bio from WB website: From Spelling Television and Brenda Hampton comes 7th Heaven, a critically acclaimed family drama about a minister, his wife and their seven children. The WB's highest-rated series, 7th Heaven, has captured the hearts of television audiences with its witty, charming and heartwarming storytelling and has been praised for providing high-quality entertainment for all ages.
This drama is currently in its 9th season, and the 1st season has just recently been released on DVD. As avid fans, my wife Janet and I have been rather amused by watching the DVD in tandem with the current episodes to see how the characters have all grown up. The show itself has gone through many changes, both in casting, in quality and in maturity. It combines the dynamics of a typical family-oriented soap opera with moral lessons, political statements, and social issues that few shows dare to tread upon. Over the years it has talked about typical dramatic topics such as parenting, school, dating, and relationships, as well as more heavy topics such as racism, war, sex, religion, death and domestic violence. Overall, as a show, it succeeds extremely well in presenting these issues through strong characters and excellent writing. One of its major strengths is showing the world of the non-churched that Christians are not perfect people who never make mistakes. The Camden kids struggle in their attempts to balance their values in the real world; sometimes they win, and sometimes they lose big time. Because it’s the fantasy world of television, sometimes the way the characters’ struggles are resolved within an hour-long show come off as unrealistic and phony, but actor Stephen Collins (Eric Camden) has admitted in an interview that though the show is idealized, it is not fantasy. 7th Heaven explores, through storytelling, many hard issues that people face everyday, and usually does a good job at revealing the source of these issues.
One issue that is currently being explored in the current season is sex. Though many of the older Camden kids have been tempted and come very close in previous seasons, Simon has become the first member of the family to have pre-marital sex. This is certainly not a new issue for a TV show to explore; several shows such as Dawson’s Creek or even Friends treat pre-marital sex, rather irresponsibly, as something normal and acceptable, with minimal consequences. Sex is treated as something that does and SHOULD be part of the early stages of a relationship, a casual and even recreational pastime. Yet apart from some squabbles, tears and breaking things off with a shrug, rarely are the consequences ever explored or mentioned. On 7th Heaven, the subject has been only skimmed until now, as to not only the consequences but some of the reasons why pre-marital sex occurs.
The consequences that are often talked about, both in real life and on television, are the obvious ones of unwanted pregnancies and diseases. What is not usually brought up is the emotional and relational consequences of pre-marital sex. What’s so bad about it anyway, and why is it treated with such fervor among the Christian community? Nicky Gumbel, speaker in the popular Alpha course, sums it up very well by pointing out several things: firstly, that God created sex, and that pleasure is HIS idea, not the Devil’s. God’s plan and design for sex is that through it, a man and a woman become one flesh. (Genesis 2:24, 1 Corinthians 6:16) Well what happens when one piece of flesh is torn apart? It hurts! Gumbel uses the illustration of two pieces of corrugated cardboard glued together and then torn apart. What happens is that pieces of the one will still be left behind on the other. Even when two people come together in marriage and consummate it through sex as God intended, if either partner has previous sexual relationships, pieces of those other partners are still there with them, and the ‘one flesh’ is no longer ONLY two becoming one, undermining the intimacy. Using an analogy of colors, pure blue and a pure yellow will make a pure green, but if there are other colors mixed in, the color ends up muddy. This is why it is considered sin to God, because it misses the mark of his plan for us, which should include unspoiled sexual pleasure for those who marry.
What 7th Heaven has recently explored is the excuses we make for having dabbled in a sin such as pre-marital sex. When Eric and Simon finally sit down and discuss the aftermath of Simon’s decision, Eric attempts to help Simon realize why what he’s done is a bad idea. Eric tells him, “I love you, but I hate what you’ve done. What can I do to help you right now?” Simon’s response is that he wants his father to tell him that what he’s done is OK, and that he’s just like any other 18-year-old guy. Rather than tackle the issue head on and admit he has sinned, he wants to hear that nothing is wrong, he wants approval. He even blames his decision on his partner Georgia, on her seductiveness and the fact that she’s ‘persuasive.’ This is a natural human response that goes all the way back to Genesis. God asks Adam why he sinned, and Adam blames it on Eve, who blames it on the serpent. Passing the buck like this is part of our sinful nature, and we do it all the time. We try to justify our wrong-doing constantly with others, with God, and with ourselves. Eric’s response to this is interesting, that Simon is not like any other 18-year-old who can freely go from one casual relationship to another, because he “has more than a casual relationship with Christ.” What a rare, awesome thing to hear this uttered on a mainstream show such as this! God is mentioned often on TV, but how often do we hear the name “Christ”? Not often enough. This scene between Eric and Simon is not resolved right away in its particular episode, which is realistic and appropriate. Rather than do what the show sometimes does, in wrapping up a tough issue quickly and unrealistically, it allows the characters time to think and flesh the issue out over more episodes. Simon later confesses to his therapist that the reason why he had pre-marital sex was because of his guilt related to the car accident in the previous season, where he accidentally killed someone. He figured since he thinks he’s going to Hell anyway for doing this, he might as well have sex. Not steal, or cheat, or intentionally murder another, but have sex. There is an interesting truth to this. Of all the vices available to us fallen humans, sex is probably the most subtle of them all. The dangers of drinking and drugs are much more obvious, and the experiences behind them are not always particularly pleasant to begin with, let alone the deadly aftermaths they can lead to. But since sex feels good, pretty awesome in fact, it doesn’t seem so bad does it? As long as you’re “safe” about it and use protection, how bad can it be? The emotional confusion and damage pre-marital sex can do to our self-esteem and character, if treated like a casual game, is the enemy’s disclaimer he doesn’t want us to know about.
7th Heaven has continued to explore the issue of sex further throughout the season, comparing Simon’s situation with his sister Lucy and her husband Kevin, who are having a baby. Although they waited to have sex and they are following God’s plan, there are still medical emergencies that occur with Lucy’s pregnancy, and the emotional roller-coasters that both her and Kevin go through. It’s not an easy road, no matter how it happens. There is also another story involving a pregnant teen and her reluctance to tell the father of their situation. She eventually does, and the event brings the estranged families of the teens closer together, on the road to healing. God can, through the support of His people, bring any unwanted situation to a reconciled conclusion. Bringing up a child in a loving family is part of God’s plan, His desire for US, and it’s amazing how He manages to bring people back to that when they have caused it to happen otherwise. He loves us that much.
What makes 7th Heaven stand out from other shows and how it handles the topic of pre-marital sex is that it doesn’t blindly condemn it for no reason, nor does it promote it as an acceptable activity. The show has always presented it as something healthy and normal within marriage (Eric and Annie were like bunnies in several earlier episodes)…and has explored the consequences outside of marriage from many different angles, including the reasons why teens and other unmarried adults continue to have sex. As Lucy explains in her sermon during the current season, it has much to do with being validated or important. Anyone who does not feel any sort of self-worth or love for themselves will always look to other social activities, whether it be sports or sex, to make themselves feel good. Using the woman in Song of Solomon has her model, she explains that if a person has self-confidence, they won’t need casual sex to feel validated. If you can feel that your life has purpose and meaning, then everything that flows from that, including sex, will eventually fall into place.
Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
Ultimately, God knows us better than we do, for we are ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’ as Psalm 139:14 reminds us, in His image. The more we soak ourselves in this knowledge, perhaps the less we will buy into other distorted ideas about how to make ourselves feel loved.