Roma Downey: The RealClearReligion Interview
If you watched any television circa 1997, you should know Roma Downey. Roma graced millions of television sets every week as the angel Monica in the popular Touched By an Angel series. Last week, she and her husband, Mark Burnett of Survivor fame, returned to your living rooms in the History Network's new docudrama, The Bible. Roma and I recently spoke about their highly-rated series and their proposed Bible mandate.
RealClearReligion: Why the Bible? Why now?
Roma Downey: Why not? No one has ever done a series on the whole Bible -- individual stories have been told, but not as a whole. My husband and I wanted to be able to make a series that would glorify God, one that would tell God's love story. We felt a calling in our hearts. It's a very ambitious and bold project to step into, and we did so prayerfully. It's been very humbling and exhilarating to see the numbers climb as the show has been run and re-run. It's exciting.
RCR: It's also curious that you, as a Catholic, have taken such an enthusiastic interest in telling the stories of the Bible -- not many Catholics would.
RD: Either there's no God, or there's only God. For me, there's only God. The Bible is our story of God's love, so I don't know why that would be a surprise. I love the Bible. My earliest memories in my Catholic household were of sitting on my Father's knee and having him read Scripture to me.
I also remember watching Bible movies on rainy Sunday afternoons in our little house in Derry [Ireland]. And with the memory of some of them in my heart, there was a desire to update some of those stories, to be able to tell them in fresh, visual ways. We wanted to make it accessible for the youth. We wanted to tell these stories in a way that would emotionally resonate with them.
RCR: But, you can't tell all the stories of the Bible in only ten hours.
RD: It was an enormous challenge. While it's easy to criticize, it's hard to create. We gathered a team of scholars and theologians to ensure that we were accurate, but we had to gallop through it -- there was no way else to do it.
RCR: How did you go about making the cuts?
RD: Well, obviously we had to tell the story of Abraham, we had to tell the story of Moses, and we had to tell the story of David. We decided that the bridge from the Old Testament to the New would be through the story of Daniel. Once we then started on the narrative of the life of Jesus, the story became easier to tell because it became natural. They're powerful, uplifting evenings of television.
RCR: While you didn't require that everyone tune in on Sunday evenings, you and your husband did suggest that the Bible ought to be mandatory reading in public schools.
RD: Yes, there's too much ignorance of the basic stories of the Bible. We've been so surprised. In the early parts of our marketing campaign, we produced iconic images from the set and passed them out to a young group working in an advertising agency. One photo was clearly Moses with his staff up over the sea, one was clearly Abraham on the mountaintop with Isaac, and the entire group had no idea who anybody was. It was shocking.
The Bible is the cornerstone of culture, literature, and art -- shame on us for not knowing it better. We understand that it can't be taught in schools as religion, but it certainly could be taught as literature or history.
RCR: Aren't you concerned that educators might be hostile to the Bible and would misrepresent it in their classrooms?
RD: You're basing that they'd be hostile to the Bible on what? Would they be hostile to Shakespeare, too? I know many public school teachers who would think of it as a great gift to our children. And it would be a gift.
In the end, Mark and I wanted to start a conversation. It's amazing that so many people are discussing the series and we think it's a good, healthy place to start a dialogue about our Bible.