I’ve just finished watching the latest PBS reality docudrama, “Colonial House”, courtesy of TiVo. It was fascinating how this program more than any of the other “house” shows stirred up emotions, mostly around religion.
Putting 21st century people into 17th century situations, complete with laws mandating attendance at Sabbath services, creates a lot of friction. I’m sure that the casting choices made by the producers were calculated to make that point. They sent a Baptist minister and family, a non-believing family, a gay Southern Baptist, a religious studies professor, and a man who is now going into theology.
The governor of the colony was Jeff Wyers, a Baptist minister from Waco, Texas — almost guaranteed to make some people wince. As a counter to that, they chose a family who are of indeterminate faith, it seemed that they were either Wiccan or atheist.
From the beginning, I knew that I was going to have trouble watching this, waiting for the 21st century fundamentalist to jump into the role with both feet, and at first, he didn’t disappoint. He talked unceasingly of being in the project in order to create the shining city on the hill, continually impressing upon the audience that he was almost a prophet, trying to start a new, religious town.
But something happened, to both him and me.
We both began to realize, as I watched him and he watched his colonists, that people cannot be pegged into pigeon holes because of their faith.
Very early on he realized that although a 17th century governor would have imposed his beliefs upon his citizens, enforcing them by law and punishment, a 21st century minister simply can’t do that. After time, I think it was actually his personal belief, and not a capitulation to reality of the times we live in. He genuinely felt that if another person didn’t share the same faith, forcing it upon them would not make them truly believe. When one of the cast came out as gay during the project, a genuine 17th century governor probably would have had him put to death. Our governor seemed to furrow his brow, but we never saw any change in the way he interacted or treated the man.
Halfway through the series, he and his family left the project. His daughter’s fiance had been tragically killed and his son injured in a car wreck. I was genuinely sorry for them, especially his daughter who I realized was bright, intelligent and thoughtful… not what I expected from a Baptist minister’s daughter. They returned later, but left again — for good — when another family tragedy loomed.
At the end of the final episode, they took time to look back at the project. Our friend the minister said, “The sad thing about the colonists, one of the things I learned is, they fled religious persecution, and then came here and fell back into it.”
His daughter said, “I realize what a bubble I have lived in in this Bible belt. I just imagined that at least the Christians would all, in a way, believe the same; and I had no idea how many different angles there were to even the Christian belief.”
Well said. This family has done more to rehabilitate my opinion of devout Christians more than anyone else ever has.
Now, those of you who watched Manor House with me know how much I enjoyed picking the cutest of the cast. The colonists at New England were not exempt from this activity. In line with what I said about the cute guys in London last week, let me just say that the top two cuties on Colonial House, Paul and Dominic, were both British. The other two cuties were John and Jeff. Luckily, in this series, there was lots of skinny dipping and shirtless fun going on. Yay, PBS!