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FIRST-PERSON: Beyond the Oscars: The end draweth nigh

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (BP)–Where some examine the stars or world history to foretell the future, I scrutinize the movies. Therefore, I’m issuing the following alert: If certain people in the artistic community have their way, Christians and Christianity will at some point be outlawed.

And maybe sooner than later.

“Oh, that can’t happen here!” That’s what many throughout history have said as, slowly, their cultures crumbled into the hands of tyrants. Heed the following:

Though moviemakers have always thrown spitballs at the followers of the Christian faith, intolerance has suddenly become the percussion of their profession. Take, for instance, two contenders for an Oscar as best documentary.

“Jesus Camp,” though it presents the sincere belief of charismatic Christians, seems bent on warning unbelievers that evangelicals have a powerful voice in the political world, one that threatens proponents of homosexuality, abortion and other secular progressive agendas. The film features Mike Papantonio, an Air America radio host, who offers unabashed disdain for Christianity and especially for religious folk voicing their political convictions. Mr. Papantonio comes across so shrill that his “concerns” seem not just anti-Christian, but anti-Christ. What’s more, I kept wondering just how far this guy would go to prevent Christians from expressing social opinions.

The other Oscar hopeful is “Deliver Us from Evil,” which chronicles a pedophile priest given sanctuary by higher-ups in the Catholic Church. It depicts that church’s hierarchy as a group bent on circling the wagons in order to protect one of their own, rather than caring for their parishioners. Certainly, it is important to uncover the callous behavior of some religious leaders, but it is also necessary to remind audiences of the sincerity of the many who truly follow Christ. Too often the unmasking of hypocrites is done not merely to correct an injustice perpetrated by a denomination, but to fuel the fire against organized religion.

“Friends of God,” an HBO special helmed by Alexandra Pelosi, daughter of the new Speaker of the House, is an entertaining, yet somewhat jaundiced view of those who believe the Bible to be the inerrant Word of God. This documentary focuses attention on a portion of the estimated 50-80 million evangelical Christians living in America. “Hoisted on their own petard” seems to be the intent of this 60-minute cable special. By showcasing wrestlers for Christ, a biblically themed amusement park and a drive-through church where the driver is prayed for, then sent on his absolved way, an entire spiritual movement comes across as silly.

One cannot help but surmise that these filmmakers believe every group or minority has an obligation to get involved in politics, except Christians. A confused perception of the separation of church and state becomes a mandate these dwellers of Tinseltown cling to in order to remove religious values from society’s moral makeup. Snide and covert, their tactics -– at least to this point — only lack newspaper cartoons of believers sporting horns and a tail.

In his review of “Constellation,” critic Bob Strauss from the LA Times said the black film was inspiring without having to depend on “old-time religion.” Any other aspect of African culture may be embraced and glorified, it seems, just not the religious roots.

We already know the subjects of sex, violence and language have been exploited by most filmmakers. The battle against objectionable movie content has already been lost, because even Christians attend movies with sex and violence. And when it comes to justifying the support of movies that profane God and Jesus, many blithely respond with “Oh, I tune that out.” Hey, if they didn’t adhere to that justification, they wouldn’t be going to many movies, certainly not the ones nominated for this year’s best picture.

In the documentary “Fall from Grace,” Kansas filmmaker Kevin Willmott focuses on the Rev. Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan. Phelps protests America’s relaxed attitude toward homosexuality and targets military funerals as a venue to preach God’s wrath. How Fred Phelps got to represent the Baptists, or sane people in general, is scary. But Hollywood always seems to be there quick as a flash to scrutinize sanctimonious zealots. They seldom suggest that Christianity is an asset, not a detriment, to the culture.

When’s the last time you saw the secular film community recognize a clergyman known for righteous deeds? Even in the new release “Amazing Grace,” the filmmakers neglect the composer of that revealing hymn. We are not allowed to witness one of the most affecting conversions in all of history, that of a slaver who comes face to face with Jesus.

Where are the films about Father Damien who bettered the existence of people suffering from leprosy? Where’s the film about Billy Graham, who has preached a message of salvation for 60 years? There are men and women of God who have turned their backs on the comforts of this world in order to love and care for their fellow beings. There are a few exceptions, but generally, we are living in an era where the exposure of man’s crimes is glorified on film, while his spiritual victories are relegated to obscure websites.

At least 90 percent of the 150 films I see a year either ignore or show contempt for biblical principles. This should indicate that religious practice in America is in the crosshairs of those who blindly believe the world would be better off without those who follow Christ.

“Phil, there are 80 million Americans who believe in God. How can the secular world outlaw our religious freedom?” Well, so far they’ve managed to remove religious values from how we educate ourselves, how we govern ourselves and generally in how we entertain ourselves. Think they’re going to stop there?
Phil Boatwright is the editor and film reviewer for previewonline.org

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  • Phil Boatwright