NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Contrary to what many might expect, some leaders of the Episcopal Church are not offended by the portrayal of their denomination broadcast every Friday night on most NBC stations. Instead, they embrace “The Book of Daniel,” as R. Albert Mohler noted in a recent commentary.
“One might fairly expect that the leaders of liberal Protestant denominations would be calling their attorneys and rallying their dwindling memberships to protest this portrayal of a liberal Episcopal priest,” Mohler wrote Jan. 13 on albertmohler.com. “… Are liberal preachers really this mindlessly tolerant? Apparently, some are.”
Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., said the Los Angeles Times reported that “some Episcopal priests are urging their congregants to watch the program, saying that it offers a refreshingly candid portrayal of religious leaders and showcases the Episcopal Church as a tolerant denomination.”
And an official at All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, Calif., where the show’s first episode was filmed, said she was enthusiastic about the series because she thinks “it’s a realistic portrayal of a faithful man facing 21st century challenges.” She even expects it to attract new members to the denomination.
The main character, Daniel Webster, laid out an overly tolerant theology during the show’s premiere, saying temptation is not really a bad thing because if not for sin there would be no need for redemption. Furthermore, a person who has sinned should not ask forgiveness of anyone until he has first forgiven himself, Webster said.
“If nothing else, the show may succeed in accomplishing what it almost surely does not aim to do — demonstrate where liberal theology inevitably leads,” Mohler concluded. “The ‘tolerant’ approach to sin so prosaically demonstrated in Reverend Webster’s sermon leaves the church with no coherent understanding of sin or of the human condition. Accordingly, there is no need for salvation, no place for the Cross, and no fear of judgment. If this is all one believes, why not engage in all the various sins depicted on this program? All the characters of ‘The Book of Daniel’ fear is embarrassment, and they seem to get over that very fast.
“… [S]o long as the wretched episodes of this excruciating soap opera are part of our national conversation, Christians should take the opportunity to point to the theological lessons of the program and its plot,” Mohler wrote. “Beyond this, believers should seize the opportunity to distinguish between the false theology of ‘The Book of Daniel’ and the orthodox theology of the church. After all, the genuine gospel is far more interesting and exciting — and it saves.”
The Book of Daniel focuses on a drug-addicted Episcopal priest who has a wife who downs mid-day martinis, a 23-year-old son who is a homosexual Republican, a 16-year-old daughter who sells marijuana and a 16-year-old adopted son who is having sexual relations with the bishop’s daughter. The show, produced by a homosexual ex-Catholic, also includes a figure called “Jesus,” who wears a white robe and beard and casually converses with the main character.
After its second week on the air, The Book of Daniel dropped from a disappointing 2.9 rating to a 2.2 rating on the Nielsen scale, according to Broadcasting & Cable Jan. 15. Once again, it placed third for the night behind CBS’ “Numbers” and ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars.”
“NBC’s ‘Book of Daniel’ bombed: it delivered only 6.96 million viewers,” The New York Times said of the Jan. 13 installment.
Four NBC affiliates — those in Little Rock, Ark., Terre Haute, Ind., Beaumont, Texas, and Meridian, Miss. — refused to air the show when it premiered Jan. 6, and the number of protesting affiliates grew to seven by the next week. Stations in Nashville, Tenn., Amarillo, Texas, and Tupelo, Miss., decided not to air another episode after receiving substantial viewer complaints.
Elden Hale Jr., general manager of WSMV-TV in Nashville, said the show “is not appropriate for broadcast television in this community.” First he petitioned NBC to allow his station to air The Book of Daniel overnight rather than during family viewing hours, but after NBC rejected his appeal, WSMV pulled the show altogether, according to The Tennessean newspaper Jan. 13.
Hale said the Nashville affiliate received thousands of complaints about the show, and within 20 hours of the premiere the general voice mailbox at the station shut down because 137 messages jammed the machine. Among the calls, e-mails and letters, Hale said he received no official complaint from local Episcopal churches. He also said he was impressed with the quality rather than the quantity of the complaints.
“Over the years, other shows have generated as much or more reaction, but this wasn’t a cut-and-paste reaction where a national group says, ‘Please send an e-mail to your station’ and every e-mail is the same,” he told The Tennessean. “These were individually crafted, considered, well-thought, well-reasoned e-mails and phone calls.”
For its part, NBC released another statement defending the show Jan. 12, saying, “The Book of Daniel is a quality fictional drama about an Episcopalian priest’s family and the contemporary issues with which they must grapple. We’re confident that our viewers can appreciate this creative depiction of one American family and will understand it to be an entertaining work of fiction.”
But advertisers still weren’t buying it. When the show first aired, it carried half the usual load of commercials for network prime-time, according to Mediaweek.com, and NBC used their own promotional ads to fill the remainder of the time.
The American Family Association, which has followed the show closely and advocated protests in the form of calls and e-mails to local affiliates, said after the first airing that there were only five national advertisers with the program and four of them decided not to continue ads. The one remaining national advertiser, Burlington Coat Factory, “would probably sponsor porn if the price is right,” AFA said, given their history of seeking profits over image.