A Conversational Problem
Some of the most puzzling conversations I’ve ever had have been with Christians who learn of my interest in film and want to know what I think of A or B Christian Film. Usually, I then tel them how I dislike it and they want to know why. I then give reasons why and they say something along the lines of, “ but it was so nice to see something so wholesome. I liked it.”
This usually ends the conversation because it has become clear that they don’t really care about what I think of the movie. They liked it.
These conversations are puzzling because I end up trying to explain a ton of film concepts in way that they can understand but they ultimately don’t care about because the standard they are employing to judge the movie is whether it offended them or not.
I usually make a statement about wanting Christian Film to be better, but as it stands now, they are usually terrible with rare exceptions. I try to recommend these exceptions but they are rarely tried by this particular type of movie viewer.
I think it is for two reasons. The first is because we are watching movies for different reasons and the second is because they don’t consider those films to be Christian.
As I begin writing a series of articles meant to help educate Christians on film concepts and issues, this is where I choose to begin. I will address the “Why We Watch Films,” issue in a future article but today focus on the question, “What makes a film Christian.”
This is a more complicated issue than what it may appear at first blush partially because different people define it differently and partially because there are subcategories of Christian films. I’m hoping that with this article we can begin to identify what films are what and thus, provide ourselves with some insight into the ways we may, or may not be able to view and/or enjoy these movies.
Category 1 - The Christian Studio Film
Seeming to stand against the typical Hollywood studio there are many production companies, studios and even distribution companies which claim to have a ‘Christian’ agenda, ethic, or faith focus.
These films are put out by these studios which are in some way or another, affiliated with a parachurch or church organization, whether that affiliation be in name or simply in similar interest. Because of this they many times may feel like a filmed sermon rather than a traditional movie.
What many people may not realize is that because of the way that films are made, financed, and distributed, very few films are solely the product of a Christian company or studio.
In fact, one of the better known Christian films, “Fireproof,” was made by Affirm films, a Christian company, but was distributed by Samuel Goldwyn Films, a non-Christian company.
Category 2 - The Clean Family Film
Many parents lament openly the fact that even children’s films these days are full of innuendo, fighting, and bathroom humor. Seeing this opportunity some companies produce films aimed at these parents’ children with stories which have present ‘traditional family values’ without violence, cursing, blasphemy, or innuendo.
These films are frequently put out by Christian studios although any studio might produce one. Often times you can find Category 2 films with a “Dove Foundation Approved” stamp on it.
Category 3 - Historical Christian Films
Films which are set around the time periods, places, and persons depicted in the Bible are often perceived as Christian. Non-Christians especially will many time view any film which has Jesus in it or is set in Ancient Rome as a Christian film. On the other hand, most Christians will NOT see it this way. While there are certainly many films which depict Christ that Christians would call Christian (like the Passion of the Christ) there are many which depict him that Christians would be against (like the Last Temptation of Christ).
Category 4 - The Christian Propaganda Film
Perhaps the most annoying and reprehensible of the films which called Christian are the Christian Propaganda film. These films present themselves as Christian but bear all the ear marks of propaganda, such as using straw men, outright lying, using trigger phrases and slogans, and constructing narratives that play on people’s fears and distrust of the ‘others’ or ‘them.’ they do this as a way of either swaying people politically or simply as a way of making money.
A great example of this sort of film is the “God’s Not Dead (GND),” series. They are not seeking to sway hearts to Christ. They are not seeking to present fair views of people in order to promote understanding. They are not looking to merely entertain Christians with a fancy filmed version of a sermon.
They are seeking to fire up Christians into feeling marginalized, afraid of others, and persecuted. They are then presented with a solution to their problems of marginalization. In the first GND film, this was mostly to get other people to watch the film and this boost ticket sales. In the second GND film it is to become politically active, just as Mike Huckabee is happy to urge them.
These films are NOT Christian. I know I might make some people upset with this statement but if you like these films, I’m sorry. The reason you like it is NOT because it is Christian. It’s because it has been crafted to manipulate you. DO NOT TRUST THE FEELINGS THEY PROVOKE IN YOU.
In future weeks I will endeavor to go more into detail about how they are similar to other heinous types of propaganda.
Category 5 - The Christian Themed Film
The last category is the broadest. It is the film that simply has a Christian theme. Many times artists will get called wishy washy for saying a movie like “Dead Man Walking” or “The Mission” are Christian films but they are. Even if they are acted, directed, and written,by non-Christians, the themes of love, sacrifice, redemption, and faith are presented, perhaps not as didactically as a sermon, yet, as the main thrust of the film’s message.
As you can see, when people say Christian Film they may mean many things and even specific films may be ‘Christian’ in multiple categories at once. Understanding these differences, I hope will help you as you watch Christian films, to be aware of the type of movie you are watching, make you more precise when discussing 'Christian' films, and make you more observant as to what you should allow admittance into your heart.
I hope you will come back next week when I hope to write on “Why We Watch Films.”