When Hollywood ‘out-churches’ the Church

5 02 2019

hollywoodWhen Hollywood takes up the causes of Jesus, I get excited!  Movies like “Chariots of Fire”, “The Last Temptation of Christ”, “The Shack”, and “Same Kind of Different as Me” – while not necessarily among my favorites – encourage people to think about that which is eternal.  And I like that!  They force people to deal with issues surrounding faith, God, and the Church, and there is no sweeter fruit to be found on the tree of evangelistic fervor!

Hollywood has always loved a good story, and Scripture is full of them.  So it’s not surprising that movies like “The Ten Commandments”, “The Robe”, or “The Passion of the Christ” were successful box office hits!  People of faith also have good stories to tell, which is why movies like “The Mission” and “Romero” were embraced by Hollywood.  More recently, “Philomena”, “Spotlight”, and this year’s Oscar nominated “First Reformed”, have all been centered around the lives of people intimately involved with the Church; and while not necessarily block-busters, they held their own during their respective awards seasons.

But while movies pointing people to God and faith are nothing new, in recent years it seems as though Hollywood is doing a far better job of articulating the Gospel than the Church.  And that should be extremely troubling to anyone who is part of any faith community!  On the one hand, we can be delighted to see Hollywood tackling some of the important theological issues of our day, but when they start doing a better job of promoting the love and justice of Jesus than the Church, Church-people should be concerned!

Obviously, we in the faith community do not have sole responsibility for preaching the Gospel — anyone and everyone can and should be doing that.  And considering the days in which we are living, the more the better!  But when people and groups outside of the Church begin doing that better than the Church itself . . . well something is just wrong!  And lately, this appears to be what is happening.

There is no better example of this than Hollywood’s attempt to deal with America’s “original sin”: racism.  Movies like “CRASH”, “The Help”, “12 Years a Slave”, “Hidden Figures”, and “Get Out”– along with three of this year’s Academy recognized films: “Black Panther”, “BlacKkKlansman”, and “The Green Book” — all attempt to challenge the color bias of our nation.  And they do so by telling powerfully moving stories about people most affected by our racist systems and structures!

So while 11:00-12:00 on Sunday morning continues to be one of the most segregated hours in American life, and while White evangelicals continue to support racist leaders and politicians, questioning “why everything always seems to be about race”, Hollywood is offering us movies that put up on the big screen the evils of America’s inherent racism and our masked caste-system.  And they are doing this both in spite of White fragility, and regardless of the prejudice that is coming from the White House and so many in this President’s party!

And it doesn’t stop there!  One of, if not, THE most divisive subjects facing the Church in the last decade has been gay ordination and marriage; and movies like “Milk”, “Moonlight”, and “Call Me By Your Name” have all sought to move our culture away from it’s homophobic past.  “The Cider House Rules” tackled the complexity of the abortion debate.  “Deadman Walking” was all about capital punishment and the power of repentance, confession, and forgiveness.  And last year’s “Battle of the Sexes” and this year’s “The Wife” both work hard to challenge gender roles and stereotypes.

So while the likes of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson continue to prey upon the uneducated and uninformed, spouting a Christianity rooted in fear and denial, we can thank those inside Hollywood, like Lady Gaga, for reminding Vice-President and Karen Pence of the love that is at the heart of the Gospel message.  We can thank Ellen Degeneres for reminding us every day to be kind to one another.  And we can thank Stephen Colbert, a devout Roman Catholic, for saying that “if this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn’t help the poor, either we have to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we’ve got to acknowledge that He commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition and then admit that we just don’t want to do it.”

Once again this year, many of the Academy Award nominated films are doing a far better job proclaiming the Gospel than much of American Christendom.  And that reality leaves me both encouraged and discouraged.  Naturally I’m delighted the Gospel is being proclaimed.  But I’m saddened that Hollywood is doing a better job than the Church.  For if this trend continues, we in the Church just may become more irrelevant than we already are.


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