, she has zero remorse...

Jacob and Kerissa

While Grace was gone, her brother Jacob has stepped up as a pastor in the church. Jacob has a wife and a child...and a mistress. When we meet Jacob's wife (whom I'll get to later), it isn't surprising that he's unfaithful. Jacob's mistress is a secretary in the church. You would think when the Bishop found out, there would be prayer and condemnation but it plays out like a business deal gone wrong. The secretary is fired and Jacob is "benched"—in other words, he isn't allowed to preach on stage until the talk dies down. Jacob doesn't take this as time to reflect on what he's done or his relationship with God or even his relationship with his wife. Instead he becomes angry that Grace's return is getting in the way of his desire to become senior pastor. To him, leading the church is a political strategy and has nothing to do with God or who God called to fulfill this purpose. Knowing Jacob must impress his father to achieve this role, Jacob tries to arrange a TV slot for the church. When this falls through, Jacob gives up on his father's church and moves his membership to the church's rival megachurch. Yes you read that right: rival megachurch. Since when are churches in competition with each other? Are we not all part of the same Body of Christ? The answer to that is a resounding no, but it should be a yes.

Kerissa is Jacob's wife. You know you're not going to like her from the first time you meet her in the first episode. She launches into a tirade against the Grace about her church attendance. She takes on a holier than thou attitude, professes that the Bible commands us to attend church, and suggests that Grace doesn't follow the doctrine of the Bible. Kerissa seems unaware of Matthew 18:20, which states that where two or three are gathered in God's name, He is there. The Bible never commands us to go to church, it commands us to fellowship with believers and to keep the Sabbath holy. Despite what many people teach, this has nothing to do with a building. Fellowshipping with believers is a task for every day; they help us to stay accountable, encourage us, and are walking on the same path as us. Keeping the Sabbath holy covers a lot more than simply showing up to listen to someone talk. Yet, none of this was brought up in response to the character's aggression. Instead, Grace gives a wishy-washy, agnostic type of response.

Kerissa's overbearing and aggressive nature extends to her husband, whom she bosses around like a child. Like I said, it's fairly easy to see why he was cheating on her. I wasn't particularly bothered that they included this storyline. In fact, I wanted to see how it played out. How does the Bishop handle this? As Jacob's father and the head of the church, what would he say to get Jacob back on track? Would Kerissa exercise her right to divorce him (after all, adultery is the only acceptable reason given for divorcing a spouse)? As I mentioned earlier, the fall out of this revelation isn't spiritual, at all. Kerissa seems more interested in ambition and becoming a First Lady than whether Jacob is faithful to her or not.

Jacob doesn't realize his wife's importance to him until they're invited to do some swinging to gain the church a TV slot. Yes, you read that right, too. The producer of a Christian TV channel approaches the pastor of a Christian church and suggests they have a night of mischief. What's more, Miss Holier-Than-Thou agrees to it! Talk about doctrine? When did Jesus pimp Himself out to get an audience? That's not in my Bible... Despite coming to the realization that he didn't want to lose his wife, Jacob doesn't grow a backbone out of this. He wants to be senior pastor, but he isn't even wearing the pants in his own home.

I know the producers probably want to stretch the series out over many seasons, but there is absolutely no growth in these characters. The closest thing we see to growth is Jacob's realization that his wife is important to him. However, this revelation isn't grounded in God. In fact, it seems more like territorial instinct. He hasn't paid his wife any attention in quite awhile, but he doesn't want some other man doing so. It isn't necessarily rooted in love or Godliness, so much as jealousy and possessiveness.

