What The Church Can Learn From Doctor Who and Whovians

I want to point out that when I am talking about mainline churches, I am of course talking in general terms. I cannot speak for every single mainline church, there are probably plenty that are growing and thriving,  so needless to say this is based on my experiences and personal context.

1)  Change is a must-Change is built into the DNA of the show. Every few years the main character-the Doctor regenerates and a new actor takes on the beloved role. Each Doctor has his own personality quirks. Additionally, the Doctor’s companions constantly change and each brings out a different element of the Doctor.  And of course their relationship with the Doctor differs from his relationships with his previous companions.  Furthermore, the writers are not afraid of taking risks and taking the show in a completely new or unexpected direction. When the show returned in 2005, the Doctor’s home planet is gone and his people wiped out by his own hands. The next few seasons reflect on the Doctor’s loneliness and sense of self-loathing. He did what he needed to do to save the universe, but at what cost? But then, during the 50th anniversary special, we find that the Doctor has re-written his own history. The show is constantly adapting itself for its new audiences and while there are fans who get disgruntled about the changes, the fact of the matter is, if the show wants to survive it needs to continually find ways to reinvent itself.

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In a similar vein the mainline churches in America are reaching a crossroads. The fact of the matter is that a lot of what was working in the 50s and 60s, when mainline denominations were at its peak, no longer work.  In the 50s and 60s mainline churches could safely cater to one crowd-mainly white, middle class Americans, but things in the 21st century have shifted. America is becoming more racially and economically diverse and as a result churches will need to keep up with that changing reality. How mainline churches worship, what their theological beliefs are, how they go about interacting with others, will need to undergo a radical overhaul if mainline churches are to survive.  For example if you live in a predominantly Hispanic area-the way you worship is going to have to reflect that if you want to attract new members to the church. Mainline churches are going to have to rethink some of their most cherished traditions in light of 21st century realities.

2) Continue to be true to one’s identity/mission-Doctor who is a constantly evolving show-but yet remains faithful to its identity. It is a show about a time traveling-well-meaning alien, who tries to do the right thing. Does the Doctor fail? Yes. Can he be manipulative? Yes. But the core of the show rests on this specific timelord traveling throughout the universe, taking us along for the ride, trying to help when he can and encouraging his audience to do the same. While the show is constantly changing it still stays faithful to that premise.

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In a time of change and flux it can be easy to become so intent on surviving that one loses sight one’s identity/mission.  Each church and denomination has a different mission based on its theological beliefs. For instance, if a church’s core missional identity is to present a safe space for people of various racial backgrounds, theological beliefs, sexual orientation, or political backgrounds to come together, then that means they will have to make changes to be more faithful to that core mission. There are churches who want to be so popular that they will do whatever it takes to get a mass following, (ex. Some megachurches) but they might lose sight of why they were formed to begin with. Others, might care more about maintaining the status quo that they refuse to make any changes at all.

3)      Be passionate- I love the passion of the fans in the Doctor Who fandom. It was that very passion that kept the show alive in various forms when it went off the air in 1989. In fact it was the persistence of Russell T Davis (among others) whose insistence saw the return of the show. Doctor who fans  are not afraid to demonstrate their passion for the show. Are there people who take it too far? Yes of course. I’m sure some of my friends think I take my obsession with Doctor Who too far.  But in all seriousness, while there are people in the Doctor who fandom whose passion for the show has led them to harass and exclude others with differing opinions, the vast majority, (at least that I have experienced) have managed to be passionate about the show, share their passion without alienating others, and also have a life outside of the show.

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However, when it comes to religion, some mainline churches are understandably worried about not wanting to come across as pushing their religious beliefs on others. They don’t want to infringe on other people’s beliefs or rights. And in a society where people are using their personal religious beliefs as an excuse to limit the rights of others, that is a very real fear. However, some churches go in the opposite direction and remain silent. Their members don’t want to talk about their beliefs at all. And the problem then arises that if the only Christian voices that are heard are from those viewed as exclusive and judgmental, then people are going to paint Christianity with one brush and write Christianity off.  But are the only two options really silence or obnoxious proselytizing? Is there a way to be passionate about one’s beliefs without intentionally alienating others?

