Michelle Williams and Hollywood’s Secular Liturgy


S. Joseph Scott

Special for News Talk Florida

In case you missed it, here is the essence of Michelle Williams’ Golden Globe acceptance speech that set social media ablaze.

“I’m grateful for the acknowledgment of the choices I’ve made, and I’m also grateful to have lived at a moment in our society where choice exists. Because as women and as girls, things can happen to our bodies that are not our choice.

I’ve tried my very best to live a life of my own making, and not just a series of events that happened to me, but one that I could stand back and look at and recognize my handwriting all over—sometimes messy and scrawling, sometimes careful and precise, but one that I had carved with my own hand. And I wouldn’t have been able to do this without employing a woman’s right to choose: to choose when to have my children, and with whom.”

Her comments lit up social media outlets in predictably divisive patterns. On the one side are those who immediately added her to the canon of saints and martyrs for the cause of autonomous liberal individualism. On the other side she is the incarnation of the murderous, self-absorbed milieu that is the fruit of our post Roe v Wade world. Two choruses are heard, one enthrones her as queen, the other howls in condemnation. In this way she, like Greta Thunburg, becomes a cultural Rorschach figure into which one reads his or her own preconceived position in the war for the soul of America.


I certainly do not stand above the fray as a neutral observer, I too have a perspective. And I see a desperate human being expressing a longing that she may not even understand. She like every human person is always a person-in-relation-to-God. Saddled with guilt and shame she seeks absolution. Hollywood provides the God-barren liturgy; a secular confessional. The congregation of her peers, acting as priest, receives her confession. Like most confessions, it is tainted with inconsistent rationalization; “things can happen to our bodies that are not our choices” (emphasis added). And at the same time, the life I live has been “carved with my own hand.” Sin is minimized, lest the horror of it become too much to bear. “Choose when to have my children,” is a gross euphemism for terminating the life of my own child in pursuit of career advancement. And at the same time, she takes responsibility for her actions. She can “recognize my handwriting all over” her life and admit it is, “sometimes messy and scrawling.” 

And then the absolution comes. A round of tearful applause from her peers. In this congregation, her autonomous choices, though “messy” are not only approved but quite literally applauded. Her sin is atoned for, and her person, worth and dignity is preserved. She courageously chose to be vulnerable, and her shame is covered with acceptance and even appreciation. Her sins are absolved. But, it is a horizontal liturgy. There is no God in it and thus it is ephemeral, fleeting and will leave her in her shame, sick and hungover when she wakes in the morning. Michelle Williams, however, tasted something real. She experienced a shadow of what we all long for in the face our shame; a covering of love, acceptance and affirmation. 

The Bible begins with a narrative about shame and covering (see Genesis 3). Adam and Eve violate God’s law and are exposed, naked and ashamed. They instinctively try to hide and to take cover for themselves. Shame drives us into the shadows. But, God himself seeks and finds them, not to condemn, but to cover them. Sacrificial animal skins cover their nakedness, a symbolic representation of a blood atonement-covering for their guilt and shame. The Christian tradition has always understood this as a foreshadowing of the ultimate sacrifice of the Son of God, Jesus, whose blood covers the sin of those who in faith hide themselves under the shadow of his wing. Christian worship services historically have included public confession of sin, always followed by a word of absolution. Te absolvo. Your sin is forgiven. There is absolution with God through Christ. There is a covering of love and acceptance for guilt and shame. This is why Jesus in the Gospels is described as the “Lamb of God” come to take away the sin of the world, by bearing its guilt and shame in his own life and death (see John 1:29).


We can all identify with Michelle Williams, for we all long to be fully known and embraced in love. Yet, we all know ourselves to be broken and unlovely when naked. We too have done unspeakable things driven by self-interest, indifferent to the pain it caused others. We live with guilt and shame. We long to be able to confess it openly, but the fear that others might laugh or reject us often keeps us bound in a silent prison. But, God gives more grace (James 4:6). There is a true, vertical liturgy that includes our sin, a God who in his son provides a cover for sin, and an assurance of acceptance and pardon in love. 

In case you missed it, she, and we all stand naked before God and just like our first parents, we will either seek to cover ourselves, hiding in shame, longing for absolution, OR allow God to cover us in his mercy through his Son, Jesus. 

S. Joseph Scott has a Ph.D. in theology and has served in leadership positions in both higher education and religious institutions. He has published in both academic and popular journals and has a special interest in the intersection of faith and culture.