Last week it was Jesus, this week it’s the Prodigal Son. Last night’s Lifetime movie, Pastor Brown, referenced one of the Bible’s most difficult-to-accept stories.
I’m not a religious person, and I’ve never read the Bible cover to cover in one night like Dave on Gilmore Girls. But I know that I will never agree with or understand the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Let me set the scene for you. A father gives his younger son his inheritance before his death after the son begs for it. The son then squanders the money on prostitutes, becomes poor, and comes crawling back to the father asking for forgiveness. The father throws him a party, complete with a “fattened calf.” And meanwhile the older son, who has remained obedient and good this whole time, calls his father out on it, reminding him that he’s never even gotten a celebratory goat, let alone a party calf! But at the end of the day, the older son is the one who’s in the wrong?
For those of you who, like me, are more well-versed in the scripture of pop culture (New Testament) it can be summed up by this Matt Damon moment on 30 Rock:
Now replace “spending your inheritance on prostitutes” or “hitting birds” with “abandoning your son” and “stripping,” and replace “fattened calf” or “ticket to the Grammys” with “becoming a pastor,” and you’ve got Lifetime movie Pastor Brown.
The movie starts with Pastor Brown (Keith David) collapsing from a heart attack during a sermon. His daughter Jessica (Salli Richardson-Whitfield), who’s been gone for years working as a stripper, having abandoned her son to be taken care of by her sister Tonya (Nicole Ari Parker), travels to Atlanta to see him. The Prodigal
Stripper Daughter returns!
Because this movie wants us to sympathize with Jessica, Tonya is portrayed as uptight and snobby. But it’s in my nature to sympathize more with this character type (Marnie was my favorite Girls character in the few episodes I saw of season one), so I found myself nodding along to everything Tonya said for two hours. Sorry if I like being responsible and holding people accountable for things, like the uptight bitch that I am.
Pastor Brown realizes his time is limited, so he calls his two daughters and his church’s associate pastor to his bedside to announce who he has chosen to replace him. And he gives Jessica the fattened calf! His initial justification? That she has a degree in theology and her name is Brown. Well, same goes for Tonya, and it didn’t take a heart attack to get her to visit him. Later, when Pastor Brown refers to the Parable of the Lost Coin and the Lost Sheep to explain his reasoning, Tonya argues that the loyal ones get overlooked in those stories, and I nodded so vigorously I almost gave myself whiplash. Pastor Brown’s comeback? “The one that was lost needs our attention more than the ones that were not.” Um, no.
Look, I’m not saying Pastor Brown should’ve condemned Jessica to eternal damnation or refused to speak to her ever again. Forgiveness and parental support are fine. But people who have redeemed themselves after doing shameful things do not deserve more attention or credit than people who have striven to be good all along. Why should Jessica, who abandoned her family and doesn’t even want to be pastor, receive her father’s blessing before a daughter who has been loyal and responsible and worked hard to deserve such an honor?
Of course, Pastor Brown soon dies a perfect death after giving a dramatic speech to Jessica about “finding her shoes.” Where are they? Did the dog steal them after she left them by the door?
So begins Jessica’s struggle to be accepted by the church, who reject her “stripper with a heart of gold” character type in favor the of the “self-righteous, out-of-touch higher-ups” standard. This all leads Jessica to find her shoes, which, in a misleading sequence depicting her past as a stripper accompanied by her father’s “find your shoes” speech, appear to be clear plastic stripper heels, but end up actually being her faith.
In the end, everyone else gets made out to be the bad guys for questioning Jessica, and they all apologize for it, leading my eyeballs to become sore from all the rolling. Then, in a twist which I could be wrong about, since it happened so suddenly, Jessica forfeits the job and gives it to the associate pastor. You can claim this whole journey was a chance for Jessica to redeem herself, but Pastor Brown couldn’t have foreseen exactly what would happen, so I’m still diagnosing him with a bad case of Prodigal Son Syndrome.