07/28/2011 09:42 pm ET | Updated Sep 27, 2011

Watch Out For Those 'Chritches'

When ABC recently announced it had ordered a season's worth of a new show based on the novel "Good Christian Bitches," I'm not sure which surprised me more -- that the network planned to run a show with the word "Christian" in the title, or the derogatory "bitch."

A dramedy set in Dallas, the show follows the character Amanda Vaughn (Leslie Bibb) who moves back to her hometown (and her mother, played by Annie Potts) after her marriage ends in scandal. In high school, Amanda was the quintessential mean girl. "Oh darlin', you were a bitch with teeth," her mother says in a clip from the show's pilot.

Back home in Texas, Amanda encounters a gaggle of her old "frenemies" from high school, led by the mean-girl-turned-Sunday-School-teacher Carlene (Kristin Chenoweth). Each more saccharine and seemingly perfect than the next, they greet their wounded "sister" with thinly veiled enmity lurking behind huge smiles, and then rip her to shreds when she's (mostly) out of earshot.

"Good Christian Bitches" immediately drew fire from both Christian and women's groups for marrying "Christian" with "bitch" in its title. Producers quickly changed the name to the less offensive "Good Christian Belles," and most recently re-christened it yet again as, simply, "G.C.B."

On the surface, the loudest criticism of the as-yet-unaired show has been semantic. "Bitch" is not a term most of us ladies would choose to apply or use on our sisters, no matter how appropriate it may be. It's demeaning and coarse.

Folks from the Parents Television Council and their ilk bristled, understandably, at the word and the tacit cultural acceptance using it in a television show's title might bestow on the word.

Conservative critics found unusual allies among women's groups, who also pushed back at the original title. "It is not an appropriate term to use to describe any woman, regardless of faith," said Yana Walton of the Women's Media Center. "Entertainment media, especially film and music, have been normalizing misogynistic language for years."

Fair enough. The deeper criticism of the show, however, is that it unfairly attacks Christianity by lampooning, with ample snark, Christian culture.

That is where the reasonable complaint breaks down. The novel, written by Kim Gatlin, and its television iteration, don't attack Christianity. Instead, their scathing (and funny) assault is on the vulgar hypocrisy perpetuated by some people who call themselves Christian.

Sad but true, there are far too many Christians who use their faith as a battering ram or an imprimatur to justify their transparent jealousy and hatred of anyone they deem, consciously or unconsciously, to be a threat.

The kind of "Christian" women depicted in "G.C.B" are a reality. I've known scores of them throughout my lifetime in the church and, in my worst moments, confess that sometimes I've been one of them.

In my circle of friends, all of us rooted in the evangelical Christian tradition and church culture, we have a term for those women who greet you in services with an air-kiss of peace only to stick a metaphorical slingblade in your side as soon as you turn to pick up the hymnal.

We call them "Chritches."

The short definition of what constitutes a "Chritch" was neatly (and chillingly) offered a few years back by the conservative pundit Ann Coulter who described herself as a "mean Christian."

Jesus said his followers would be known by our love. Therefore a "mean Christian" is as flagrantly oxymoronic a descriptor as a "sweet terrorist."

Chritches are the exception, not the rule, among true believers. But most of us who have spent any time in Christian community have encountered at least a few.

They are the women who eyeball you across the narthex wearing an expression that looks like they've just stepped in a pile of rhinoceros dung.

Such disdain and judgmental disposition certainly isn't limited to a particular faith group, but it is most disconcerting among those who claim to follow Jesus. The dissonance is tangible, mostly because it is obvious they are judging you harshly not just because of your mismatched clothing (from last season's bargain rack) but the very core of who you are, based on nothing more than appearances.

What matters most to Chritches is not your heart or love for God, but whether you appear to be pious, devoted and the picture of perfection.

Miss a Sunday or two at worship and the rumors of your backsliding begin. Fail to turn out a beautiful casserole for the potluck dinner and the authenticity of your faith is questioned. Singing off key, consulting the prayer book during the Nicene Creed, or taking your kid to see the latest "Harry Potter" movie makes you an apostate. They spread gossip under the guise of "prayer requests," treat worship as if it were a contact sport and view your hairstyle as a barometer of your spiritual health.

The Chritches depicted in "G.C.B," should be fair game for ridicule and satire.

When secular media take potshots at the Christian community in this way, those of us who consider ourselves Christians shouldn't be offended.

In order for satire to work, there has to be truth behind it.

Rather than protesting such "attacks," as if they could somehow shake the foundations of our faith, we should appreciate them as just critiques of what Christianity should not be. When "Chritchy" behavior is lampooned, it might mean they see Christianity for what it is supposed to be: Radically, unabashedly loving and kind.

Christians would do well to take a cue from our cousins in the Jewish community and cultivate a better sense of humor about ourselves.

And save our outrage for injustices that are truly outrageous.

This column was published via the Religion News Service.