How Christianity Is Portrayed in the Netflix Series Sweet Magnolias
By Molly Law, Crosswalk.com
The second season of Sweet Magnolias hit Netflix last week and is now labeled on the streaming platform as "#1 in the U.S. today."
While I very much enjoyed the first season for its easy-to-watch, small-town charm revolving around three best friends and their tight-knit families and community, the second season got me thinking about how Christianity plays a role in these women's lives in their hometown of Serenity, South Carolina.
Yes, you heard me correctly, a Netflix show, adapted from the series of books by Sherryl Woods with the same name, confidently and brazenly proclaims Christ, prayer, spiritual wellbeing, and much more. While it is refreshing to see Christian themes, such as characters openly praying to God the Father, calling on Christ, and making church not only a family Sunday obligation but a strong emphasis on spiritual health, it also plays into worldly themes.
It is hard to adequately portray the gospel and the nuances of being a Christ-follower in the world today. On the one hand, if a show or movie portrayed characters who followed every biblical principle, holding everything they did with 100% scriptural accuracy, it would run the risk of coming across as cheesy, legalistic, and most likely unrealistic. As fallen humanity, none of us can live that way, no matter how hard we may try. We are called to be holy, "But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: "Be holy, because I am holy" (1 Peter 1:15-16), but God knows we cannot, and that is where grace comes in "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23).
God looks at what is in our hearts — he cares that our motive is the desire to be holy, not how well we follow the rules, so we look holy. So, this is the lens I'd like to use when looking at how Sweet Magnolias presents Christianity.
Prayer in this series shows up quite frequently. In the first scene of season 2, Maddie, Helen, and Dana Sue pray together with clasped hands as Maddie's son is rushed to the hospital after a car accident. As Helen prays in the middle of the emergency room, "Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ, neither life nor death," Maddie lifts up her son's name, and Dana Sue tells her not to lose hope.
In both seasons, prayer and conversations about God come across as genuine and heart-felt instead of cringey or forced. In episode four of season two titled, "Walk of Faith," Helen helps a young man, Isaac, find his birth parents. When discussing it with the pastor in the local church, Pastor June Wilkes reads from Psalm 139, "For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well" (vv. 13-14).
These are just a few examples. The three friends often say to each other and those in the community about their future desires or plans that they'll keep it in their prayers.
Speaking of community, this series has done an amazing job at world-building, creating a small-town community that feels not only realistic but also idyllic. It genuinely evokes Christian communities I have been a part of throughout my Christian walk.
The strong bond these three women have shared since childhood stretches out to their children's relationships with one another, the church, school, and their jobs. Maddie and Dana Sue have their own businesses (spa and restaurant), while Helen is a successful lawyer, which allows all three to have a strong connection with those in their community.
They have Margarita Night once a week to catch up on life, gossip, and faith. While their daily faith and spiritual health sometimes get swept under the rug to keep the drama moving, it is somewhat there. That also feels realistic, as the busyness of life can quickly get in the way of our eternal mindset and daily time with the Lord.
As I said before, church is almost a fourth character in this show. It almost feels seamless that they attend church every Sunday — it is there for community outreach and gatherings during the week, and it is there for congregants and citizens to use for daily prayer and guidance.
Pastor June Wilkes is a prominent figure in her community. She shows up at the hospital to be with members of her congregation. She speaks to Maddie's other injured son; she helps Helen and Isaac look for his birth parents. She is a spiritual and emotional support for her community.
What was also refreshing to see was the promotion of counseling in a very down-to-earth and intentional manner. When Maddie's son, Kyle, won't talk to her after the accident, she tells him he needs to talk to someone, and if it's not her, it will be a therapist.
She gets a referral, and he comes over and talks to Kyle. I appreciated the nod to normalizing and executing the use of counseling. Maddie didn't let her son's mental health fester or boil under the surface. She recognized a problem and sought professional treatment for it.
Should You Watch This Show?
While Sweet Magnolias does portray a Christian community and include biblical references, it also makes itself palatable for a secular audience. It includes topics of premarital sex, a gay couple seeking adoption, an extramarital affair, and mild language. It has a rating of TV-14. In some of these subjects, dissecting them in the light of Scripture or in question of spiritual health is nonexistent. This is where it makes a pie chart of Christianity—leaving the Christian faith perfectly situated over there while the drama slice stays separated so they can jump from one to the other with seamless cues for the audience.
"Distractify" by Kelly Corbett puts it like this, "The women's religion is simply a background detail that is occasionally touched on. The ladies are portrayed as good Christians, who sometimes go to church and sometimes pray but are not perfect. This modern take on faith isn't often depicted in TV shows and movies."
Even though Sweet Magnolias is somewhat of a charcuterie board of Christianity, picking and choosing aspects of faith it wants to use, it is still a very nuanced and dynamic show that depicts Christian life and faith in a relatively realistic light. It gives Hallmark movie vibes without being Hallmark; it has drama, romance, and intrigue. All in all, it is refreshing to see a top-rated show on a highly popular secular streaming platform evoke Christianity the way it does. Even if it does cherry-pick in some areas of the Christian faith, if it could reach just one person for Christ through that, then it did what Jesus commanded:
"Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you" (Matthew 28:18-20).
After that, an individual can join their local church and Christian community with the desire to learn more about Christ, the Bible, and all there is to living in relationship with their Lord and Savior.
Molly Law is the Editor of C.com. She has a Master of Arts in Publishing Studies from the University of Stirling, UK, where she studied and lived for a year in Scotland. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English Professional Writing from Gardner-Webb University. Her editorial career includes Senior Editor of a bimonthly magazine for the nonprofit ACA and Editorial Assistant at Luath Press in Edinburgh, UK. She enjoys reading 18th-century British Literature, creative writing, and traveling.