NBC’s comedy series The New Normal emerges from a shifting American culture increasingly accepting of new family arrangements and consciously engages the dynamics these present . Recently, The New Normal took up Catholicism in relation to the gay protagonist, David — and did so in a strikingly positive, fact-based manner.
As background, the premise of the show is that a gay couple hire a single mother with a nine-year-old daughter as their surrogate in the quest to have a child. Episode 7 features the couple, David and Bryan, struggling to decide on godparents for their child, as they are two people who identify as non-spiritual.
In the godparent selection process, Bryan reflects on his Catholic upbringing. While visiting a local church, he is greeted by Father Michael who invites him to confession. You can view the entire episode here, but we’ve excerpted some important parts of the conversation (occurring between 8:50 and 11:40 in the episode) for you to get a flavor of the content:
Priest (P): Contrary to popular opinion, being gay isn’t a sin. The Church is not anti-gay…
Bryan (B): I was raised Catholic. I love the tradition. I love the ritual. I mean, don’t get me started on the Stations of the Cross. But you guys don’t accept me so what am I supposed to do, Father? I mean, you tell me, where do I go?
P: Well, there are plenty of churches specifically geared to your community.
B: Ugh, rainbow flags and tambourines. I don’t want to be forced to use a separate water fountain. Why can’t the Church just be accepting of all people?
P: We are. We embrace everyone just like Jesus.
B: Oh, you know what? You toss Jesus’ name around, but you don’t actually practice what he preached cause Jesus wouldn’t have judged people on their sexuality because Jesus loved everyone.
P: Wrong. I never bought that Jesus is a blissed-out-hippie crap. That man was pissed off. He walked into temples, told them they were doing it all wrong, and wrecked the place…
B: So you’re saying the church can change?
P: Well, it would. I mean, I’ve seen gay people battle discrimination and march for marriage equality. They demanded the right to fight for their country, but for their souls? Nope, they just give up and walk away. Jesus was a fighter, son. How ‘bout you?
The episode continues with the search for godparents and comically-written spiritual reflections that also manage to maintain a certain amount of depth. At the end, Bryan is show in the church again where Father Michael says:
Priest (P): So, you decided to fight?
Bryan (B): Yes, is it okay if I come to Mass every now and then? Maybe I can bring up the gifts some time?
P: I’d love to see you at Mass some time, you and your family.
B: Since when did they let girls be altar boys?
P: Altar servers. It happened in the mid-90s. Took a few thousand years, but things can change if someone’s willing to fight for it.
So often the LGBT community and the Catholic community are pitted against each other in entertainment. The New Normal overcomes false dichotomies to reveal reality. LGBT Catholics and allies have long known that good priests are building welcoming parishes, that the Church is not anti-gay in its fundamentals, that LGBT persons desire a place in the Catholic faith, and that, with commitment, change can occur should we be willing to seek it.
The conversations between Bryan and Father Michael are comedic, poignant, and surprisingly truthful moments for a popular television show. While as a student of theology, I would have liked to see more nuance in several statements of the show’s dialogue, it is heartening to see mainstream entertainment positively reflect on the good relationships and good work of so many Catholics who are trying to make the Church a welcoming and affirming place for our LGBT brothers and sisters.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry