A friend from church lent me the first four seasons of Grimm. For those who don’t know, Grimm is about a cop who’s also a Grimm – somebody who can see the animal people all around him. When I was watching the show, I somehow got to season 2 episode 5: The Good Shepherd, which is about a small, local church where one of the parishioners stole the church’s funds (or DID HE?!?) and then got murdered (I guess he didn’t).
The writers apparently didn’t do a lot of research about small, local churches, and you guys know how much I hate lack of research! (At least, I hate when things *I* know well are shown inaccurately.) The episode ended up showcasing some common misconceptions about Christianity, so I thought it might be interesting to use this episode to clear a few of those misconceptions up.
(This article contains a major spoiler for people who haven’t seen any TV ever.)
The episode title (The Good Shepherd, but I’ve said that already) is an allusion to a parable Jesus told. The opening quote (seen above) comes from one of Aesop’s fables, but does double duty as an allusion to Matthew 7:15 (this is Jesus talking): “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.” Of course, ‘wolf in sheep’s clothing’ has become a common saying in English.
Because of the opening quote, it took me about half a second to figure out who the main villain was this episode. If they hadn’t used it, it might have taken as many as two whole seconds. (Who it is is the major spoiler I mentioned; I’ll be talking about it a bit.)
On with the misconceptions:
We don’t believe in God.
This isn’t so much a misconception as a misunderstanding. Most people do know we believe in God (though I once had an online conversation (see the convo between MistressMerr and me, from about comment #11, and her explanation of why she thinks Cyclops is a Christian) that leads me to believe that even that isn’t always true), but they don’t really know what it means.
The following exchange (between two parishioners) demonstrates:
“we’d never earn enough to replace what we lost.” ~ “We need to trust Reverend Calvin. He helped us raise the money in the first place; without his guidance, we never would’ve raised anything.”
Most Christians would really say: “We need to trust in God.”
The sheeple here are putting all their faith in their pastor – not in God, not in Jesus, but in the pastor.
This is one of the things that makes this particular church more of a cult than a church, though the episode never spells out that difference. (It might be one of those distinctions that means the world to insiders, but nothing at all to outsiders). My pastors encourage us to think for ourselves, often saying things like “Don’t just blindly follow Paul: judge for yourselves.” (Uh, one of my pastors is named ‘Paul’. I don’t mean the Apostle here. Or the Beatle. Though even the Bible says not to follow the Apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 3).)
In one scene, the pastor lends one of our heroes a bedroom (which is inside the church itself…?); there’s a picture of said pastor hanging on the wall of the room. This is one of those things that would happen in a televangelist’s mega-church or a cult, not a small local church.
The sheeple in this episode dress really old-fashioned (see the image above) : cardigans (sweater vests? Is that what you call them in America?), pale colours, wholemeal and plain. The most up-to-date is Reverend Calvin, who wears a suit.
I wore shorts and a t-shirt to church today; and I was in front of everybody, doing a Bible reading. Seeing a pastor in jeans and short sleeves is normal (though it’ll usually be a button-down shirt; they tend to be a little more formal when they’re preaching).
Old-Fashioned or Super-Religious Speech Patterns:
The Pastor’s language is often clunky or old-fashioned (not throughout, but often enough that it becomes a memorable trait. He sprinkles words into his everyday speech like Apocalypse, Beatific (The line is: “This could be the beginning of a Beatific relationship.” Most pastors I know, if they wanted to say that, would just quote Casablanca), ‘a sacred and peace-loving space’. At one point, he used ‘transcended’ and ‘enlightenment’, very close together (these words are more associated with Buddhism than Christianity; the line felt false, and like they’d researched neither belief).
He also calls somebody “my son” at one point. We’re not told what sort of church this is supposed to be, we can only infer from what we see of it, but it doesn’t appear to be Catholic – so he probably wouldn’t say ‘my son’.
We wouldn’t use that clunky jargon in sermons, and most especially not outside them. In fact, this comes from a Christian satire site: http://babylonbee.com/news/pastors-preaching-license-revoked-failing-reference-last-jedi-sermon/ My church’s assistant pastor had immunised himself before I even saw the article. (I seem to remember the head pastor doing so since.)
