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Ava DuVernay’s new TV show “Home Sweet Home” swaps families of faith

Ryan Denison is the Senior Fellow for Theology at Denison Forum, where he contributes writing and research to many of the ministry’s productions.

He is in the final stages of earning his PhD in church history at BH Carroll Theological Institute after having earned his MDiv at Truett Seminary. Ryan has also taught at BH Carroll and Dallas Baptist University.

He and his wife, Candice, live in East Texas and have two children.

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Ava DuVernay arrives at the 25th annual Critics' Choice Awards on Sunday, Jan. 12, 2020, at the Barker Hangar in Santa Monica, Calif. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)
Ava DuVernay arrives at the 25th annual Critics' Choice Awards on Sunday, Jan. 12, 2020, at the Barker Hangar in Santa Monica, Calif. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)

Home Sweet Home is a new show from Ava DuVernay, the filmmaker behind such movies as A Wrinkle in Time and Selma.

It debuts Friday night and centers on sixteen families “from different religious, racial and economic backgrounds or sexual orientations” who will trade homes for a week in the hopes of better understanding both their differences and their similarities. 

The show couldn’t come at a better time.

A 2019 survey found that roughly one in five Americans seldom or never interact with people from another race, ethnicity, or religion, and DuVernay hopes that the show can be an impetus to help change that reality. At the very least, she hopes Home Sweet Home opens peoples’ minds a bit more to the beliefs and stereotypes we can so easily take for granted. 

She knows it’s possible because it’s an experience she already had while filming.

“Do you know what you think you know?”

When discussing the show, she recounted how she was “scared” to film an episode about a “blond-haired, blue-eyed Mormon family from Orange County” because of the Mormon faith’s rejection of black people for much of its history. While that position changed in 1978, it was enough to create a sense of fear and hesitancy in her prior to shooting the episode. She left the experience, however, with a better understanding of how stereotypes are “sometimes rooted in a truth that has been distorted.” 

Her hope is that, as the audience follow families into the homes of people from Sikh, Jewish, Hindu, atheist, and Greek Orthodox backgrounds, among others, such viewers will “ask themselves, ‘Why do you even think that?’ and, ‘Do you know what you think you know?’ and challenge the reasons why you believe what you believe.”

We can appreciate other faiths

As Christians, what is the right way to engage with a show like Home Sweet Home?

On the one hand, DuVernay’s challenge to examine the stereotypes and assumptions we take for granted is both necessary and helpful, especially when it comes to cultures about which we know little. 

Acting as though we understand people from different backgrounds just because we may know a little about their religion is one of the great hindrances to effectively communicating the gospel. While faith is often a key factor in other peoples’ identity, it hardly tells us everything about them. 

After all, it doesn’t take long on Sunday mornings to see that there is a great deal of diversity among Christians. The same is true for members of other faiths as well. 

If Home Sweet Home can help us gain a greater appreciation for that fact, we would all be better for it. 

But all faiths do not lead to God

I suspect, however, that the show will also try to normalize these differences to the point of acceptance by portraying these diverse backgrounds as different manifestations of truth rather than as, at times, mutually exclusive claims about the nature of God and reality.

That’s not to say there won’t be things in common. For the most part, there is far more about our humanity that should bring us together than push us apart. But it is important to recognize that good people can believe wrong things, and it’s neither intolerant nor hateful to point out that most faiths make claims that are simply incompatible with any religion other than their own. 

Where the show can help is by reminding us that those disagreements do not give us license to dehumanize or vilify those who believe differently. But holding our calling to love others as God loves them in conjunction with our calling to recognize and stand for God’s truth can require a level of intentionality that is easy to suspend when watching TV. 

So if you choose to check out Home Sweet Home, take a few moments to pray first and ask God to help you keep that balance in mind while you engage with the families in the show.

All of us could benefit from the awareness and introspection DuVernay hopes to create in her audience. But we must also remember not to lose sight of the fact that accepting people does not necessarily mean validating their beliefs.