A Priest, Some Prayer — and A&E’s Risky Move? Not.

Written by Steve Pauwels on August 17, 2013

So far, my wife and I have greatly enjoyed A&E’s crime drama Longmire. Set to wrap-up its sophomore season, the series currently runs Monday evenings at ten o’clock.  Aussie actor Robert Taylor completely ditches his accent to play the laconic, slightly sad-sack but likable Wyoming lawman Walt Longmire. He heads a cast which includes veteran player Lou Diamond Phillips as Cheyenne proprietor of a popular watering hole/restaurant, and the Sheriff’s best friend Henry; and Katy Sackhoff as Deputy Vicki Moretti — a fish-out-of-water, former Philly detective.

Weekly whodunits get the job done plot-wise, spiced up by the region’s local color. Transplanted Basque sheepherders, an illegal rodeo, assorted happenings on the nearby Indian “Rez”, among other story features, add piquantly to the show’s  high-desert, crime-busting verisimilitude. Additionally, a handful of subplots being played-out, very piecemeal, keep things percolating engagingly in the background. 

Out of nowhere, however, a twist popped up the other night which put a bad taste in my mouth: the Sheriff’s beloved daughter is in a hospital room, lying at death’s door and in mortal need of some kind of preternatural intervention. Walt, deciding to procure it for her, approaches his Native-American chum about hooking him up — literally, it turns out — with an ancient Indian ritual popularly known as the “Sun Dance“. (Some might recall this bloody practice from its depiction in other television shows or films. 1970’s A Man Called Horse provided my first youthful and horrifying exposure to it.)

Sorry, the practice is grisly, revolting and wouldn’t normally be accorded the slightest whisper of respect among civilized company, except that it’s spine-tinglingly politically incorrect nowadays to disapprove of any aspect of Native-American culture. So, I suppose Longmire viewers are supposed to compliantly pull on their chins and ooh-and-ahh over a loving father’s body-mutilating sacrifice for his child.

As I mentioned, aesthetically the incident came out of nowhere: there had been no hint, ever, in the preceding twenty episodes that Walt had any affinity for Indian spirituality.

Of course, his ailing daughter pointedly recovers following Dad’s heroics – and on one level the sequence is movingly powerful. As a parent I couldn’t help but be affected by Longmire’s devotion. 

On another level? The whole thing sticks in my craw. Would the writers of this fine series ever consider a segment showing, say, Walt Longmire praying? To Jesus? You know, the One who healed the sick day-in-and-out during His earthly sojourn?

I know, that wouldn’t have been nearly as “sexy” or “edgy” as a white man hazarding a form of exotic self-torture for the well-being of a loved one. But history, and probably Longmire‘s viewership, are chockablock with individuals – Indian Christians, included! – who’ve faced life-and-death emergencies, cried out to the Bible’s God, and experienced bracing, transformational breakthroughs as a result. 

Bluntly, a glowing representation of an Indian tradition? In today’s multi-culti environment, gutsy that ain’t. Actually, considering 2013’s Christian-hostile pop-culture, I’d submit a favorable depiction of something as “bland” as conventional, ask-and-you-shall-receive answered prayer would demand a whole lot more artistic courage — because, incontestably, it would  generate a whole lot more controversy. 

Just as a respectful — versus villainously cartoonish — sketching of a pro-life or pro-traditional-marriage church-goer, or evangelical minister, in any of today’s “sophisticated” scripted-entertainment fare would be practically eye-popping. Pinched, soulless caricatures of same have become par-for-the-course anytime social issue debates are floated in modern tv/film. You know: spacey or surly Pecksniffs, twitchy or b*tchy, wearing bad-hairstyles and ill-fitting or mismatching clothing.

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Steve Pauwels is pastor of Church of the King, Londonderry, NH and host of Striker Radio with Steve Pauwels on the Red State Talk Radio Network. He's also husband to the lovely Maureen and proud father of three fine sons: Mike, Sam and Jake.