I’m in this weird position as a pastor, where I know loads of people who absolutely LOVE Christian movies. They are wonderful people I love so much. They want me to take my youth group to see these movies. And they seem to have really moving experiences watching these movies. In fact, I was likely the teenager who would have really loved these movies (I did after all, get rid of all my secular CD’s and dive wholesale into the Christian music market). And then there’s me today, who doesn’t just hate these movies, I’m usually blatantly offended by them…maybe not all Christian movies ever, but ESPECIALLY the God’s Not Dead franchise.
Here’s why. They are not in any way actually evangelistic, in no way designed to convert a person into a believer, but instead, to affirm this Christian sub-culture, to pat Christians on the back and make us feel good about ourselves. The Christians are flat, perfect characters, persecuted for their beliefs, while the non-Christian characters are flat, antagonizing jerks. These movies tend to become propaganda for a very particular version of conservative American Christianity, inflating this bizarre victimization of “We’re just not allowed to say the name ‘Jesus’ anymore,” and confusing that with actual persecution.
This puts me in a weird position as a very different kind of Christian with many non-Christian friends and acquaintances. Most of these people are ex-Christians because they have come to believe that the Religious Right, and this Christian sub-culture that’s been formed more by Capitalism than by Christ, is all that the Church is. And who can blame them for rejecting that? But then they’re just confused about why I would want to be even remotely associated with that scene. They’re so turned off by this brand of Christianity that it requires the rest of us to really up our ante with our witness.
You see, I’m still evangelical. I want my non-Christian friends to know Christ. I want them to know the joy and beauty that I have found in Jesus. And so I am inspired by the story of St. Francis travelling to Egypt during the Crusades to try to convert Islamic Sultan Malik Al-Kamil. St. Bonaventure (a biographer of Francis) described the encounter this way:
The sultan asked them by whom and why and in what capacity they had been sent, and how they got there; but Francis replied that they had been sent by God, not by men, to show him and his subjects the way of salvation and proclaim the truth of the Gospel message. when the sultan saw his enthusiasm and courage, he listened to him willingly and pressed him to stay with him.”
Malik never converted to Christianity, and when he shared about Allah, St. Francis never converted to Islam. But the two men demonstrated respect for each other’s religion, respect that didn’t deny the truth they believed about their own. Francis was impressed by the Muslim practice of praying 5 times daily, and the sultan encouraged him to practice it. And the sultan experienced a profound truth that not all Christians believed he was worthless if he didn’t convert. You see, I can believe that Jesus is the only way to the Father, and still respect another person’s devotion to their different faith. I try to make my witness to non-Christians one that begins with respect for their beliefs, even when I disagree. If Jesus says, “This is how the world will know you are my disciples, if you love one another,” then I want to shape relationships that show real love, real respect, and genuine friendship even if a person never ends up following Christ the way I think they should.
After all, that’s the way Christ loved us.
Not complaining how hard we have it as Christians in America.