Bev Keane is both unassuming and fascinating.
She is one of the characters in Netflix’s “Midnight Mass,” which I have joined many others in watching recently. It’s a supernatural horror limited series involving a young priest who arrives in town.
We first meet Keane (Samantha Sloyan) when she is frightened by Joe Collie’s (Robert Longstreet) dog. She seems like a tangential figure initially, but as we get deeper into the show, her character starts to step more and more to the fore.
From the moment she spots the wrong cassock that the “new” priest is wearing, we see her as a woman clearly engaged in the life of her local church. However, she also commits one of the most callous acts in the early episodes and her actions worsen as the story continues.
Seeing what the new priest is doing, and can do, Keane defends him, covers up for him and even allows herself to be included in his plan. She draws in key people, and they become co-conspirators who will collude with her.
Yet, the moment when true “faith” is required, she hides in a cupboard.
Keane justifies all her actions with and by scripture, believing that the ends justify the means because she is doing God’s work. Sadly, while she knows scripture well and can quote chapter and verse, she has not been shaped by it.
Her actions are never done from a place of love but always cold, religious judgement. The irony is that she accuses the priest of being a Pharisee, and yet that is the very thing that she is being.
I know people like Bev Keane. I have met many.
They know their scripture, but they do not live it. They use the Bible to judge, alienate and isolate those who disagree with them. While describing themselves as “saved by grace alone,” they seem utterly ungracious.
These people are in our churches. They are on our leadership teams. They pastor churches and lead para-church organizations. They stand on street corners and tell people they are going to hell.
Sadly, many more have found a platform on the “street corners” of numerous social media platforms. They are trolls, determined to root out anyone they consider heretics.
They follow people they vehemently disagree with to create division; they send DMs to let people know how disgraceful they are. They use scripture as their weapon to cut down anyone they disagree with.
They do not listen to other people or seek true dialogue to gain greater understanding, because they have already judged them. They have had “enough of love” and they want the church to talk more about “judgment,” but it’s always the judgement of others and never of themselves.
Like Keane, they facilitate abusers and church abuse, and they bring in accomplices who find themselves out of their depths. For them, the end always justifies the means.
But when they are accused, they are quick to blame others, saying, “I didn’t know” and “it wasn’t me!” They are quick to shift attention to the sins of others while never owning up to their own.
They are like the Pharisee Jesus talks about, who looks down on the tax collector and prays, “Thank God I am not like him.”
Often, they are people who have heard countless sermons about grace, read the scriptures every day, attended services and taken communion, and yet they have become hard and bitter, sitting in the place of God and judging who is worthy of salvation and who isn’t.
Towards the end, when things are unravelling, Annie Flynne (Kristin Lehman) finally steps up, confronting Keane and declaring, “You’re not a nice person, Bev.”
Bev Keane is the most committed person to the church, but she has never actually become a nice person or embodied the way of life Jesus proclaimed.
This is the deepest revelation of the show: that so many people who claim to be Christians are not nice people.
Too many are so busy being religious that they have not been converted and have simply not allowed themselves to be followers of Jesus. They are not shaped by his example or his teachings.
This is a tragedy; possibly the most tragic waste that I can think of.
To know all about Jesus, but to not actually know Jesus – there is nothing more tragic than that!
Minister of Devonport Community Baptist Church, Plymouth, United Kingdom.