I want to start this discussion by the two main problems many people (including friends who I hold in very high esteem) have tried to provide as objections to the casting of Chad Allen as Nick Saint in the End of the Spear. For those who are keeping score, one of the sources I'm using to develop this is an e-mail I got from Jason Janz at SharperIron.org that recounts his interaction with the producer and director of Spear. It's posted at Sharper Iron (as I have linked), so you can read for yourself the broader comments Jason has made which, I think, are definitely useful in this discussion.
Jason's two serious concerns are "the casting of a gay activist and the lack of the Gospel message in the movie." There is a lot to be said about the first concern, but the only things to be said there that make any sense have to be in the context of the second concern.
Let's remember something as I'm starting here: this is not a movie review. This is a commentary on the uproar in the Christian community over the casting decisions made by Every Tribe Entertainment (ETE) and the director of this film. In that, I am going to take Jason's concerns at face value. I haven’t read the book yet, and I haven't seen the film.
If there is a "lack of the Gospel message in the movie," I'm a little perplexed over the level of hoopla here. If you take a little detour to everytribe.com, you can find their mission statement in one or two clicks:
To create quality entertainment for a broad audienceThat's nice, isn't it? The problem for critics of this company is that the mission statement doesn't say they are going to press the Gospel at every turn. They are choosing to paint from a wider pallet.
that inspires hope through truth.
Every Tribe Entertainment grew out of the hopes and dreams of film-makers and individuals who desire to make a difference in our world and in our culture. Frustrated with the lack of quality story content in films today, and driven to provide more than just entertainment in our films, Every Tribe was founded to bring to life stories of courage and strength of the human spirit. Courage, tolerance, mercy, forgiveness, faith and love. We base our film choices on what we hope to inspire rather than what we hope to sell.
This philosophy has its fingerprints on what we do and how we do it. We hope to inspire all who view our films as well as those who work with us to create them.
Please notice I didn't say "a better pallet": I said a wider pallet. That means, among other things, that we don't really know what they mean when they say "faith and love" or "film choices on what we hope to inspire" or (and this one should raise the red flag) "bring to life stories of courage and strength of the human spirit". Because their mission is not expressly Christian in that it is not expressly Gospel-oriented, getting a little jumpy because Spear doesn't give an expository sermon from Romans 9 or 1Cor 15:1-4 or (all together) John 3:16 is, in the best case, overwrought.
I'm teaching the youth at our church over the next 7 weeks through 1Cor 15:1-4, and they just finished their Disciple Now weekend. Don't ask me what that means, except that I can tell you that their topic this weekend was "Authentic". (Yeah, I know: your Emergent alert went off. It wasn't like that)
And I asked those kids: if a talking monkey said he was a Christian, would you believe him? Now, this is after a weekend of being deprived of sleep and eating junk food, but they had either the good sense or the residual effects of brainwashing to say, "no, a talking monkey cannot be a Christian. Not even if he said 'Amen'."
And you, the healthy readers of this blog, would probably be proud of them. But if the talking monkey cannot be an authentic Christian, why would we think that ETE is "authentic Christian" just because they used some words we think we like?
Is it because they made a film about the son of a missionary who returned to the people who killed his father? Listen: Martin Scorsese made a movie about Jesus Christ, and that didn't make anyone think he was a Christian. The greatest difference I can see between Scorsese and ETE is that ETE is trying to ingratiate itself on the culturally-Christian demographic and Scorsese couldn’t care less.
I suggest to you that Martin Scorsese could easily agree with the mission statement of ETE and direct movies they would find acceptable. In fact, I think that he would describe movies like The Color of Money and The Aviator in exactly those terms. So why aren't Christians getting their nose out of joint over Scorsese's work and casting decisions?
The answer to that question is simple: he wasn't trying to fool himself or anybody else, and he wasn't confusing the issues. He made his films – he is making his films – about what he thinks they ought to be about, and if people see them, good for him and good for them. The problem is that ETE may have been making movies about what they think they ought to be about, but make no mistake: they were making them to leverage the Christian cultural demographic.
And in that, the criticism from Jason Janz that the Gospel is hardly found in this movie ought to be the bigger problem. To open an old wound, it ought to have been the problem with the Passion of the Christ (which all retailers sold at a loss, btw), but because the overt Catholic message of that movie was given a very open and obvious pass by almost everyone on Earth (almost; there are a handful of intransigents who didn't think much of the movie because it was so obviously based on the stations of the cross and on extra-biblical Catholic biases), it opened the door to calling any "stories of courage and strength of the human spirit; Courage, tolerance, mercy, forgiveness, faith and love" "Christian".
And Spear in particular invites the label because, of course, it's about two generations of missionaries. But if the Gospel is itself not brought up, this is a historical drama; it is a biographical drama.
And in that, who cares who is cast in what role, or what his personal life looks like. If we do not care, for example (as I make a quick pass at the poll on 1/23/06), that there are no shows on Network Prime Time television that are even covertly Christian in worldview yet we watch them, why do we care that there is a movie which is, in the best case, covertly Christian in worldview yet has (at least) one gay actor in the cast when he doesn't do anything "gay" on the screen?
We can talk more about the casting of a homosexual activist in a key role in this movie in another post (and I will), but the question is why we think that his involvement here somehow smears the Gospel. If the Gospel is not actually represented in this movie, then the garment-tearing over Chad Allen's sex life is a little eye-popping.
Let me close up this installment for the record by saying "that's not an endorsement of Chad Allen's sex life or moral reasoning." What it is turns out to be the basis for thinking about all our media choices. If we can overlook, for example, the secular rags that CCM and MTV share in common, or if we can watch prime time network television, or we can listen to non-Christian music on the radio of via iTunes (note to Steve Jobs: I left downloaded music off the list by mistake), and all of those things without any question have some relationship with the narrow band of sexual sins, then to here get out the torches and pitchforks over Chad Allen getting work in Hollywood is just inconsistent.
Happy Monday. More on this topic later in the week.
Note for the flacks: In my house, we do not have cable, and we do not receive network TV. We may not be right, but we are consistent.