I cringe a little when I hear people refer to a movie as a “Christian film.” Allow me to explain… I get it, most Christian films are written and designed to deliver a wholesome message about God, His work in our lives, and how placing our trust in Him makes us greater versions of ourselves. These are all wonderful things. However, I’ve seen a divide in Hollywood. A movie is categorized definitively as either secular or Christian. It can’t be both. Or so they say. But I present this challenge…why can’t a movie be both? I was among the recent moviegoers of the phenomenal new Jim Caviezel drama, Sound of Freedom. In many secular online articles, it was coined as a “Christian” film. However, I found it difficult to understand the rationale behind that. Sometimes all it takes for a movie to be labled “Christian” is for it to make at least one or two mentions of God (outside of misusing His name). Sound of Freedom did this, but rather organically without it sounding preachy. I’ve seen my fair share of films that would have passed as secular had it not been for one or two mentions of God.
Back in 2014, I personally met with screenwriter Andrea Nasfell who is known for writing the screenplay for the Christian comedy Mom’s Night Out. She shared with me and our group of film students that her original screenplay for the movie was purely secular and had no explicit Christian elements in it. However, when Pure Flix Entertainment reached out to her about her screenplay, directors Jon and Andrew Erwin asked that she add some Christian elements to the story, including a whole sequence where the family attends church, and a 2-3 minute segment where one character gives an uplifting Christian message about God’s work in the mother’s life. Andrea was happy to oblige this request. It was intriguing, however, to realize that a perfectly clean, fun story about three moms trying to have a night out for themselves only to have chaotic events ensue (because why not?) would have stood on its own without any explicit Christian elements.
What, then, constitutes a “secular” movie? Must it be edgy or dirty? Must it never make any mention of Jesus or God unless it is misusing those holy names? Must it be morally neutral? I don’t think so. Nor do I believe that a Christian movie needs to make any explicit mention of God or Jesus in order to be Christian. I think the answer is much simpler than we realize. Think of your favorite movies and shows, or consider some of the most popular and well-loved movies over the years. Ask yourself the following questions: Does this movie present good as good, and evil as evil? Does it present virtue and vice in an accurate way? Do characters, despite their flaws, develop more virtuous characteristics over the course of the film/tv series? If you can answer “yes” to any of these questions, you just might be watching a Christian film! Notice, there was never any need for the movie to mention God or Jesus for it to qualify as a Christian film. I’d even go so far as to argue that a film doesn’t have to be squeaky clean to be a Christian film either (we are flawed creatures after all). Ultimately, if a movie can present Judeo-Christian values in an accurate way, it is enough to be a Christian film. This opens the door to so many possibilities as storytellers in the media share their ideas.
Even Jesus Himself told parables and stories that made little to no mention of God the Father, such as the parable of the sower (Luke 8:4-8), or the lamp placed under the bushel basket (Mark 4:21-23), or the workers receiving just wages after working in the vineyard (Matt 10:1-16). Jesus explained some of these parables to His disciples to spell out the allegorical meanings behind them, but He didn’t always explain Himself to every listener. Sometimes these stories were simply seeds of truth which were planted in the heart of the listener. With some pondering and consideration, the listener could develop a greater understanding of the Truth about God and His creation and what St. John Paul calls the “inner movements of the heart.” After all, the heart is the battlefield between love and concupiscence (See TOBET’s Level 7 of The Body Matters, in the book The Body and the Heart) .
As Christians in our modern world, we do want to continue to proclaim the truth of the Gospel, but the most effective form of evangelization is not always begun through explicit catechesis. Sometimes, we do well to remember the popular expression: “Preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary use words.” Is it any wonder why people are so drawn to short films where the spoken word is absent and the characters’ bodily actions are all that is needed to tell a good story? If we follow Christ’s example, we can preach the truth of the Gospel to the secular world in a way that is approachable for the everyday man who may know little to nothing about the richness of our Faith. We are not called to change hearts, but rather to plant the seeds of God’s Truth into people’s hearts and allow God to do the rest.
Kathleen Ramirez is a University of Dallas alumna and works part-time for TOBET. She enjoys writing and illustrating children’s/young adult books in her free time.
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