D.C. church's 'Daniel' blog seizes preachable moment

Washington, USA - "The Book of Daniel," an NBC show about a pill-popping Episcopal priest who works for an adulterous bishop and must contend with a drug-dealing daughter, a boozing wife, a homosexual son and a bisexual sister-in-law, has an unexpected fan -- the Episcopal Diocese of Washington.

The diocese -- spotting an evangelism opportunity -- has set up a blog. BlogofDaniel.com dissects the show and the Rev. Daniel Webster, its conflicted priest/hero played by Aidan Quinn. A second episode aired Friday night.

Jim Naughton, the diocese's communications director who created the blog, points out the number of inquiries for the evangelism materials on the diocese's Web site have shot up in the past two weeks. To date, he said, the blog has received 21,000 hits.

Views on the blog run the gamut. One comment, posted by a man identifying himself as "gay, an atheist and a secular humanist," suggested that churchgoers should be offended.

"I was turned off by the immorality of the characters (the fact that they are role models of awful behavior, not virtue), offended at the stereotypes about Italians and the mafia, and convinced that Episcopalians (your clergy in particular) have been pretty much slandered," he wrote.

Another comment, apparently from a Roman Catholic nun, said no network portrayal of religion will be accurate.

"Anyone expecting sound, orthodox Christian teachings from a prime-time network television show might as well wish for the moon on a plate while they're at it," she said.

"THIS is going to bring people into the Episcopal Church?" asked another blogger. "Who cooked up this TV show, Monty Python?"

Several contributers asked who advised Jack Kenny, the show's creator and executive producer.

In an interview, Mr. Kenny said members from All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, Calif., helped him, including the Rev. Susan Russell, an associate who presides over Integrity, the Episcopal Church's homosexual caucus. The Rev. James Farwell, a liturgics professor at General Theological Seminary in New York, also weighed in.

"This is not a show about religion or the Episcopal Church," the producer said. "It's a show about a fictional family in a fictional parish in a fictional town. The Episcopal Church is a backdrop for this, but it's no more about the Episcopal Church than 'Six Feet Under' is about mortuaries."

Mr. Kenny, a homosexual who has said he is "in Catholic recovery," says he may join the Episcopal Church partly because his partner of 24 years is a member. Although the partner's family, who are WASPs, were the models for the dysfunctional family in "The Book of Daniel," that didn't tarnish Mr. Kenny's appreciation for Episcopalianism.

"With all I am learning about it, it seems like my kind of place," he said.

Episcopal Church headquarters in New York has kept mum about the show. The closest to an official comment came from Kansas Episcopal Bishop Dean Wolfe.

"I trust no one believes this could be real life in the Episcopal Church," he said in a statement reproduced on BlogofDaniel.com. "In short, 'The Book of Daniel' is a sensationalized version of clergy family life, a sort of 'Desperate Housewives' meets 'Seventh Heaven.' "

Although Episcopalians have said nothing officially, the American Family Association in Tupelo, Miss., is still urging a boycott.

Seven NBC affiliates are already refusing to show "The Book of Daniel," and ad buying was so low for the premiere that NBC took to running promotions for its upcoming Olympics coverage.

"Episcopalians ought to be incensed with this new television show," said an editorial posted Thursday on www.afa.net. "Moreover, every Christian denomination ... should be incensed with themselves, incensed at their failure to present to the nation the Gospel that is so desperately needed -- the real one that literally and spiritually raises the dead."