Wednesday, February 18, 2009
Coronation Street conversion: it will end in tears
Before I begin I have to cover myself: I don't watch soaps, OK? Never have, never will. Except those that I do... But I have watched, from time to time (= followed slavishly), the great Coronation Street. Before you leap to criticise, I'm in good company: John Betjeman, Ian McKellen, Martyn Lloyd-Jones. They're good enough for me.
Now: this week, Sophie Webster announced her conversion: 'I've become a Christian.' A little background might help.
Sophie is the teenage (14) daughter of Sally and Kevin Webster. Sally and Kevin are typical salt of the earth characters: Kevin is a mechanic with his own business, Sally works in the factory. They have very high moral standards of course, like all soap characters - if you discount their affairs. (Sally at least five (!), Kevin at least three). And Sophie has an older sister, Rosie. Rosie's morals are on almost permanent show. Most recently, she's had an affair with teacher John Stape (Mum was after him too), who ended up kidnapping Rosie... So, Sophie's part-explanation of her conversion - 'I don't want to be like Rosie' - would certainly carry weight with me if I were her Dad.
Sophie has recently begun seeing teenage swimming star Ben. Ben is polite, gets Sophie back home on time, smiles a lot, calls Kevin 'sir'. But - horror of horrors - he... Well, look, younger eyes should be averted here, OK? Because Ben goes to church. Regularly. And one of his early dates with Sophie was the church youth club. Apparently, at some point in the evening, they - er, well - prayed.
Sally and Kevin's reaction to Sophie's announcement was realistic enough. Sally: 'You've always been a Christian.' And 'We may not go to church every week.' (Kevin: 'We never go to church!') Sally: 'But we've always brought you up to live by Christian standards.' (Well, yes. If that includes the morals of the Samaritan woman (John 4) before she met Jesus.)
Kevin did his fair bit of eye-rolling. But his considered opinion - after some minutes - was 'I think it's great.' Yes, Kevin: it could well be less trouble than her sleeping around like Rosie.
But you know what? I fear it won't be: it will end in tears. TV programs just don't know how to handle Christians - still less, Christian conversions.
Coronation Street is to be commended for tackling this subject. After all, in the real world, conversions happen all the time. Throughout Britain, every week, people with the most unlikely backgrounds are turning to Christ. In the soaps, it's rarely acknowledged. Every soap has its token gay (Coronation Street currently has two, who're not partners or even the same generation). They all have an ethnic minority or seven. They have good guys and bad guys. They have faithful marriages and unfaithful ones. (No, wait a minute: they don't have faithful ones - at least not for long.) But if they have 'Christians' at all, they're hypocrites - and conversions are rarer than cautious bankers. (Radio 4's 'The Archers' had one a couple of decades ago, when Billy Graham was over here. But it didn't last.)
But my bet is: it will end in tears. Ben's church will be a cult and full of dangerous madmen. Or Ben himself will be worse than John Stapes - Son of the Ripper, perhaps. Or Sophie herself will get pregnant and the church react with cold, bitter judgement. Because drama thrives on conflict. And someone turning to Christ, growing in grace and - faults and all - growing in holiness just doesn't give scope for conflict. But listen: it does happen all the time. It really, really does.