4)      Encourage diversity-As the show reaches an ever-expanding audience-it is slowly beginning to reflect diversity-in various forms. For example, Martha Jones, played by Freema Agyeman, was the first black companion. In the next series Danny Pink, played by Samuel Anderson will most likely be a regular recurring character in the show.  Titan comics, the officially licensed publisher of the Doctor Who comicbook is giving the tenth doctor, a Hispanic companion. Not to mention that the show, I believe has gotten progressively better in having nonwhite characters play main roles in one-off episode. Additionally, the show of course is not only racially diverse, but also diverse in terms of sexual orientation.  Now if only we could get some more female writers on the show…

Furthermore-the fandom is becoming more and more diverse. The Day of the Doctor, one episode- granted an extremely hyped about episode since it was the 50th anniversary episode- was broadcast in 94 countries across 6 continents. It was fascinating to read about how people throughout the world were celebrating the show’s 50th anniversary.

The fan base is incredibly diverse in terms of talents, life experiences, careers etc. The talent in the fanbase is phenomenal. I find myself amazed by some of the art that various fans have produced-from plays, to art work, to crafts, to music and the great thing is that, barring the fact that there are jerks, is that fanbase is big enough for all that diverse talent and viewpoints.

In contrast, some mainline churches are struggling to reach a more diverse audience-not just racially diverse but economically and generationally. Worldwide-the church tends to have more success-although even that is threatened by the fact that it is very possible that churches in the global south will break away from their Northern American counterparts.

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In the US many mainline churches tend to be monolithic racially, economically, and generationally. I am a young 24 year old, hispanic woman, and while there is a lot more to my identity than just that, I have to admit I often feel out of place in mainline churches. It often feels as if my experiences, my history, my talents have no place in said churches.  I know I am not the only one who experiences said frustration. The children and grandchildren of church members often feel out of place in the church and and they feel as if it has very little relevance to their lives.  There are people who often consider themselves far off from the mainstream of society who feel as if they aren’t’t welcome in the church.  And the issue becomes, well how do we reach out to them? Can we? There will always be people unhappy with the way something is run-we see that in the Doctor Who fandom and the same is true in the church. But the thing is, in order for any show or institution to survive it needs to diversify-not just racially, but in all aspects.

 

This is by no means an extensive list. But I wanted to share a quick post. Finals are in a few weeks so I am swapped with school work, but don’t want to completely neglect this blog!

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6 thoughts on “What The Church Can Learn From Doctor Who and Whovians

  1. Hi, I’m enjoying your site here – some really good reflections on how Doctor Who helps us reflect on God, faith, and church life. I’d be interested in your thoughts on a project I’m doing on my blog – Tardis Theology. I’m writing a devotional reflection to accompany each episode (starting with the 2005 revival). I’d love any feedback you’re willing to share. Thanks.

    • hahah that’s awesome! I have actually thought about doing that eventually…(seminary keeps me busy.) But that sounds like a fascinating project. I’m not sure what type of feedback you are looking for though?

      • Oh, any thoughts are helpful – agree, disagree, think I’m stretching too much. Just anything the post stirs up will help me hone my writing for future posts – especially thoughts from someone who knows the show and “gets” it.

      • Thanks so much. I just put up a Facebook page for the series (so all my Facebook friends don’t have to keep getting updates every time I put up a post). I’m curious where you’re in seminary. If there’s any way I can encourage you in your studies, please let me know.

      • I’m at Brite divinity in texas. It’s a progressive christian school, which is great since I’m beliefs are bit unorthodox and I’ve struggled with agnosticism and atheism, so it’s a healthy place for me to explore. I def want to check out your page and will probably share some of your posts, if you don’t mind on my doctor who and theology page. I do want to eventually get my own devotional series started, so I might be asking you for some advice.

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