by Terry M. Smith
The CBC six-part drama series PURE, about a Mennonite pastor dealing with drug-running within his congregation, is over. What’s the verdict?
To my Canadian ears of mostly British ancestry, somewhat trained by decades within Mennonite circles, the often poor quality of the German dialects used became jarring. That Rosie Perez’s character has an Irish surname was an odd choice.
For drug lord Eli Voss to say that he turned from God after a drunk driver killed his wife and children does not explain his murderous shift. Voss would be familiar with the Book of Job, the exploration of suffering through a man who faces a similar tragedy and yet emerges with his complex faith tested but intact.
Further, when preacher Noah’s wife Anna says it’s wrong to ask the police for protection, this conflicts with Romans 13 and the Schleitheim Confession (an Anabaptist document of 1527), which say the state is to protect. (See Layton Friesen’s Oct. 2016 article You’re a Pacifist and You Called the Police?)
An ugly part is when Anna resists fleeing and manipulates enforcer Joey into thinking that if he kills his sub-lord brother Gerry, she’d become his wife. After, she says Joey misunderstood and needs to ask for forgiveness. This is an unworthy depiction of a Mennonite preacher’s wife.
Preacher Noah points a handgun at Voss, then lowers it, prepared to let Voss shoot him rather than kill in self-defense. Only when Voss turns to kill the boy Ezekiel does Noah shoot him. The moral dilemma faced by Noah is addressed by EMC minister Jacob Enns in his book The Gentleman (self-published 2012, available at the national office or from the author). Killing a child and killing to protect a child are not on par.
The final scene shows Noah standing in the rain outside the church’s meeting place while his son Isaac is being baptized. (While Noah at times focuses too much on seeing God within each of us, the baptismal service concentrates more aptly on Jesus Christ.) My wife Mary Ann suggests that the rain symbolizes Noah’s need for cleansing—a counterpart to the baptismal service, I propose.
Noah cries as Anna hugs him, then walks away. What does his walking away mean? That he abandons his faith? This is inconsistent with Noah’s character throughout the series.
More likely, Noah walks away because he feels unworthy before God. Yet he does not throw away the Bible, leaving it to soak in the rain and mud. He keeps it even as he has much to process.
Perhaps Noah will yet learn to further apply the grace of Christ to his own life, the grace he offered even a dying Voss. A more fitting ending would be for the bishop to go outside, walk Noah inside, and then kneel beside him in prayer—observed by Anna, his children, and the congregation.