I’m not sure if there has ever been as much Bible quoted in a soap opera as in the last couple of weeks in EastEnders.
While much-loved veteran character Dot Cotton has always enjoyed peppering her conversations with the odd verse, her fondness for the Word has been dramatically overtaken by Pentecostal Pastor Lucas Johnson, who has been belting out pieces of scripture to anyone within earshot.
Unfortunately, given that he is a murdering psychopath who has taken to twisting the Bible to suit his evil plans, this hasn’t exactly been a cause for celebration. Especially since one of his favourite verses appears to be Deuteronomy 17: 12 – “The man who shows contempt for the judge or for the priest who stands ministering there to the Lord your God must be put to death. You must purge the evil from Israel .”
He used this verse as an excuse to almost strangle his own wife, Denise, when she refused to be baptised. When he decided to keep her prisoner in a basement instead, he killed someone else and identified the body as Denise to make it look like she had committed suicide. It was the third person Lucas had murdered or left to die while pretending to be an upright man of God.
So far, so bad, leading to a number of Christians writing in to the BBC to complain about their portrayal of a pastor. But this week, other characters have been fighting Bible verse with Bible verse. Denise, who Lucas locked up with only a Bible for reading material, discovered that it’s not all the hell-fire and brimstone her husband favours.
“I think God’s horrified that someone like you takes his words and twists them to fit his own evil purpose,” she told him.
“I mean, have you actually read the Bible, Lucas? I mean all of it, not just the bits that suit you. Matthew chapter 22 verse 39: You shall love your neighbour as you love yourself. What do you understand by ‘love your neighbour’?”
And one of the young Christians in his Bible class had another pertinent question for him.
“I was reading Matthew chapter 7 verse 15,” she said.
“It says ‘Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly, they are ravening wolves’.
“How can you tell if a prophet is false or not?”
This question also rang in my mind as I watched another programme this week – Channel 4’s Dispatches: Britain ’s Witch Children. The programme accused three pastors of abusing their position of authority to ask for money or sexual favours to exorcise members of their congregation – some of whom were children – from demonic possession.
It may not seem too hard for Christians to discern that a pastor who tells a member of his congregation that she must sleep with him to rid her family of witchcraft is a false prophet.
But some vulnerable people, particularly when they have a strong sense of respect for their church leaders, may be – and many have been – deceived.
Our non-Christian friends, watching Dispatches and seeing that Lucas can use Bible verses to condone his horrendous behaviour, may well ask if our faith can be too easily used as a passport for abuse.
It shouldn’t be a surprise to us as Christians that these false prophets exist, because we are warned about them repeatedly in God’s word.
As Denise pointed out to Lucas, that’s why it’s vitally important to take the Bible in its full context, and make sure we know it well – following the mandate of 2 Timothy 2:15, to correctly handle the word of truth.
As Jesus said in Matthew 12:33: “a tree is recognised by its fruit.” There are many places, particularly in the epistles, where the difference between good and bad fruit is explored.
Galatians 5 is a good start. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control haven’t exactly been evident in Lucas Johnson. And thankfully in EastEnders, his sins have found him out.