I Call BS on Nun Reality Show

Move over, Kardashians: the hottest new reality stars have sworn off sex and wear the same outfit every day! At least, that’s the desired outcome for Lifetime’s upcoming TV series, The Sisterhood. The Hollywood Reporter tells us that the reality show will follow five young novices through the discernment process, as they decide whether or not to take vows.

“For the first time ever, cameras will be granted access inside a Catholic convent where the five women live and work together before making the life-changing decision,” boasts the announcement. (Um, what? Cameras have been inside lots of convents. Talk to me when you’ve greenlighted a reality show about a Mormon temple.)

While the THR article (and most of the surrounding press) uses the word “nun,” the actual description of the show states that the women are taking vows to become “religious sisters.” There’s a difference. Nuns are cloistered; sisters work with the community. Nuns take solemn vows (the unbreakable lifelong kind) of chastity, poverty and obedience; sisters take “simple vows,” which seem to vary between churches, but are somewhat less restrictive (i.e. sisters can own property). So while both are enormous, life-changing spiritual commitments, the women on the reality show will not be cutting themselves off entirely from society. It may be a slightly less dramatic shift than the one most people associate with the phrase “becoming a nun.”

Either way, the decision to join a religious order isn’t meant for reality TV. All the requirements for making the decision—prayer, contemplation, a desire to serve others—are synonyms for “cutting room floor” in reality TV-speak. It’s not like women can be thrown into the discernment process like Paris Hilton being dropped into rural Arkansas. Potential nuns have to really, really want this. And the women need to know what they’re getting into. They need to live with the community for a specified period of time before taking vows. They must already be devoted Catholics, with no romantic attachments and no dependent children. For these reasons, it’s rare for young women to become religious sisters (at least in the United States), yet Lifetime is promising us five camera-ready “young novices.”

Basically, filming the actual discernment process for standard reality TV would be impossible. Even if it didn’t require long months or years of filming (which it would), the cameras would disrupt the sanctity of the proceedings. Filming would turn the process of embracing obedience and humility into a process of attaining fame, which goes against the entire ethos of belonging to a community and devoting one’s life to others. There’s a reason nuns dress alike, and it’s not because black-and-white habits look good on film. Their mission is to serve, not to be seen. Obviously, it’s not for everybody.

So I’m calling shenanigans on The Sisterhood before it even starts filming. While all narrative reality shows involve faking it to some degree, the idea of producers manipulating a spiritual calling is particularly abhorrent. The production company’s track record doesn’t give me much hope for authenticity either; it’s the same producers who created the TLC show Breaking Amish, which is reportedly a big fraud. I don’t know how they’re finding their cast members, but I can’t shake the image of a casting director going into trendy bars and recruiting potential nuns, just like Rock of Love recruited wannabe Bret Michaels girlfriends who had never even heard of Poison.

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The Ursuline Sisters of Youngstown, Ohio, posted this video to explain discernment. Think it can compete with Honey Boo Boo? You can watch more of their videos here.

gwynnewatkins@gmail.com'

Gwynne Watkins is a Christian, but not the kind that sucks. Visit www.gwynnewatkins.com or tweet @gwynnesanity.