I have mixed feelings about Sean Lowe, a former star of ABC’s The Bachelor.
When I first saw him on TV, he wasn’t my favorite. I’m just not too fond of gym rats. Of prettyboys. Of too-attractive-to-be-normal bros with their bulging biceps and flawless six packs.
I have a thing against prettyboy bros, and I probably need to get over that.
But things are a bit different when it comes to Sean Lowe. Because part of me wants to really, really respect him.
See, Sean made national headlines during his season of The Bachelor for his religious beliefs. Namely, the Evangelical Christian wasn’t having sex until he was married. The media latched onto that, made a huge spectacle of it, and more or less refused to talk about anything else.
Like it or not, Sean was an unofficial spokesman for Christian purity. (For the record, I find the Christian purity moment intensely problematic–for a vast array of reasons that would take much too long to detail right now. But I absolutely do value the commitment to celibacy that lies behind it.) And for a reality TV star whose every step, breath and sneeze was covered by the tabloids, I really admired how unashamed Sean was of his beliefs.
So when I was at Barnes and Noble on the hunt for some good vacation reading material and I came across this book — I was intrigued.
I found For the Right Reasons: America’s Favorite Bachelor on Faith, Love, Marriage and Why Nice Guys Finish First in the Christian devotionals section.
No joke. On the same shelf as all the C.S. Lewis books, right next to Seattle pastor Eugene Cho’s Overrated, (which I also bought, because that man’s church is incredible. I’m a total Quest fangirl.)
But honestly, reading Sean Lowe’s book made me mad. Because it is not a devotional. It is not a book on spiritual growth.
It is, plain and simple, a reality TV show tell-all. Ripe with juicy behind-the-scenes details from America’s most beloved Bachelor. Inside scoop on what it’s like to date 26 women at once on national television. On trying to decide which of his two final women to propose to–and which to send home heartbroken.
This book in no way challenged me in my faith. It did nothing to help deepen my relationship with Christ. It wasn’t meant to. It was written to be a juicy reality TV show tell-all.
A reality TV tell-all with a little bit of Jesus sprinkled in for effect.
My problem isn’t with Sean Lowe as a person. Honestly, I respect his faith, and how he conducted himself on reality television … a lot.
What bothers me is the way this book was marketed. In the Christian section at my local bookstore. Alongside the biographies and devotionals.
I also think his book promotes a very superficial, simplistic, and whitewashed view of faith. And that is dangerous.
I mean, yes, there’s the whole simultaneously dating 26 women on national TV/making out with most of them/being the face of a sleazy reality TV franchise that uses catfights, backstabbing, loose morals and alcohol-fueled drama to peddle the allusion of romance, true love and happily ever after to legions of dedicated female viewers across America.
But that’s the obvious part. You’ve heard that argument before. What bothers me about Sean’s book is his deceptively problematic approach to faith and Christian life.
His book says all the “right” Christian things. He knows all the right buzzwords, uses all the right phrases, says all the good little Christian things. His book is packaged beautifully. But it’s message is harmful and flawed.
“‘God, lead me. You’re in control of this,’ I prayed while waiting for the women to arrive for my season of The Bachelor.” … and on the next page: “My nerves were getting the best of me, so I shut my eyes and asked God to lead me in the right direction. The cameras caught this moment, and the producers decided to air it. I don’t think anyone realized I was praying.”
And also, “On the day of big decisions, I prayed continuously, ‘Lord, I know your hand is in this. I just pray that if this is not the direction you want me to go, let me know.’”
This is great. This is foundational for a Christ-centered life. It’s also just about the most simple, go-to Christian concept one could possibly include in a Christian celebrity tell-all.
I also learned that Sean reads Jesus Calling. And I love that book. But right now, Jesus Calling is probably the single most popular book in U.S. Christian culture. That makes referencing it kind of a cop out. Saying you like it won’t offend anybody.
I don’t admire Christians because they lift weights every day, eat carefully-portioned amounts of protein, and read Jesus Calling. I admire Christians who live out their faith in radical, tangible, counter-cultural ways.
Christians who care about others. Who care about justice–about the poor, the oppressed, the weak. People ignored by society. Who love the ones everyone else is too busy, scared or self-concerned to love.
I read Sean’s tell-all simultaneously with another Barnes and Noble purchase: Jesus Feminist, a book that Canadian author Sarah Bessey says she realizes “might be the one label that could alienate almost everyone.”
But one quote in her book impacted me more than anything I’ve read in a long time. She says this:
“I want to be outside with the misfits, with the rebels, the dreamers, second-chance givers, the radical grace lavishers, the ones with arms wide open, the courageously vulnerable and among if–or maybe especially–the ones rejected by the Table as not worthy enough or right enough.”
If I could somehow manage to live my life like this … how epic would that be? Don’t get me wrong, it’s terrifying. Part of scared to death to live it out. But I want more than anything for that to be the way I live my life.
So back to The Bachelor. The more obvious concern from Sean’s book is his decision to propose to Catherine when he knew she didn’t share his Christian faith. Of course, this decision was incredibly difficult, and he goes through great lengths to explain it.
I love that he didn’t force her into anything. I love that her faith developed on its own, in a way that was real and genuine for her.
The problem is that because celebrity culture elevates people like Sean to rock star status … many young Christians will view him as a role model. And they’ll look to his life as an example.
And frankly–marrying someone now in the hope that they’ll come to love Jesus later works for some people. But it shouldn’t be the standard. Not everyone gets Sean’s happily ever after. That decision can lead to a lot of pain … heartbreak … and hurt later down the road.
“I knew she loved God. Even though Catherine hadn’t yet given her life completely to Christ, it was almost as if God allowed me to see her as the woman she was becoming. I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that God had called her, and that he allowed me–in some mysterious way–to make the decision to propose.”
That’s great for him, but Sean’s celebrity has given him a unique microphone to be a voice of Christianity into the culture. And he’s telling his story–but he’s not writing a Christian advice book. But, if you Google any of For The Right Reasons’ book reviews online, it’s very clear that much of his target audience is taking it like that.
I have no doubt that Sean Lowe is a great guy. He’s humble, caring, and trying hard to live his life for Christ in his years after being a shirtless, reality dating show heartthrob.
But I’m tired of seeing Christians put him on a pedestal. As if he’s a role model we should try to model our lives after. What if we turned off the television on Monday nights, put down the popcorn, and spend that hour finding ways to “look after the orphans and the widows in their distress.” (James 1:27)
As a Christian culture, can we stop glorifying the pretty Christian celebrities of the world? Instead, let’s put down the remote, let’s get off our couches and start living for Christ with our words and our actions — let’s attempt, however new and uncomfortable it might be, to be the hands and feet of Jesus in our world.