"Touched by an Angel" Touches on Sudan

July 7, 2008 - 8:02 PM

(CNSNews.com) - The hit CBS series "Touched by an Angel" aims to touch Americans' hearts, by examining the issue of slavery in the Sudan. In this Sunday's season premiere, the "angels" encounter the horrors of the civil war in the Sudan, where many children have been kidnapped, raped, and enslaved.

An advance screening of the show, held Tuesday night at the Dirksen Senate Office Building, brought together politicians, their families, evangelical Christians, TV stars, CBS executives, and various advocacy groups.

Foremost among the group was the TV series' producer, Martha Williamson. She told the group, "We've been committed to the message that God exists and God loves you and God wants you to be part of His life." As for the humanitarian crisis in the Sudan, Williamson said, "I'm sorry to say it took something like slavery to get my attention, but it did."

Willliamson didn't arrive at the idea on her own. Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) and Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) - both of whom have made recent visits to the Sudan -- approached Williamson with the idea of doing a show on the slavery issue. (Brownback even helped out with the show's script.)

Williamson's "Touched by an Angel" series has a following of some 20 million viewers, and this is what they'll see Sunday night: A US senator, played by actress Lindsay Crouse, is given photographs of Sudan's tortured children. But in her re-election campaign, the Sudan is not a priority - until the senator's son finds the photos in her briefcase and starts asking questions.

Scenes showing the TV actors in the Sudan were actually filmed near Salt Lake City. Although the setting is far removed from the sad reality on the other side of the globe, the plot has touched the actors involved. Roma Downey, the actress who plays the angel named Monica, told Tuesday night's gathering, "As a mother myself, hearing about the kidnappings, it makes me grateful to be part of a show exposing this atrocity."

But CBS executives were quick to deny any political motivation. CBS Senior Vice President Martin Franks said, "CBS is not endorsing any legislation." Bipartisan legislation now pending in the House - the Sudan Peace Act - would expand America's role in the Sudanese civil war. It calls for relief efforts and a "comprehensive solution" to the violence. A Senate version of the bill, introduced earlier this year, passed there on a unanimous consent vote.

The war in Sudan has killed nearly two million people since 1983.

Even before Sunday's "Touched by An Angel" episode airs publicly, it's generating criticism. A group called American Muslim Media Watch accuses Republican lawmakers of using the entertainment industry to influence foreign policy and public opinion.

The group also objects to the depiction of a man armed with an assault rifle, dressed in an Islamic-style turban and robe, marching dark-skinned refugees through the desert. (Indeed, press reports say 65 Sudanese immigrants - all of them ex-slaves - play the part of the bedraggled refugees in the TV show.)

The show is set to air Sunday, September 26 at 8:00 p.m.