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The Theology of Glee: A General Conference “Gleetup”

by Leigh Rogers
April 26, 2012

“Darren Criss is proof that there is a god!”

So says The Rev. Becca Clark, clergywoman and a delegate from New England Conference, about the actor who plays Blaine, a main character onGlee, a hit primetime series on FOX. Ms. Clark, 32, led a discussion on “The Theology ofGlee,” a MeetUp event organized by United Methodist Women on Wednesday, April 25 at 4 p.m. in the Young People’s Lounge. The “Gleetup” showed the previous night’s episode and followed with a conversation about the show’s portrayals of God, religion and Christianity.

“Glee lifts up spiritual and theological questions, good and bad,” Ms. Clark said in opening words to participants gathered amid plush couches and bright beanbag chairs. “For example, in Season 2, Finn has an unclear picture of God as he prays. And Kurt wrestles with praying for his father when he doesn’t believe in God.”

For those unfamiliar withGlee, the show focuses on the complicated lives of talented-high-school-students-slash-performance-artists-in-training (a.k.a., Glee Club) at McKinley High. Each episode takes on a musical quality with song-and-dance interludes of Top 40 hits.

“Everyone’s New Teen Jesus”

This particular episode paid tribute to the late Whitney Houston,“Dance with Somebody.”The episode, and the show in general, concentrate on the characters’ relationship issues, meddling with faith and morality. One subplot highlights the challenges a potential relationship posed to one character, Joe, who strongly identifies as a Christian.

Joe (played by Samuel Larsen, winner ofThe Glee Project) is “everyone’s new teen Jesus,” says Ms. Clark. Dreadlocked and dreamy-eyed, toting a guitar and walking barefoot or in sandals most of the time, Joe emulates a young hippie messiah, wanting to show the school it’s cool to be a Christian.

“My tattoos are Bible quotes, and each one of my dreads is named after a book of Bible,” he says in an earlier episode.

He has a crush on Quinn, a preppy blonde girl who uses a wheelchair and struggles with her new reality as a differently-abled person.

Joe helps her with physical therapy, where sparks fly. (He helps, not just because he has a crush, but because “as a Christian, caring isn’t about talk, it’s about action.”) Joe and Quinn sing “Saving All My Love for You,” but Joe is worried he is sinning with his lustful thoughts.

(Quinn: What do you want?

Joe: I don’t care what God says about sins of the flesh, I just want to be with you.

Quinn: Would you give up your faith to be with me?

Joe: I don’t know.)

Things get complicated when Joe seeks out advice from another self-avowed Christian. Joe tells him he has “feelings-in-pants feelings.”

His friend replies casually that he had sex the year before.

“Isn’t that a sin?” asks Joe.

“I’m a good Christian,” his friend says to a confused Joe. Pulling out all the male hormonal stereotypes, the friend continues, “There’s just no reason for guys to resist. Those rules are hard to follow. There was no internet back then [when the Bible was written].”

Joe admits he’s in love with Quinn, but “faith comes first.”

Poor Writing, but Raises Questions

What did the “Gleetup” group think about that? “The show is poorly written sometimes, but it questions whether lived experience can enlighten ideas of God,” says Ms. Clark.

“Teenage Christians don’t talk like that,” said Carlene Fogle-Miller, a 21-year-old Florida Conference delegate attending Florida Southern University.

There are some positive messages of inclusiveness coming from Joe that the group felt were important lessons for the church. “A couple episodes ago, the show portrayed a ‘God squad’ that wrestles with singing a valentine to a lesbian couple,” said Ms. Clark. In the episode, it is Joe who challenges the other devout Christian students to send the singing telegram for the couple. “Love is love,” Joe announces.

“The show has all these pronouncements about what it means to be a Christian,” said Ms. Clark. This episode featured one such pronouncement from Quinn: “I think being Christian is about being honest.”

“Talking about perceptions of the church in the world, it’s a terrible portrayal, but it’s not far off from how people see Christians,” said Melissa Zimmerman, 24, a reserve delegate from Indiana and seminary student at the Methodist Theological School in Ohio. “It’s really stereotypical [of Christians] and oversimplified.”

Ms. Fogle-Miller agreed. “Some topics they do really well, like coming out, but others are like, ‘Why is this on television right now?’”

Regardless, these women are avid fans. Ms. Clark got hooked when she was on maternity leave last year. By agreeing to speak on the theology of Glee, Ms. Clark emphasized the church’s need to relate to young people on their level. If you’re a youth minister reading this right now, wondering, “But how?” Look no further: The Gospel According to Glee.

Future United Methodist Women MeetUps

Starting Thursday, (pending the business of the General Conference), United Methodist Women will have a regular schedule of MeetUps. They are open to all!

Thursday, April 26,5:30ish: MeetUp with UMCOR Director of Communications J. Rollins, who will share how United Methodist Women and UMCOR work together in mission. (Bring your dinner.)

Every day, 5 minutes after the worship/plenary adjourns is an end-of-day prayer.Meet us out front of the West Hall (exhibits) by the large column to have a moment of community to close the day.

Lunch and Dinner MeetUps take place on the Riverwalk steps.(Exit the Convention Center toward the Riverwalk, go to the right of the tables and walk down the steps.)

To receive MeetUp updates, text “UMWOMEN” to 411247, email gc2012@unitedmethodistwomen.org, or see the list of events posted on the green sign at the United Methodist Women booth.