Have you ever noticed how the Clergy are portrayed in popular entertainment and news programs? Usually they are treated with a skepticism that they can’t really be “good” – and often they are presented as the villain! In a position of often-unquestionable authority, men of God make for great movie badguys. This stretches through many genres, from the suspicious figures in Dan Brown’s novels and movies, to the midwestern zealots like John Lithgow’s character in Footloose, to the greedy Bishop of Hereford in Kevin Costner’s Robin Hood, to the classic villain Rev. Harry Powell played by Robert Mitchum in Night Of The Hunter, and even to the Disney animation genre in the form of The Hunchback of Notre Dame’s evil Judge Claude Frollo. When they are not portrayed as outright villains, they are often caricatured as buffoons, as in Rev. Lovejoy in The Simpsons, or hucksters and charlatans, as in Steve Martin’s character in Leap Of Faith.
But sometimes Hollywood surprises me, and creates a character that seems especially balanced. A character that takes their job seriously, is a true believer, yet also has realistic human emotions, and seems authentic. And though they may have flaws, these flaws are not exploited for melodrama – they are presented as realistic human failings within a person who still retains their faith and integrity.
Here is my list of good, honest, authentic TV & Movie Clergymen.
1. Father Jack Landry (Joel Gretsch), V (2009-2010)
This character was the genesis of this post. I have immensley enjoyed this character from the standpoint of the writers being true to the religious aspects, but also giving him a believeable back story (he’s a former Army Chaplain who served in Iraq), and the awesome tension he exhibits with the morality of being part of the resistance against the Visitors.
2. Rev. Eric Camden (Stephen Collins), 7th Heaven (1996-2007)
I especially like how this show portrays the home life of someone who’s on a church staff. Being a Pastor does not mean you have a perfect family – it means you deal with all the same things other families deal with.
3. Friar Tuck (Michael McShane), Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991)
Though Tuck has his own failings – a tendency to imbibe, a prejudice against Muslims, etc, – he still has a good heart and knows what is right and is willing to stand up for it. The scene where he uncovers the Bishop’s theft & greed and helps him “pack for his journey” is awesome!
4. Rev. Robert Alden (Dabbs Greer), Little House On The Prairie (1974-1983)
I love how the writers allowed Rev. Alden to show the whole range of human emotion. We saw him happy, sad, angry, silly, and everywhere in between. I also loved how the Rev. always seemed to write his messages based on the real events of the week in Walnut Grove (and not some lofty expositional diatribe).
5. Father Francis Mulcahy (William Christopher), M*A*S*H (1972-1983)
An excellent example of compassion for all life, concern for community as well as eternity, and the perfect balance of love and righteous anger when required.
6. Preacher (Jeff Daniels), Because of Winn-Dixie (2005)
OK – I haven’t actually seen this film, but everyone on the internet seems to think I’d be missing something without him on the list.
7. Father Barry (Karl Malden), On The Waterfront (1954)
A classic example of a man of the cloth that does not sit in an ivory tower, but gets involved in the lives of his parishoners and community members.
8. Rev. Graham Hess (Mel Gibson), Signs (2002)
A classic example of a man whose faith is shaken when confronted with personal loss – but whose faith journey is not over even when he thinks it is. Too often people think that Pastors never doubt. That’s not true – they all go through those times. This film is an extreme example, but nontheless presents a multidimensional man whose faith is restored.