Altering history, one word at a time

When I see things of an historic nature with my own eyes, I try to step back and think for a moment. Such an event occurred with me this week, and I hope you read on and consider the truth of what’s said here.

I need to preface this with a little history of my own. Most of you already know this, but I was the Producer and Executive Producer of The 700 Club in the early and mid-80s. I’m terribly proud of the work I did there, but you would be mistaken to judge my personal views as associated in any way with that program. It was a job. I was certainly involved in the life on campus, but I was also able to maintain a certain distance, and I think it made me a better producer. I may write a book about it some day.

That said, I’m keenly aware of how the Christian right thinks and behaves, and my observations of life include that knowledge. The biggest complaint that Christians — and I’m talking on a broader scale than just the right, but of them especially — have today is that “the culture” is denying Christ, something they honestly feel will land people in hell. I’m not here to discuss the truth of such a belief, only to insist that it’s sincere. The evangelical spirit of Christianity — just as it is with Islam, for example — is a sincere belief that unless one behaves a certain way, they risk eternal damnation. It doesn’t matter if you believe that; they believe that, and so this idea of “denying Christ” is extremely critical.

Lt Rice with the sister of a hostage victimSo last week, in a boring evening of television, I flipped to the program Memphis Beat on TNT. It’s not bad, and it really tries to imitate life in the South, including occasional references to religion. This particular episode was called “Flesh and Blood” and dealt with finding the parents of a baby that had apparently been abandoned in a car.

In the scene that got my attention, Memphis Police Lt. Tanya Rice, played by Alfre Woodard, was trying to talk a young woman into helping police get everybody out alive in a hostage situation. The hostage-taker was the woman’s father; his hostage was her sister.

“I can’t do that,” the woman says, suggesting she isn’t strong enough. Lt. Rice responds warmly, “I can do all things through God who strengthens me.”

It’s the key scene in the whole episode, for it turns the whole case. Ultimately, the girl helps and talks her father down. Happy ending.

The problem, of course, that Lt. Rice’s wise quote is incorrect. It’s “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Semantic hair splitting? No, because it’s evidence of something much deeper that’s taking place in our culture. The writers of this show had to come to a stop here and make a decision about which word to use. Is it God or Christ? Hollywood both leads and follows the flows of American thought, and they decided to go with the much safer, more politically correct route of the term “God.” Nice try.

The truth is that you’d be hard pressed to find ANYBODY in Memphis, Tennessee who would substitute the word “God” for “Christ” in that Bible quote, so while the writers are trying to duplicate life in the South, they can only allow themselves to go so far.

When well-intentioned, decent Christian people start talking about how their faith is being persecuted in public these days, listeners often close their ears. That’s the talk of the lunatic fringe, the fundamentalist right. Cultural observers and pundits ridicule the notion as nonsense and go on to mock those who make such statements. Apparently, every group on earth is off-limits for ridicule except certain Christians, and that has permanently, I think, cast aspersions on the entire faith itself.

It is not politically correct nor expedient to speak the name Jesus or use the term Christ in public anymore. This has had a dramatic chilling effect on people of the Christian faith, to the point where only the radicals seem to speak anymore. They are the ones quoted by others, because it fits the common public mold of Christianity and further drives believers into silence, ‘lest they, too, become a mockery in the public sphere.

So to the Hollywood community and people in general, let me say this. You are entitled to your own opinion about religion — and you certainly are free to worship as you please — but you are not entitled to your own quotes from the Book. It’s false, a lie. It’s not just that it’s sinister or intellectual dishonesty. It’s not just that it’s offensive, and I’m sure it is to many. It’s mostly that you’re altering culture and our history in the process, and that is unacceptable, because that carries with it unintended consequences.

A word here. A word there. Soon, nobody will truly understand the many roles of Christianity in our history, because we will have watered down its cultural influence and, in so doing, altered our own history. Do we really want that to happen? People may not like the way certain Christians behave, but throwing the baby out with the bath water has consequences for everything we hold dear in America, especially our freedoms. Our Republic makes little sense without the role of religion in its establishment, and I know there are people who’ve dedicated their lives to trying to prove otherwise. Webster’s 1828 dictionary, however, contains all the evidence anyone needs, for the words used by the founders of the country had different meanings than they do today, especially the word “religion.”

It’s unconscious, what we’re doing, but it’s sloppy thinking just the same, and we should know better. To me, it isn’t about saving souls, whatever that means. It’s about disrespecting the truth of our own history, and it has happened during my lifetime.

I shudder to think where it’s all going.


  1. Thank you for this post. I caught an airing of this episode yesterday, and was quite shocked to hear the mis-quote. If you do not want to say the name of Christ on television, how can you have portray a story line involving a Nun as a central character? I am not a religious nut, however, if Hollywood is going to pretend to quote from the Bible, then I do not believe they have the right to change key words of scripture. It’s flat out wrong. No Muslim would put up with this. Why should Christians?

    Given this, Memphis Beat is not a show will be watching again in the future. It’s a shame, because overall, it seemed to be a good program.

  2. mike sechrist says

    Great post Terry.

  3. Excellent points. Subtlety is often underestimated by society in general and as such it becomes a deadly catalyst of change to our culture. This example should be a wake up call to Christians to be on guard at all times. Unfortunately, I doubt many even noticed the creative rewording.

    Last year I decided to put my own creativity to work by using scripture based art to return fire at those determined to dilute the truth of our Christian heritage. I’m not into forcing people to believe my way either but the intimidation tactics have eroded my patience and tolerance. Fear and public humiliation no longer matter.

    Perhaps we can undo the damage by changing one person at a time. So do for one what you wish you could do for many. After all, Jesus started with just 12 disciples and look what happened.

    Thanks for your post.

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