Survivor is no stranger to people of faith. This season is no different. I was extremely excited when I first heard that this season of Survivor would include a seminary student. It seemed timely after my own post regarding trying out for Big Brother Canada, and some of the concerns that others voiced to me. I was looking forward to seeing how a seminary student would handle the murky morality of Reality TV. How would his or her faith be presented in this show? More specifically, how would someone, presumably in their formative years of life, express their devotion to God and their call to ministry as they schemed, strategized, and battled their way towards one millions dollars?
It took only two episodes.
Enter Roxanne Morris, of Brooklyn New York. While this seminary student did not get much notice the first episode, beyond painting crosses on her face for a challenge, the second episode had her in prime focus. From commenting on the appropriateness of two people cuddling during the night, to attacking another player’s lack of ability and game play, to the continual rolling of her eyes at comments displeasing to her, Roxy was clearly being shown as a judgmental and vindictive person. To watch her interact with her tribe-mates, you would never have known that she was a seminary student except for the caption that ran beneath her name.
I don’t mean to belittle Roxy in any way. Obviously there was some selective editing going on. This is what Survivor does. Each episode focuses on drama of some sort. After all, drama equals ratings. Episode one featured Russell as the villain to be hated and it seams that for episode 2 it was Roxy’s turn. No fault to her, this is what the show does. Yet, shouldn’t she bare some responsibility? After all, she did make certain comments. She did roll her eyes.
And then there was the scene of her praying on the beach. Oh dear.
For those who may not have seen it, let me describe: After hours of perpetual rain finally the rain stops and sun comes out. All run onto the beach to bask in the sun. Roxy sits at the waters edge and begins offering prayers and thanksgiving to God. This all happens within ear-shot of the other players. She closes her eyes and prays audibly “Thank you God, you are good and just”. Then, still within ear-shot of others, Roxy begins to pray in tongues.
Here is why I don’t like this. Besides the fact that praying in tongues with no interpretation seems to be a clear violation of Paul’s advice in 1st Corinthians 14, (not to mention Jesus’ comments regarding hypocrisy in Matthew 6), I found this act entirely self-indulgent. It seemed contrived and completely self publicizing. It smacked of a ‘look at how spiritual I am’ mentality. The prayer seemed devoid of any and all authenticity. What came across was not a heart-felt prayer from a deeply devoted person, but a pre-planned gimmick aimed and garnering air time and fame.
The issue for me is not that Roxy prayed, but how she prayed. There seemed to be no consideration as to how the prayer would be received, either by the other contestants or the watching world. The prayer seemed more an act of public display rather than one of private devotion. Thus, Roxy’s Christian witness seemed less about caring for others, and more about her own self-advancement. Furthermore, as the episode continued to depict Roxy as aggressively working to turn people against another member of the tribe, Roxy (and by extension all Christians) could not help but be seen as hypocritical and self-serving.
This poses an interesting question: how much are we to concern ourselves with how we are perceived by others? What is more, should we concern ourselves with how Christian faith is perceived in this world? And in a show like Survivor – which in some manner purports to be a microcosm of the world – do Christian contestants bare responsibility to the larger representation of Christian faith? Yet these questions aren’t really just about Survivor are they? It’s all fine and dandy to critique Roxy’s actions as presented on the show, but the real force of these questions relate to how we portray our faith in a world that watches us. To be known as seminary students, Christians, or ministers, how does our faith inform and attract others to the truth of the Gospel? Do we testify to God’s love and care, or do unwittingly push people away? If I see my life as one great big Reality show, filled with countless people watching to see how I express and live out my faith, do I do justice to the loving grace of Jesus?
It was clear that Roxy was not presented as someone to emulate in her Christian devotion. Perhaps we will have better luck with the Pastor from Sylvan Lake Alberta, who attempts to find love on The Bachelor, Canada. But then again, perhaps we are challenged to stop thinking about how others live out their faith, and focus on how we express our relationship with Jesus to a world that is often tuned into us.
What did you think of Roxy’s ‘Christian Witness’ on Survivor last week?