Mac

Every family has someone named Mac in it. This family's Mac is the Bishop's brother-in-law. I'm not sure what he does at the church, but he holds a top position and is buddy-buddy with the Bishop. In fact, it took me a while to realize Mac was the first lady's brother and not the Bishop's brother. Mac is also a rapist and a pedophile. Just when you thought it couldn't be any worse, Mac raped the Bishop's daughter—his own niece! The reason Grace has been gone is because when she told her parents Mac was raping her sister, they did nothing about it. After damaging his niece to the point of suicide, Mac continues to rape other girls at the church and pays them hush money. He even gets one pregnant and pays for the abortion... We never see repentance from Mac, and in the end, the Bishop allows Mac to return to their home because Mac knows a secret of the Bishop's that he threatens to reveal. Tell me, what secret is more important than the girls Mac has raped and will likely continue to rape?

Charity and Kevin

The Bishop's youngest daughter, Charity, and her husband Kevin, seem to be the best example of Godly people on the show, but of course, there has to be something wrong there too. Charity was probably my favorite character on the show, but she's really more of a background character. She wants to take on a more active role in the church but her father seems to think she's better suited for singing. She has ideas for sermons, but the Bishop is more interested in allowing Grace, who doesn't believe, and Jacob, who is struggling with fidelity, to preach instead.

Charity opens a can of worms by hiring an openly gay choir director, which is generally glossed over—especially in reference to theology. Charity comments on the congregation's disdain but she doesn't acknowledge the issues at stake here. Instead of addressing the problem of willingly committing sin without repentance or explicitly tackling this issue of discrimination of one sin over another (re: her brother's infidelity vs. the new choir director's sexual orientation), she just argues that we should all love each other. While it's true that we should love everyone and the doors should be open for everyone, her response shut down a conversation on a very complex issue of the day. In fact, the show is seeming to take the stance that homosexuality shouldn't be considered a sin.

I'm sure the writers glossed over the issue because they knew a few episodes later we would find out Kevin is secretly gay. He claims to love the pregnant Charity but he's clearly not in love with her because he's having thoughts about men.

We're Only Human

I think what I hate about the show is that it carries the narrative of being "only human" too far. In one of the reviews on IMDB someone talks about how even though the characters see Jesus as being real and are believers, they're only human and often mess up.[4] The problem is that people today lean on this idea so heavily they forget about the repentance part. People like Moses, Abraham, David, and Peter all made mistakes. Yes, David committed adultery then committed murder to cover up the adultery. His problems are on par with the ailments that plague the Greenleaf family. The difference between David and the members of this family is that David actually has a relationship with God. When David is made aware of his actions, he is repentant. The same is true for the other believers in the Bible. I understand it takes time and that the road to redemption may span several seasons. However, given the very realness of the issues presented in the show, I wish there something that alludes to this and provides guidance to an audience who maybe oblivious. Ultimately, I feel that the show is more about the drama and the intent is not to show salvation, but to simply entertain us with disfunction. As seen in some of the reviews, instead of sparking dialogue on the importance of repentance, how to fix megachurches, or even showing an alternative more biblical church, the show simply reminds people why they dislike "church-folk." Perhaps Lecrae's "Church Clothes" should be the theme song. This is why I did not tune in for season 2 and why I would not recommend the show.

References

  1. Damnatio Ad Bestias. Wikipedia; visited April 2017
  2. "Deep Racism: The Forgotten History Of Human Zoos". Popular Resistance. February 18, 2014
  3. Hugh Schofield. "Human zoos: When real people were exhibits". BBC. December 27, 2011
  4. Charles Herold. "a fascinating world somewhat hampered by a conventional narrative". IMDB. October 30, 2016

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Author Image Author Image I love reading the Word of God. With prayer God's Word reveals so much: from comfort to temperance, from perspective to affirmation. Digging into the depths of the Word, cross-referencing history, language and time differences, is a passion of mine. In March of 2015 I decided to go back through the Bible doing an in depth study on each section I read. Eventually I decided to share my journal of notes as I partake in this journey. I hope you are blessed by God and inspired to pursue a deeper relationship with Him. I love reading and learning about God, nature, and science. I am interested in how it all connects. The Creator's fingerprints are all over his creation. We can learn so much about Him and how we came to be by exploring the world around us. Join me as I explore the world and draw closer to the One who created it all.
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