According to USA Today, more and more churches are bankrolling movies to bring a spiritual message not only to their core audience but also to the millions of unchurched individuals who frequent the world's theaters and DVD stores.
Most modern movies, of course, concentrate on promiscuity, substance abuse, profanity, gratuitous violence, and general lack of respect for traditional values. Yes, there has recently been a spate of wholesome, inspirational mainstream movies, but those films shy around any overt mention of religion and treat Jesus like the proverbial 800-pound gorilla in the room. ("Come unto me, ye that are weary and heavy-laden...heavy-laden with huge stalks of bananas.")
Hollywood used to mass-produce Biblical epics such as "The Robe" and "King of Kings," but Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Ga. is using contemporary themes to show Christ as the answer to life's problems. Sherwood produced "Fireproof" (the #1 independent film of 2008) and has been giving other churches training on the production and marketing of evangelistic movies.
Some traditionalists flinch at the thought of a blending of the Greatest Story Ever Told with such a vulgar medium; but motion pictures and the Gospel seem a perfect fit now, with the price of tickets rapidly approaching 30 pieces of silver.
I think the movies are a promising church tool, but there are pitfalls. For one thing, I fear that success will go to the heads of the producers. If they sell two million tickets with a squeaky-clean movie, they'll be tempted to make a concession here and there to attract two million and ONE lost souls with the next movie. Look for the tweaking of a soundtrack to include "Rock My Soul In The Surgically Enhanced Bosom of Abraham."
Many of the church-funded movies feature a strong storyline and good production values, but I fear that some churches will be hampered by a shoestring budget. ("I think of the impact that this movie could've had on truth seekers... if only the critics had understood it...if only more exhibitors had chosen to show it...if only Mabel had kept her thumbs off the camera lens...")
The movies will go over well if they can settle for a general message of redemption, but I fear some congregations will get carried away with details of sectarian division. ("Coming soon: I thought Angela was the girl of my dreams. I was going to give her my senior ring. But then I overheard one of her friends say that she had once flirted with the idea of bending subparagraph D of the Articles of Faith...")
If the members who put the most in the collection plate are allowed to give subtle nudging to the finished product, there may be some unpleasantness. ("I don't know what we were thinking, Mrs. Vandergilt! We were foolishly going to hire Robert Duvall to play the car salesman who has a family crisis, but obviously your poodle Fifi has all the necessary acting chops...")
Finally, a Sherwood Baptist spokesman said that people like happy endings, so their movies tend to show the characters seeing their prayers come true. Agreed, God always answers prayers; sometimes the answer is "No." I worry that the evangelical filmmakers are treating God like a genie. ("And could you wear that cute little midriff-revealing outfit like Barbara Edens? HEY!_Watch it with the plagues of locusts!")
Note: Danny Tyree welcomes e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.