Tuesday, April 12, 2016

In Theaters Now

God's Not Dead 2
When you start out having theological problems with film's title, you can guess there will be more trouble to come. The first film was, of course, God's Not Dead, which is fine. But for the sequel they added a problematic numeral. Because with Twitter and texting, one might look at "2" as "too" and then one wonders who besides God is not dead. However, it is a much better title than God's Not Too Dead.

But what am I doing even discussing the title? We here at Movie Churches aren't reviewing films, let alone titles; we are here to talk about how the Church is portrayed in films.

We certainly aren't here to discuss how films portray the educational system, because if we were we'd have too much to write about with this movie. You see, the protagonist of the film, Grace Westley, is a high school history teacher. We see her giving her A.P. History class a lecture on Gandhi and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. My daughter, who took A.P. History classes, told me there was a problem already with this premise, because an advanced placement class on World History might be studying Gandhi and a class studying United States history might study King... but why would they studying both?

The plot kicks in when a student asks if the teachings and tactics of these two men have any relationship to the teachings of Jesus. The teacher (played by Melissa Joan Hart, Sabrina the Teenage Witch) quotes the Sermon on the Mount. A student records this with a phone, and there is a furor about Christ being brought in the classroom. Again, my daughters, who are much closer to high school than I am, pointed out that a teacher is much more likely to get fired for not mentioning that a major world religion and religious text influenced history, than for mentioning them. That's the kind of question that tends to end up on Advanced Placement exams. The school board in the film is trying to keep the keep any mention of religion completely out of the classroom, when in the real world educational standards require teaching about all the major religions. So the central issue of this film just wouldn't be a thing. The sad thing is that there are many issues of religious freedom and freedom of speech in schools, but this isn't one of them.

But as I said, I'm writing about churches, not schools. I'm also not writing about the judicial system. In the film, the teacher is suspended without pay for mentioning Jesus in class. The teacher's union, of course, has no problem with this. And yet somehow parents of one of the students sue over this issue. And apparently, the school and the parents are somehow on the same side of the case, because there is so much money to be made from suing a high school history teacher who lives with her grandfather (Pat Boone). One would perhaps think this issue would go to arbitration. Instead it goes immediately to a full jury trial, because they must have run out of civil and criminal cases in this part of Arkansas. There are many cases in the courts these days relating to religious freedom, but the film makers would probably have had to deal with complex issues such as same sex marriage or contraception. They might also have had to show the complexity of two sides that have legitimate concerns rather than Good vs. Straw Man Evil.

But, again, I'm writing about churches, not the courts. I'm certainly not writing about the bizarre travel habits of people in the film. For instance, a pastor, Rev. Dave, is in his office. Without notice, his friend from Africa, Rev. Jude, drops by asking if he can stay while he studies for his doctorate. A similar thing happens later in the film when a father travels from China to see his son in his college dorm. Neither of these men bothers to phone, write, or text before traveling over the seas for a visit.

No. I'm writing about the way the church is presented in the film, and, even more mysteriously, the church not seen in the film. As for the church seen, Rev. Dave is back from the first film, and we are still given no indication of what denomination he is a part of or what he does with his day. We do learn that he preaches, because he receives a subpoena from the city to submit his sermons. He refuses. (This may be the basis for God's Not Dead 3. We are given this clue for a sequel in a post credits sequence. About the only way this is like a Marvel Comics film is that it has a post credits sequence.)

More interesting is the church not seen in the film. We never see a pastor visit Grace, even though her life is upheaval because of this lawsuit. We never see anyone from her church visit. The only spiritual support Grace seems get is from her grandfather, Pat Boone. (Grace says her parents weren't Christians, but her grandfather definitely is. Go figure.) Oh, and that student whose parents bring the lawsuit? The girl just became a Christian, yet she already knows all the lyrics of "How GreatThou Art" and goes to Grace's house to sing on her doorstep.

So we're giving the church we see and the church we don't see in this film an average steeple grade of 2. (Here's hoping that if there is another sequel, it will raise the rating to 3.) 

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