Well, I admit I talk weird and archaic sometimes, but I doth be weird that way.
The practical upshot of all this is: we talk and dress like normal people. There’s a little less swearing in our language (though not none), and we don’t always talk about the same things (though we often do), but we talk normally.
It’s hard to tell, but I think there are about 50 sheeple at the church. The plot is somebody stole $357,000US from them (and $400,000US from Pastor Calvin’s last church, but we have no way to estimate its size). The idea that a church of about 50, with its own building (an old stone building, no less), would have $357,000 is… interesting to say the least. Unless some of the sheeple in this congregation have some really high-paying jobs, there is no way that church’s bank account is a positive number. A mega-church probably has that kind of money; a small local one doesn’t. This is one reason the difference between a charismatic single leader church and a small local church model is important; the misuse actually takes away his motive in the episode.
The friend who lent me the Blurays pointed out that, if each member of the church gave $150 a week, $357,000 would be nearly the entire annual budget. There could be other assets (a bequeathment, perhaps?), but that’s still an incredible amount for a church that size to have.
Reverend Calvin has a personal assistant. My church has an office manager, but I’ve never known a pastor to have an assistant; let alone in this tiny church. (My church has roughly four times the people than the one shown, and doesn’t have its own building to run; we have an office, and rent space at a school for services. Basically, we couldn’t afford it.) This comes across as another sign of the writers not looking into the difference between a small, local church and a mega-church run by an egotist who shows no sign of Christ in his life.
There’s a line that’s effectively repeated: “What did you expect from a Blütbad? They’re all sinners at heart.” and later, it’s put as: “You’re a Blütbad! You’re all sinners at heart.” (different characters say it both times).
It’s like they think we’re waiting to form a mob with pitchforks to hunt down ‘sinners’ – or are frightened out of our lives of them, like they’re Frankenstein’s monsters. Truth is, we believe everyone’s a sinner.
“For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:23.
You have to confess to being a sinner before becoming a Christian. It’s one of our entry requirements. We do not believe the world is divided into ‘us’ (or ‘saints’) and ‘sinners’.
Pastors / priests are all murderers:
This is a fairly common trope. I’m sure that most people don’t think this pastor’s behaviour is the norm (after all, stories like this don’t deal with the norm – only cases where a law has been broken), however, it is very, very common to see a whodunnit where the pastordunnit. More common than the butler. A Marvel editor once told me that it was because that was the shocking twist; the pastor was the murderer! (Because they are held to higher standards than most other people by society at large. Which shows there’s still some respect out there.)
Frankly, if the pastor didn’t commit the murder, it’s as shocking as if the guy in the wheelchair doesn’t stand and walk, or the mute / foreigner really can’t speak English, or the person introduced wearing all-covering leather and helmet and doing a bunch of really kewl stunts turns out to be male.
I’d also like to say that the way the pastor slept with several of his congregants is completely impossible… but I can’t. I’ve can think of at least two pastors of churches I’m (indirectly) connected to, and the head of a Christian organisation (someone I knew personally) who’ve admitted to adultery. What I can say is, this isn’t the norm. It happens, but it’s not usual. The three I’m thinking of all lost their congregations over it.
This is kind of a weird one to debunk. As far as I can tell, the first person to call Christians ‘sheep’ was… well, Jesus. BUT:
Another of those distinctions that means the world to us, but nothing to you, but I want to talk about it anyway. It’s also one of the differences between a cult and a denomination. When the Bible talks about the Christian flock as sheep, it means ‘people in need of a shepherd’; and Jesus talks about being a good shepherd (title drop!) who will lay down his life for his flock. We are encouraged to trust in Jesus, but we aren’t encouraged to blindly follow our leaders, which is what people mean now when they call people ‘sheep’ (or sheeple). It’s about protection, not about mindless following.
There are many misconceptions about Christianity floating around out there; I hope this teaches you the truth about a few of them.
There’s a scene where the main character’s girlfriend, Juliet, comes home, walks in, and leaves the door wide open. (This has nothing to do with Christianity, or misconceptions, but would a cop’s girlfriend in Portland, Oregon, in 2012 do that? I don’t think so!)