Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Culture Diss in Downey's 'Son of God' Pic?

Recently, I learned about a newly-published book advocating for racial unity within American evangelicalism.

Written by Trillia Newbell, United: Captured by God's Vision for Diversity calls for a renewed effort by Christ followers from different cultural backgrounds to worship together on Sundays.  In the same church.  Singing the same music.  Listening to the same sermon.

In principle, I don't have any problem with that.  Personally, I think one of the main reasons why such cross-cultural worship isn't already happening is because no matter our skin color or ethnicity, we all have our preferences about what corporate worship should look and sound like.  We focus less on the purpose of corporate worship, and more on those preferences.  So we churched folk end up separating ourselves by joining with only those like-minded people who share our opinions about our preferences.  So when people like Newbell write books about how good it would be for us to worship together, we say, "yeah, well, that's a nice idea, but it's not very practical."

But there's another aspect to the reason why blacks, whites, Hispanics, Asians, and other people groups don't naturally embrace cross-cultural worship.  In the same room.  Worshipping the same God.

It comes from the white, American, pop-cultural mindset that produces movies like Son of God, the latest deific bio-pic by Hollywood's resident spiritualist, Roma Downey.  Frankly, I hadn't really heard much about this movie until today, when two different friends of mine from two different paths of evangelicalism offered their opinions about it on Facebook.  One friend, a guy who attends a non-denominational church, loved Son of God, while the other friend, a gal who attends a Reformed church, did not.

If they'd both liked it, or both loathed it, I probably wouldn't have paid much attention, since regular readers of mine already know that I'm not a movie buff.  But to have such contrasting opinions - posted right next to each other, too, on my Facebook wall - sparked my curiosity.

Now, right off the bat, I'm predisposed against any movie about the life of Christ, simply because I'm not crazy about the idea of mortals trying to depict Christ's physical characteristics, which - obviously - is inevitable in video.  After all, one of the Ten Commandments is that we should not make "graven images" to worship or allow to serve as substitutes for the One true God.

But not only do movies about Christ end up casting the role with a human being we'll come, during the movie, to see as the Son of God, but the men who are cast are usually handsome, and strikingly Caucasian.

For the handsome part, we know that's a huge error, because the Bible explicitly states that Christ was not good-looking by any stretch of the imagination.  "He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to Him," according to Isaiah 53:2.  "Nothing in his appearance that we should desire Him."

God's reason for that is pretty practical:  We romantic mortals should love Christ because He is our Savior, instead of anything related to our conventional mortal relationships, like looks.

Yet when I watched the trailer for Son of God, I saw a pretty attractive actor playing my Savior.  His name is Diogo Morgado, and in addition to acting, he's a model.


Oh, and speaking of the trailer, Jesus didn't necessarily have to touch the water and wave His hand in it for Peter's net to become full of fish.  Christ's power is greater than touch.  It may be hard for directors to communicate that holy truth through video, but perhaps that means they shouldn't try.  I've long suspected that the reason Christ walked this earth centuries before photography and videography is because His truth cannot be captured - and indeed, should not be artificially captured - by such inferior means of communication, relative to Who He is.

Christ also never said He was going to change the world, which is one of His lines in the trailer.  Or at least, He never said that in so many words.  Why should Christ change the world, anyway?  He changes more than our world; He changes human hearts!  I understand poetic license and cinematic theatrics, but we're not talking about just some guy who was out to "change the world" anyway.  Jesus was, and is, and forever will be, the Christ, the Son of the living God.

Can I get a hearty "AMEN!"?

Maybe what we see in this movie is Roma Downey's interpretation of Christ, but that's the danger in these types of movies, isn't it?  We're subjected to a graphic representation of a mortal's version of the Immortal.  Except in this case, Downey herself is a questionable person from whom evangelicals are obtaining their visual representation of Christ.  She claims to be Roman Catholic, which isn't exactly the worst version of Christianity she could claim, but she's also a New Age disciple.  She holds a dubious masters degree in spiritual psychology from the University of Santa Monica, a hotbed of spiritualist mumbo-jumbo.  When she married her third husband, Downey had Della Reese, her co-star in the TV show Touched by an Angel, officiate.  And in what church are Reese's ordination vows?  The Understanding Principles for Better Living Church in Los Angeles, which practices the teachings of New Thought spiritualist Johnnie Colemon.

For American evangelicals who enjoy being entertained, movies like Son of God, or the recent Downey product for the History channel, The Bible, or Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, may not corrupt their faith.  But how well do these Hollywoodesque stories reinforce orthodox faith?  Evangelicals who dismiss questions like mine as pious complaints rationalize that "people are coming to faith" after watching these dramatizations.  But to what faith are they coming?  A faith reflexively stimulated by watching an emotional video?  Is there enough Biblical theology in these adaptations of Bible stories for the Holy Spirit to use in bringing lost souls into God's Kingdom?

It's easy to point to Philippians 1:18, and agree with the Apostle Paul that "the important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached."  But still, the question needs to be asked:  Is Christ being preached by New Age spiritualist Roma Downey?  And the model Diogo Morgado?

Oh, yes - getting back to the whole cross-cultural worship thing:  Do black people see Christ the same way we whites do?  Is Christ's skin as light in the minds of blacks as it is in ours?  When black people, or Hispanics, or Native Americans, or Asians, or biracial people go and see a movie where somebody like Morgado is playing the role of Jesus Christ, how many degrees of separation from the One, true Christ do they experience?

Granted, we know that Christ is Jewish, and that for the most part, Jews are Caucasian.  But not all of them, are they?  Jews also can model a range of skin tones, hair types, eye colors, and other physical features that make them less like WASPS, and more like dark, swarthy Middle Easterners.

So, which is more important to us evangelicals?  Getting to see an attractive, light-skinned guy play Jesus on the big screen, or shunning physical depictions of our Savior so that Christ can become even more personal to those whom He has saved?

Perhaps the fact that I ask the question - knowing how most of my fellow white evangelicals will answer it - doesn't bode too well for black author Trillia Newbell's altruism.

Think I'm being too harsh?  Try this perspective.

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