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Baptist family appears on BBC reality show

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (BP)–A Southern Baptist family in Alabama hosted two unruly British teens for a week as part of a BBC reality show “World’s Strictest Parents,” and the family gave a positive portrayal of a Christian approach to child rearing.

Mark and Lynn Garnett, who attend Shades Mountain Baptist Church in Birmingham, were chosen as the American couple who would host the teenagers because of their wholesomeness and Christian values, according to a report by The Birmingham News.

Sam Whittaker, the show’s senior producer, told the newspaper that World’s Strictest Parents, which is airing in Britain this month, was meant to be a serious documentary about how teens confront their own values under a different set of expectations.

Episodes with other teens were shot in other countries including Ghana and India, but for the American episode, 17-year-old Naomi Fisher and 16-year-old Ross Torry were sent to live with the Garnetts for eight days in July and August.

In Britain, Fisher was accustomed to spending her evenings in pubs, while Torry had become verbally abusive to his parents since embracing homosexuality a year ago, The News said.

“Culturally, the British overindulge their teens and shy away from enforcing discipline and boundaries…,” the producers said in a recruiting letter. “In this series, we want to show our teens the benefits of growing up in a traditional family with strong morals, a sense of self-discipline and a respect for others.”

One way the producers got the word out in their search for a family with “clearly defined morality” was through the “Rick and Bubba Show,” which is popular on radio in the Southeast. Rick Burgess, one of the show’s anchors, attends Shadow Mountain with the Garnetts, and he put them in touch with the recruiters.

“One of the reasons we took on the show was because we’re so sick of seeing Christians shown as fanatical zealots or complete nut jobs,” Mark Garnett told The News. “We’re not all Bible-thumping blowhards. We’re blessed with children who are really obedient, not cowering in the corner because of what they’re afraid we’re going to do to them.”

On the second day of filming, Garnett said the teens sat at the kitchen table and “unspooled” their “darkness-encrusted” life stories, according to the newspaper. On Day 3, the Garnetts, who have three children of their own, were ready to abandon the project, The News said. By that time, the British teens had “betrayed their trust, sprayed profanity in front of men at a homeless shelter, and sneaked puffs of a cigarette on a bowling outing.”

In addition to making the teens work at a homeless shelter, the Garnetts exposed them to Bible studies and church, the newspaper said. The show’s introduction noted that only 10 percent of British citizens regularly attend church compared to 75 percent in Alabama.

“In Britain, they are 10 to 15 years in front of us in terms of their kids being out of control,” Mark Garnett told The News. “What we tried to do is show them unconditional love.

Though the teens objected to the new way of life during the first of the week, by the end of their stay they had come to respect the Garnetts.

“The Garnetts’ strict but loving regime touches Ross and Naomi and they return home determined to mend their ways,” a description of the show concludes.

The American episode was chosen to premiere the World’s Strictest Parents series because the Garnetts were “clear in their principles,” Whittaker, the producer, said. The series airs in Britain on BBC Three, a division with programming aimed at younger audiences.
Compiled by Baptist Press staff writer Erin Roach.

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