The Quiet Faith of Hank Hill

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King of the Hill“, which ran from 1997 through 2010, is remembered for a number of things: propane and propane accessories; the fictional but somehow seemingly real Texas city of Arlen; just how “not right” Hank felt his son Bobby was; Peggy‘s feet, Cotton‘s shins, and Hank’s behind; and how refreshing a cool Alamo was, preferably sipped while standing in the back alley with a group friends and saying “yup” or “I’ll tell you what” as a sign of mutual satisfaction with life.

One thing that has long stood out to me, however, is Hank’s inherent and strong Christian faith. It’s not simply a matter of his membership at Arlen First Methodist (I mean, Homer Simpson is a long time member of the First Church of Springfield, and he’s not at all devout), but how he lives his actual, everyday life. Let’s take a look, shall we, at the quiet faith of one of TV’s favorite animated dads, Hank Hill.

Reverend Stroup stands in front of the burned wreckage of Arlen First Methodist. (King of the Hill Fandom)

While Hank is pretty traditional, he is open to change (sometimes), such as when Rev. Karen Stroup, a woman, became pastor of Arlen First Methodist. When Rev. Thomason retires to begin an online ministry, Rev. Stroup, a native of Minnesota, takes helm of the pulpit. Although Hank’s dad, Cotton, is extremely upset by a woman in ministry, Hank handles the change in stride. As long as Stroup doesn’t give forever-sermons that prevent him from seeing his usual Sunday afternoon sports programs, Hank is all good. [“Revenge of the Lutefisk“]

Hank turns devilish by dressing up for Halloween in defiance of a quickly imposed city curfew.

Hank likes traditions, not legalism. When church busybody Junie Harper begins a war on Halloween, Hank begins a war on her. She manages to get Tom Landry Middle School Principal Moss to cancel the scheduled Haunted House that Hank was heading up. She gets Luanne convinced that Hank was being used by the devil for celebrating Halloween. She finally gets Arlen city leaders to impose a curfew and cancel any outdoor celebrations of the October holiday. Instead, Junie stages a Hallelujah House conveniently located at her place. When Bobby is spirited over there by a sneaky Luanne, Hank has had enough. His cherished childhood memories of trick or treating with Dale, Bill, and Boomhauer reign supreme, and he defies Arlen’s curfew to get his Great Pumpkin on. The lesson here? Hank holds to a theology that allows for celebrating holidays, even Halloween, as long as a person’s heart is in the right place. [“Hilloween“]

Bobby gets his meditation on.

Hank is tolerant of other religions- to a point. Khan and Minh Souphanousinphone, the Hills’ rivalrous Laotian American, next-door neighbors, are Buddhists. While that’s fine for them (he thinks of it as “hooey”), he is absolutely opposed to Bobby’s budding interest when his girlfriend Connie (Khan and Minh’s kid) prepares to take a test to find out if she is the reincarnation of a holy lama. Bobby winds up taking the test, and the monks administering it believe he may actually be the holyman. Bobby is thrilled; Peggy is pleased to have her little boy viewed in such high esteem; Hank is… mad.

He tries to get Rev. Stroup to talk some Wesleyan-style sense into him, but she approves of Bobby’s bi-religiosity. The night before the final test to determine if Bobby is indeed the late Lama Sanglug-come-again, Hank falls on his knees and begs the Christian God for some divine intervention. In the end, Bobby bounces himself out of the running when he learns the lama would have to remain celibate, meaning the end of Conby (or Bobnie, whatevs). Hank’s declaration of his household, “We’re METHODISTS!” remains. [“Won’t You Pimai Neighbor?“]

Luanne gets born again… again. (King of the Hill Fandom)

When faced with a moral quandary, Hank turns, time and time again, to his home church, like when he learned his niece, Luanne, had gotten to “know” (and I mean that in the Biblical sense) a few guys before marriage. Stunned by all the sinning, Hank takes Luanne to see the Right Rev. who invites Luanne to join a new church ministry dedicated to getting fornicators right with God. She also encourages Hank and Peggy to be a part of this Abstinence Group as “celibacy sponsors”. They accept, and on their first day, the attendees break into two groups, separated by gender, and talk about their past sins. Hank reveals to the guys that he’s only had one partner, his wife; Peggy, to the women, confesses that she had one partner prior to Hank, a high school friend named, Wayne, who turned out to be gay. Luanne is shocked by her aunt’s revelation since Peggy had always lied claiming Hank as her one and only.

After completing the course, Rev. Stroup baptizes all the re-virgins in a lake, including a very gleeful Luanne. It’s not long before Luanne later spills the beans to Hank about the lie, and he becomes so angry at Peggy that he refuses to sleep under the same roof as her. He instead pushes Luanne to date and then marry a young guy named Rhett he met in the men’s Abstinence group. The wedding is thankfully cancelled, and Hank, upon seeing Peggy being baptized anew as a virgin chooses to forgive her. Forgiveness, through love, is, after all, part of the foundation of the Christian faith. [“Luanne Virgin 2.0“]

There may be no saving Buck Strickland. (King of the Hill Fandom)

Hank is pretty evangelical about seeking solace in God… and peace in propane. He tries the former and settles on the later when his boss, Buck Strickland, shows up to work one day massively hungover, looking like a hot mess after being kicked out by his wife for gambling and cheating on her. Hank, being Hank, heads to First Methodist, where he leaves Buck to spend some time in quiet meditation and prayer. Instead, he receives some womanly counsel- not from Rev. Stroup, but Luanne. Buck, in quick order, falls in love with Luanne and decides to get back on the right path… only to stumble right off it when Luanne makes it clear she has no interest in a man old enough to be her grandpa. By the end of the episode, Buck glimpses hope before him when he sees Hank quietly and methodically wiping down propane tanks. Buck joins him in the manual work, finding calm, not in the pews, but on his knees, nevertheless. [“The Good Buck“]

You know what’s not cool, Bobby? Hell.

