A New Reality in TV

March 22nd, 2013

Recent years have seen a shift in reality television programming. When MTV debuted shows such as The Real World and Road Rules in the early 1990’s, the premise was to find a group of very different people and document their living together, conflict and all, for a period of months. As the genre became popular, other networks cashed in on the format with shows such as Survivor and The Amazing Race, which added an element of competition.

But lately networks have become more specifi c. Instead of gathering a diverse group of people, channels such as TLC, History, and Bravo have begun to highlight unique subgroups within American culture. Shows like Toddlers and Tiaras, Swamp People, Pawn Stars, Deadliest Catch, Real Housewives, and LA Ink give viewers an inside look into hobbies, professions, or cultures that people might otherwise not know about or see.

What Is Real?

While reality shows, by definition, aren’t scripted, they often coach participants and selectively edit footage to exaggerate conflicts and behaviors to make the show more interesting to viewers. High ratings, and not necessarily a fair treatment of the show’s stars, determine whether a show stays on the air. Not only do we need to be careful about believing all that we see on these shows, but we also need to refrain from passing judgment on the featured groups and subcultures based on these portrayals. There is much about these people that ends up on the cutting-room floor. If we were able to see the many hours of footage involved in producing just one show, we might discover that the stars of Duck Dynasty aren’t as strange as we think.

Unity Despite Differences

Christianity, like reality television in 2013, is diverse, but with many unique subcultures. We may be arranged by denominations and traditions; but even within a denomination (such as The United Methodist Church or the Presbyterian Church (USA)), there are a variety of congregations. Churches come in all sizes; some are urban, others rural, and others suburban; some worship in a traditional style, others embrace contemporary elements; some serve people who speak a particular language or have a particular cultural heritage.

We see this diversity even in the New Testament. As Paul and other apostles spread the good news to people throughout the Mediterranean world, they established many churches, each with its own fl avor and culture. Paul respected the differences among Christians, saying that he became “all things to all people” for the sake of the gospel. But he also stressed unity in Christ. Our differences are important—but not as important as the core truths that bring us together.

Over the centuries differences among Christians have divided the church. The fi rst major split, in 1054, created what we now know as the Roman Catholic Church (in the west), and the Eastern Orthodox Church. The church in the west split again with the Protestant Reformation in the 1500’s. Most denominations we know today have formed since the Reformation. While all of these churches profess Christ, they are separated by their understanding of God’s grace and practices such as baptism, Holy Communion, confession, and ordination.

Every congregation and denomination has something unique to offer to the body of Christ. Paul wrote to the Ephesian church, “. . . Let’s grow in every way into Christ, who is the head. The whole body grows from him, as it is joined and held together by all the supporting ligaments. The body makes itself grow in that it builds itself up with love as each one does their part” (Ephesians 4:15b-16). As believers we can work for unity throughout the body of Christ, knowing that the Holy Spirit will guide us through any differences that divide us.

This article is also published as part of LinC, a weekly digital resource for youth small groups and Sunday school classes. The complete study guide can be purchased and downloaded here.

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