one of my favorite television shows is granchester on pbs's masterpiece mystery. i find its exploration of the conflict between organized religion and the struggles of its characters to be much like the conflict many of us deal with in our daily lives. the three characters i find most fascinating are sidney, leonard, and geordie. sidney, the male lead, contends with the disconnect between his love for amanda, who is in the process of divorcing her husband, and his role as an anglican priest. leonard, sidney's curate, is trying to reconcile his homosexuality with his priestly duties. geordie, a police detective and sidney's friend and partner in solving the crimes that are the focus of each episode, is an athiest with a large family and is involved in an affair with a clerical worker in his police station.
sidney finds it increasingly difficult to continue his clerical responsibilities. he feels that he is asking of his parishioners a perfection that he himself is unable to fulfill and condemning himself and those who worship in his church to lives filled with guilt and unhappiness. on the other hand, he understands that, as a priest, he can show the compassion that he believes the church ought to embody to his congregants in ways that he could not if he abandons the priesthood to marry amanda.
leonard tries to follow the archdeacon's advice and becomes engaged to a woman he has befriended in the period when she is caring for her dying father. he feels a deep love for her and wants to deny his true sexuality. leonard realizes that sidney is right in advising leonard that the engagement and approaching marriage would be unfair to both leonard and the woman he plans to marry, and she she senses that he is filled with conflict about his sexuality and breaks off the engagement. in his anguish over the end of his engagement, leonard turns to the local photographer with whom he had a prior relationship.
in one scene that i love geordie talks with sidney about his love for his wife and children as he ends the affair with his fellow employee. geordie is filled with remorse and longs to return to his family. sidney assures his that god forgives him, but geordie will have none of the talk about god. geordie is concerned with the harm his affair has done to all those he loves, including sidney, realizing that he has put sidney in a difficult position as sidney maintains their friendship while showing compassion for geordie's wife and children. at the end of the scene, when geordie has repeatedly said that god's forgiveness is meaningless in the face of his unbelief, sidney says, "then i forgive you." geordie's stoic facade breaks down as he bursts into tears and lays his head on sidney's shoulder.
in the face of the trials each of these characters face is the embodiment of the church in the persons of the archdeacon, who tries to maintain priestly discipline in sidney and leonard, and their housekeeper, mrs. maguire, who struggles with her own strict orthodoxy and her longing to express herself as a person and as a woman locked into a conventional life. this is the struggle many of us face: we see an institutional church that places adherence to rules that are inhuman above compassion for the hurts that are part and parcel of being human. in the face of everything we've learned about sexuality, we see a church that treats those who cannot conform to traditional male/female gender rules as sinners who must be shamed into conformity. we see a church that uses guilt to beat its adherents into submission. we see a church that is more concerned with maintaining its traditions, buildings, and status than it is with suffering. we see a church that denies the very message that jesus preached to his early followers.
may we, like sidney, see that showing compassion for those who are in pain is more important than maintaining orthodoxy. may we accept our humanity and that of those around us and stop seeking a perfection that cannot be attained. may we stop judging and start loving. shalom.