Television Reviews

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3 Things Christians Can Learn from The Real O’Neals

3 Things Christians Can Learn from <i>The Real O’Neals</i>

It’s no surprise Christian viewers aren’t warming to The Real O’Neals. The new ABC comedy about a dysfunctional Catholic family was produced by Dan Savage, a gay-rights activist with a history of animosity toward the Church, and the show’s pilot episode certainly didn’t pull any punches. Before we respond with anger though, it’s important for believers to pause and reflect. Sometimes even the harshest critique can hold a grain or two of Godly wisdom, and as it turns out, Christians could learn a few things from The Real O’Neals.

We Need to be Transparent

Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. – Ephesians 4:25

At first glance, the O’Neals seem like the perfect family. The father is a respected police officer, the mother is an active member of their church, even the kids are talented and well-behaved. Then, in a single moment, it all comes crashing down. We find out the parents are probably getting a divorce, their daughter is a certified kleptomaniac, one son is gay, and the other son has an eating disorder! Instead of being honest about their problems, each member chose to stay quiet for the sake of appearances.

Unfortunately, this mindset is all too prevalent in the Church today. How many Christians wrestle with painful issues but remain silent out of fear or shame? The Church needs to be a place where everyone can be transparent. Scripture tells us that all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23), so it’s time we stopped acting perfect and admit that we are all, in the words of Kenny O’Neal, “A perfect mess”.

We Need to be Encouraging

So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing. - 1 Thessalonians 5:11

After the family has a public meltdown at their church, the congregation decides to rally around them in support. Well actually, that’s not quite what happens. Members start dropping off food at the O’Neals house, which sounds like a nice gesture, until you realize none of these Good Samaritans will actually speak with the family. They leave their food on the doorstep and immediately bolt, which only serves to deepen the feelings of shame these characters are experiencing. It’s clear what each O’Neal really needs is a friend who will listen to them, but instead, they get a dish of baked ham.

As Christians, we should be serious about encouragement. It’s easy to tell someone you’ll pray for them, but when was the last time you actually bought someone coffee, sat down, and talked with them? True encouragement means setting aside the time to be there when someone needs you. Cooking dinner for a troubled friend is nice, but sharing the meal with them is even better.

We Need to Show Grace

Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person. – Colossians 4:6

As you might expect, the O’Neals’ problems aren’t miraculously solved the minute they air their dirty laundry. Each family member still harbors a good deal of anger, resentment, or bitterness toward the others, and this often leads to confrontation. It’s only after they forgive each other, and seek forgiveness in turn, that the rifts between them gradually start to heal. There are still disagreements; the parent’s marriage is still in limbo, the mother won’t accept her son’s homosexuality, and the daughter is still a thief, but they’re all willing to move on as a family. It’s a touching display of grace Christian viewers should take to heart.

Grace is a hard virtue. It demands that we let go of our judgment, our righteous indignation, and take up humility instead. It calls us to repentance, and while it does not condone sin, it requires that we look past it. Christians know all too well that it is by grace that we are saved (Ephesians 2:8), and that God commanded us to have compassion our neighbors just as He did. To love like Christ is only possible through grace.

*Published 3/14/2015