This article was written a couple of years ago, but was never placed on the blog. It is being submitted now as support to another article concerning T. D. Jakes.
Something goes wrong when we give eternal weight to temporal human triumph. The problem is that we have such proclivity to search out and enjoy a story for the sake of entertainment or inspiration that we immerse ourselves in the story and we fail to consider the compromises or the message of the story teller.
Is the T.D. Jakes movie, Jumping the Broom, going to be entertaining? It looks like it. Is it going to be suggestive sexually? The trailer took care of that. But the question I am asking is how much compromise are we willing to engage in for the outside hope that someone in the world might possibly think about considering Christian faith?
When we tell a story that shows such grace and love and understanding for things like premarital sex, adultery, manipulation, deception, all in the name of a God who only loves, the audience leaves thinking that God does not require anything of them; that they are “OK” in their present state. The message isn’t that God is calling and wants to transform your life, it is that God has already come and He is with you right now in the life you are currently living. No need to change. Just give a shout out to the “man upstairs.”
Joyful Noise, once again sexually compromising and suggestive, wants us to place at the pinnacle of our hopes, our goals, and our aspirations, the triumph of the human spirit—the value of humans inspiring humans—as though this is man’s chief purpose. It casts a vision for a better humanity with the inclusion of Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror” and various other pop songs all mixed in with occasional songs that almost pass for Christian.
In a review of the movie written by Ari Karpel, Dolly Parton expresses her feeling that God used Todd Graff, the openly gay 52 year old writer and director of the movie. From the review:
Ms. Parton attested: “He has been! [a vessel, presumably of God] God worked through him, that’s what I told him. I would joke, ‘What is this, Jews for Jesus?’ ”
Ms. Parton’s statement implies that some work of God has been done through this film and begs the question, “What did Dolly feel that God was trying to accomplish in this movie?” Somehow, Christians think that any mention of Jesus or any depiction of faith, no matter how convoluted or unscriptural, will somehow lead magically to someone getting saved and thus warrants any amount of compromise necessary, particularly if it means Jesus gets to go to the “Silver Screen,” which belies our underlying desire for fame and fortune.
Perhaps Dolly felt that Mr. Graff might consider Christian faith if he worked on a movie that loosely depicted some version of Christian faith, not thinking that if he did consider faith, he would be considering, not a faith based on the Bible, but one based on a compromised, bottom-up vision of spirituality with Saint Michael Jackson headlining from the loft of heaven, singing about a man in the mirror. A brand of self-improvement style, look-the-other-way spirituality with the name of Jesus tacked on for good measure, but it’s OK because evangelical Christians are just so tickled to be noticed because we so badly want to be in the movies and to be in the White House so that we can reveal to the world just how much we are willing to compromise just to be liked! We are Sally Field at the 1985 Oscars, gushing, “We’ve wanted more than anything to have your respect!”
Michael Ealy, star of the USA Network television show Common Law, is also the star of a new movie Unconditional, put together by Harbinger Media Partners and designed to inspire movie goers to “pursue God and serve others.” So here is another opportunity to examine a typical answer to Niebuhr’s question about what to do with Christ and Culture. This movie, however noble an attempt it may be at drawing people to God (not hard to do when roughly 88% of the world’s population believe in God. Drawing them to Jesus? Now that’s another thing altogether…), has chosen as one of its stars a man who’s role on the USA series Common Law was that of an over-sexed, self-serving cop. But, because perhaps he has some name recognition and has endeared himself to his audiences with some notable roles, the “church” decides it would be good to make him a headliner in one of its movies as it attempts one more time to provide what is presumably a movie with Christian values in “theaters everywhere.”
I have to ask, “What are we really after here?” Is it simply that we feel like we should have good clean movies in our theaters so that Christians can go to wholesome movies instead of worldly ones (because we are going to the movies either way”)? Is it that we really think that if we remind the culture of some good moral values and tag on some mentions of God, or show someone going to church, etc., that there will somehow be a massive return to what we as a nation have forgotten and become a Christian nation again? Has this worked in the past (if the movies Joyful Noise and Jump the Broom are any indicators I think we know the answer)? Sure, the movies by Alex Kendrick and Sherwood Pictures have been inspiring, true to Christian values, and widely received by the evangelical church, but they are obviously Christian and not headliners for those doubling as sex maniacs—thus not the best acting but still worth watching. Are we trying to prove to Hollywood and the world that we can do it too?
Deeper still is the question of why we wink at Hollywood’s sin in those rare moments when they are willing to throw the church a bone? This movie endorses Hollywood’s behavior—or at least shows that we are willing to look the other way under the guise of grace—not in its content but because it features an actor who is obviously still willing to do whatever Hollywood wants him to do in order to be a star and get a part. Is it so important that we get another tepid message about “God” into the theaters that we are willing to say to the world “Yes, we think Michael Ealy is good in that T.V. show too and we know that God forgives human sexual weakness so we’re going to compromise ourselves in real life so that we can attempt to depict grace on the big shiny silver screen which we are so desperate to succeed at.
It is a real Christ intersecting-with-culture situation in which the “church” is again trying to solve the issue of what to do about human culture. Do we separate ourselves entirely and enter into Niebuhr’s “Christ against Culture” scenario, or do we simply get in there with the world and label everything as good because it came from humans and humans were created by God so therefore what they do must have some redemptive value—besides there is no hell anyway right Mr. Bell?
So the movie trailer looks interesting enough and will probably be inspirational. There is nothing wrong with that. If this were a movie produced by Hollywood there would be reason to cheer. However, it seems to be an effort by some well-meaning men who want to bring help to those who are suffering and want to create some movies with good moral values. Again, nothing wrong with that. My concern is that when people take it on themselves the duty of pointing people to God, and all they can muster are general images and references to God and His grace but never go the full distance to pointing them to Christ, we only strengthen the “I’m ok, you’re ok” mentality that says everyone is fine. God would never judge someone who has been through so much pain or who is obviously weak and unable to keep from falling.