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The Gospel at the Movies

Raymond J. Keating

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On the Church and Society

October 10, 2005

Raymond J. KeatingOpening weekend box office numbers can make or break a movie. It is worth noting then that a mini-hit with an overt Christian theme opened during the October 7-9 weekend.

That's right, it just wasn't about the cheese-loving Wallace and his trusty dog with the expressive eye brows, Gromit, coming in at number one in "Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit." Although when a G-rated, clay-animated joy like this opens to big ticket sales, that's something worth celebrating for all who desire quality, family-friendly fare from moviemakers.

But a movie titled "The Gospel" also opened at number five and took in roughly half the revenue as "Wallace & Gromit." What's so great about that? Well, it turns out that "The Gospel" ran in about a quarter of the number of theaters that "Wallace & Gromit" did. This impressive showing, no doubt, surprised many in the industry, but it shouldn't have.

"The Gospel" fills a craving that goes beyond family friendliness, but reaches to the very soul. Many Christians desire films that not only do not denigrate their faith, but actually embrace or even celebrate it.

Make no mistake, "The Gospel" is a Christian celebration in many ways. For example, the film features high-energy, hand-clapping, foot-stomping gospel music.

The story is based upon Jesus Christ's parable about the prodigal son. In the film, two friends, one named David is the son of a minister, are studying to enter the ministry. But when David's mother dies, he turns his back on his father and the church, and goes on to become a rap star, whose tunes include some sexually explicit lyrics. Years later, when his father falls ill, David returns, and finds himself being drawn back to his faith.

There's a lot crammed into this impressive little movie. There are strong statements about family, keeping marriages together and how important that is for children, and honoring one's responsibilities. The question of how best to use one's God-given talents is addressed, as David comes to help organize a revival concert to help the church and eventually cuts a gospel album.

Another message communicated in "The Gospel" is important for churches across the denominational spectrum. The church people in this film are not portrayed as sanitized and sinless. They are flawed human beings, as all of us are.

David's boyhood friend Charles Frank did become a minister, and succeeds David's father as head pastor. However, Frank has a big ego and selfishly looks to make the church about himself. That can be a challenge in some churches where a cult of personality threatens to push aside the central message of Jesus Christ's love, sacrifice, forgiveness and redemption.

Some ugly church politics also are on display in the movie. That reality, to varying degrees, is recognizable to anyone who at one time or another has been involved in trying to help run a church.

But this film provides a necessary bottom line reminder about all of this sin on display in a church. Rev. Charles Frank eventually preaches that he is indeed "flawed," while adding that there is "no perfect church, but there is a perfect God."

That's a powerful message that many people struggling with their faith need to hear. Make no mistake, the church is critical as the place where the Gospel is taught and sacraments administered correctly. Still, there are plenty of examples of priests, pastors and others in the church behaving badly -- in the past, today and no doubt, tomorrow. The exposure of decades of sexual abuse by a small, but still significant number of Roman Catholic priests, and the shocking cover up by the church's hierarchy, egregiously stands out in recent years.

Indeed, the sinfulness of human nature afflicts the clergy as well. That's why Christians in the pews have to make sure that their faith lies in the right place not with a particular preacher or office of the clergy, but in the triune God.

Raymond J. Keating, also a columnist with Newsday, can be reached at ChurchandSociety@aol.com.

Copyright Raymond J. Keating

Posted: 11-Oct-05

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