-Hank Hill in “Reborn to be Wild”
WWJD? Not spell God like that. (King of the Hill Fandom)

Faith is vital- but trendiness is NOT. When Bobby starts acting up, Hank gets a referral from Stroup for a local youth group with a “cool” leader, Pastor K.

It’s not long before Bobby goes all in, becoming preachy and remarkably, still disobedient. After getting his ear pierced with a cross earring (Bobby’s “testimonial”), Hank blows a gasket and grounds him. Bobby sneaks out to a Christian music festival where Pastor K is performing with his band. Hank tracks him down and winds up getting into an argument with Pastor K. Things are settled when Pastor K’s dad reminds him that Bobby needs to honor his father and he needs to butt out. Hank later takes a chastened Bobby to the garage and pulls out a box full of the family’s past- like Bobby’s old discarded Tamagotchi. Hank knows that his son’s saintly skateboarding is a phase, but wants him to hold fast to the values most important to their faith. [“Reborn to be Wild”]

A late 20th century staple of Evangelical Americana: the megachurch. (King of the Hill Fandom)

Hank needs routine, and without it, he becomes angry, spiteful and maybe even vengeful! I’ve got to say, in Season 10’s “Church Hopping,” Hank gets super petty. When the Hill family shows up to First Methodist late one Sunday, they are forced to sit in the back since their regular pew was full with a new family. Hank gets pissed and suggests Stroup do assigned seating; Stroup balks and reminds him that it’s the Lord’s house, not his. Hank decides to do a little church hopping in hopes of never losing “his” spot again.

Sooo, I can relate to that little montage. Back in ’09, newly married, the hubby and I went looking for a new church home. It was… tiring. Anyway, it’s really not a surprise that Hank would veto a holy-rolling Pentecostal tent meeting, a Spanish-language Roman Catholic mass, or any church made of steel with a rock praise band (Hank Hill: Not a fan of Contemporary Christian Music). They settle on a Megachurch, pastored by a former professional football player. Bobby loves the different options available for kids; Peggy ingratiates her way into being assistant to the overwhelmed pastor.

Hank, initially, likes the new church a lot, too. After all, they have assigned seating! But… the church just keeps coming at them with daily meetings, clubs and even midnight showings of “The Passion.” He doesn’t even have time to sip Alamo in the alley with his boys anymore! He finally breaks bad, leaving Peggy and Bobby right before Sunday morning service, gets drunk with Lucky at a bar, and has a convicting convo with Pastor NFL, inspiring him to go back to First Methodist. While the Prodigal Son does return, he pettily informs the new pew-snatching family all about the megachurch and all of its childcare options, and they leave, thus ensuring the space would be free for his pale, boney behind. [“Church Hopping“]

Feel the spirit, Bobby! (image source)

Bobby is given to extremes. We see this in “Reborn to be Wild,” and his dad is never okay with this. Ever. Hank likes his worship calm, traditional, but not legalistic, routine, and Methodist. He’s pretty methodical about it all. Bobby, on the other hand, is going to do the most, so there’s no wonder he’d wind up joining Lucky’s church (it should be noted that in “Church Hopping” Lucky’s chosen place of worship was the bar Hank got drunk in, so he must’ve moved on by season 13). This church is located in a store front martial arts studio in a strip mall. There are no pews but plenty of metal fold-up chairs. The music comes by way of boombox. No matter, Bobby feels convicted, testifies, and breaks out into a shout. My mom, very much a believer in the Holy Spirit, always got a kick out of Brother Bobby’s moves.

It’s not long before Bobby gets full of zeal and quickly goes overboard, threatening fellow Tom Landry middle schoolers to repent or burn in a heat far worse than Texas’, and trying to convince mall shoppers to allow him to baptize them in a fountain.

Far worse than Principal Moss’ summer school!!! (screen cap from “Born Again on the Fourth of July”)

After failing to rope any wayward sinners onto the Straight and Narrow, Bobby turns his focus onto his parents, who skipped church to get ready for their street’s annual Fourth of July extravaganza. Horrified, Bobby decides to “smite… in the name of the Lord” the symbol of their patriotic idolatry- a giant paper mache Uncle Sam. His act of Old Testament-style purity triggers a neighborhood battle, and prompts him to come clean and seek forgiveness. Hank forgives him (70×7, ad infinitum), but tells him he will be cleaning up the wreckage of the street battle. In this, Hank models an example of true repentance- words, action and restoration. [“Born Again on the Fourth of July”]

Can’t you see you’re not making Christianity better, you’re just making rock n’ roll worse.

-Hank Hill in “Reborn to be Wild”

There are more episodes which deal with Hank and his beliefs (like “The Passion of the Dauterive”), but I’ll stop here. Hank, while far from perfect, lives out his faith. He’s loyal and committed to Peggy. Even when he doesn’t want to love his neighbors, he ultimately does right by them. He puts his all into his work, which Christians are admonished to do. He takes time to rest, attending church, spending time with family, and relaxing with friends. He respects the authority of the state. And he knows, that in all things, give thanks to the Lord.

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