What Fox says that the church doesn’t

In a postmodern, post-denominational, post-Christian, post-religious, post-everything world, the church has floundered on developing a consistent message to help transform culture.  The church attempted to entertain – but not many twenty-somethings woke up to hear a bad guitarist sing shallow lyrics.  The church then attempted to become as large and as user friendly as airport terminals – but it ended up being a three-ring circus, overcharging for books and Starbucks coffee.  The church then attempted to push against culture by lighting candles and sitting in circles – but all it did was ostracize the very people who pay to keep our lights on.  This midlife identity crisis watered down the history of our faith, confused culture, and unfortunately silenced our voice of change in the local community.

Yet culture continues to look outside of its “self” for critical engagement and understanding.  And where does it turn?  To the place that’s hosting the most critical conversations!  Not the church; but instead, FOX’s Glee.

For the past two years Glee has been one of the highest grossing television programs in the country.  Its interplay between high school drama and fantastic musical numbers has the world in awe.  But I don’t think the clever dialogues or the sensational glee club performances are what fuel this show’s success.  Rather, FOX learned to cleverly sensationalize that which we all feel.  Let me explain.

While the church continues to vote on issues relevant to 1990, culture battles on with current, real life concerns on dating, bullying, sexual identity, bitterness, discovering one’s talents, divorce, backstabbing, parental dynamics, depression, prayer, vocation, obesity, teenage pregnancy, forgiveness, same-sex parents, racial tension, fostering healthy community, the need for quality education, foreclosure, and how religion undergirds it all.  Culture needs help sifting through all this data.  And FOX’s Glee is up to the challenge, at least more than the church appears to be.

Glee unapologetically places unfortunate and hurtful stereotypes of high school students in the forefront of the show.  This radical attempt at honest (yet satirical at times) portrayal of the human condition captures the hearts of all Gleeks.  It grapples with ethically grey and morally ambiguous scenarios.  It asks tough questions.  It leaves room for debate and discussion.  It engages culture critically and unashamedly.  Glee celebrates the mystery and messiness of life – and it even does it through song.  I wish I could say the same for the church.

If the church wants to transform culture by offering a platform, a theology, and a worldview for people to live into, then it needs to learn critical lessons from FOX.  It must notice that postmodern people want inclusivity, wholeness, value, and fulfillment.  They don’t care about division or hatred.  They want meaning, love, and community.  They are ok with messy and forgiveness. They are ok with mistakes and loose ends.  They want to journey together.  They want to dialogue together.  They just need someone or something to host the conversation.

Glee’s mix of talent and “high school drama” creates a performance that may be the best medium for navigating the murky waters of culture and Christianity.  Glee is playful, honest, and unafraid of announcing stereotypes that need to be overcome and forgotten.  It’s not perfect – but neither is organized religion.  It’s not unadulterated – but neither is organized religion.  Glee doesn’t shy away from constantly appealing for inclusivity – but organized religion does.  And culture notices this.

The church must talk more openly about the human condition.  It must shed light on the fallenness of humankind.  It must offer a redemptive word as well as a worship experience that is authentic and communal.  If it doesn’t, FOX will.  It’s time for the church to take the lead on transforming culture.

Barrett Owen

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About the Author
Barrett Owen is the associate director of admissions at Mercer University's McAfee School of Theology and pastor of National Heights Baptist Church in Fayetteville, Ga. He blogs weekly at Liminality: Exploring the holy, in-between spaces.

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