Thorny debate

By RICHARD N. OSTLING AP Religion Writer Published:

Before memories fade about The Book of Daniel show, which NBC-TV canceled after only three weeks, its worth pondering Hollywoods latest treatment of Jesus, Christians and the clergy.

Some liberal Episcopalians thought this drama (or was it satire?) might attract new churchgoers. Conservative Episcopalians said the series displayed how liberalism has corrupted their denomination. Some aimed boycotts at advertisers and NBC.

(Fresh from that fuss, NBC apparently dropped plans for Britney Spears to spoof Christian TV on Will & Grace by hosting a Cruci-fixins cooking show. This hilarity would have aired on Holy Thursday as Christians commemorate the Last Supper on the eve of Jesus crucifixion.)

The show portrayed Episcopal priest Daniel and his family and flock. Plots involved Daniels addiction to painkillers, his daughters pot-dealing and arrest, his wifes alcohol dependence, his sons promiscuity, his bishop fathers adultery, his in-laws criminality and a Roman Catholic priests mob ties.

Homosexual characters were prominent not surprising since the shows creator is a gay who had been raised Catholic. Daniel seemed ineffectual and parishioners came across as wealthy snobs or, in one instance, racist. The black maid was a thief. Priest and parishioners took the Lords name in vain.

With Daniel, reactions of particular interest appeared on two Web sites: www.blogofdaniel.com, operated by the liberal Washington, D.C., Episcopal diocese, and www.titusonenine.classicalanglican.net, a must-read blog for church insiders from conservative priest Kendall Harmon. (The title refers to biblical Titus 1:9, which says bishops must hold firm to sound doctrine and confute those who contradict it.)

Episcopalians smirked about NBCs gaffes in attire, terminology and other church details. Apparently, television exerts little effort on religious accuracy.

More significant, there was a striking religious divide over the programs device of having Jesus materialize regularly to chat with Daniel. Conservatives complained that NBCs Jesus was offensive fiction, unrelated to the morally commanding figure in the four Gospels. Liberals tended to enjoy Jesus boys-will-be-boys, nonjudgmental attitude.

Some of the Daniel chatter from titusonenine:

It was as if the character of Christ was there for comic relief. ... Its all a gospel of self-help.

Jesus acts like a wacky Dr. Phil.

Jesus is nothing but a reflection of (Daniels) own ego.

This is how people see us: The Episcopal Church just trying to get by with a cool and groovy relevant Jesus.

My wife and I think it portrays (the Episcopal Church and its) Jesus very truthfully, and unfortunately.

Nothing about Jesus bearing our pain, shame, sin.

I was amazed at the lack of respect or reverence for the holy Son of God. He is portrayed as if he were an old college pal. ... To portray Jesus in this comedy as unable to heal, and tolerant to sin, is wrong.

Among the postings sent to the Washington diocese:

I, for one, want to believe in a Jesus to whom I can talk and relate just like the Jesus on this superb TV show.

For all we know (Jesus) was the warm, loving, forgiving person portrayed in the show.

I loved the Christ figure with his advice. I didnt find him at all namby pamby.

Everything that Jesus said, I can imagine Jesus saying.

The portrayal of Christ was the best thing about the show. He is shown as a Friend, a Confidant, an Adviser.

If Jesus were too perfect and untouchable the conversations between him and Daniel wouldnt work as well.

Jesus is a perfect listener.

Jesus did seem a little dull, but maybe thats the point.

Christians are named for a man whose single most important message was DO NOT JUDGE. Shame on you.

From an Episcopal priest: Jesus was inclusive and loving, which will drive the Fundies crazy.

But then there was this:

As a Muslim, I am offended by this movies depiction of our beloved Jesus Christ, may Gods peace be upon him.

On the Net: NBC Daniel publicity: http://www.nbc.com/TheBookofDaniel

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