TV series examines world issues through faith

What would Jesus do today?It’s a new spin on a question first posed in 1896 by Topeka minister Charles Sheldon in his book “In His Steps.”Starting tonight, Topeka’s public television station will begin airing a series of locally produced documentaries that examine contemporary issues through the eyes of scholars that Sheldon might have associated with today.The series, “Beyond Theology,” will be broadcast at 9 tonight with a re-broadcast at 3:30 Sunday afternoon. In Lawrence, the program will be on KTWU, Sunflower Broadband Channel 11. At least 40 stations across the country also have agreed to air it.Dave Kendall, one of the documentary’s producers, says the series started as a narrowly focused show on Sheldon and the “What would Jesus do?” question.In Sheldon’s book, a minister challenges his congregation to ask that question of themselves before making any decision. The phrase has had a resurgence in the last 15 years, with “WWJD” frequently showing up on bracelets.Over time, Kendall says, producers realized they had enough information from their interviews with scholars to broaden their narrow approach to a 10-part series.”It isn’t a point-counterpoint sort of approach,” Kendall says. “Frankly, I don’t think you get very far with that. It ends up being rhetoric. The basic premise of this is if Charles Sheldon were alive today, who would he be conversing with? A lot of people think of WWJD as representative of a conservative approach, but he was really pretty liberal.”Scholars featured in the series include Huston Smith, a theologian at Syracuse University; John Shelby Spong, a retired Episcopal bishop and author; author and theologian Karen Armstrong; and the Rev. Peter Gomes, a theologian at Harvard University’s Divinity School.In addition to tonight’s introductory episode, topics include church and state, the environment, pluralism in the United States and spirituality and religion.”A lot of problems in the world today are perpetuated because of theological differences and people clinging to their own parochial views,” Kendall says. “They’re not willing to hear and accept other views. The idea (for the series) was to get beyond that, to get beyond the superficial trappings of belief systems to learn what they’re all about.”_ – Faith Files, which examines issues of faith, spirituality, morals and ethics, is updated by features/faith reporter Terry Rombeck. Have an idea for the blog? Contact Terry at, or 832-7145._