I finally watched the movie Saved, with Mandy Moore.
I had managed to ignore it for a very long time. When it first came out, I was still living under the guidance of Focus on the Family, handing over to the fundamentalist establishment my decisions about movies and television. I was still living under the ethic of avoidance outlined in Mark Buchanan's book Your God is Too Safe, chapter 11, The Ethics of a Dangerous Faith.
Ironically enough, that was already one of my favorite chapters, although I was able to apply it only within some pretty strict parameters. I was enlightened enough to put into practice what I meant to be an ethic of involvement that brought the gospel of grace into a broken world. I think I succeeded on some levels. I hope I did.
But I still was pretty much living under an Us vs. Them mentality. The world was very much not me, not one of us. "In the world and not of it" means something very different to me now than it did then. At that point, advancing the kingdom of God meant underscoring the difference between saved and not saved. I still had some idea that it was important to convince people of the truth of my religious convictions, and that, while praying the sinner's prayer was important, what really meant it had "taken" was their whole-hearted jumping into American religiosity with both feet.
I saw nothing dangerous or wrong in American religiosity, other than a penchant for self-righteousness. So I had no interest in seeing Saved, a movie which (I was told) made all Christians seem like self-righteous Pharisees who had totally mucked up the faith.
My resistance to seeing this movie was so strong that even after my son saw it, and told me I would love it, I bristled inside at the thought. Uh, no way. Besides I never sent my children to Christian school, so why should that movie be of interest to me? Totally irrelevant to my life, I thought.
Last week I saw the movie. I won't spoil the movie, but I will tell you that I did find it totally relevant. I found it so relevant, I encourage all Christian home school moms to see the movie. And here's why: the movie shows clearly that our children see our lives and our doctrine from a literal perspective, and it is often not at all what we meant to convey.
Oddly enough I found myself full of compassion for the antagonist of the movie, who is trying with all her heart to be a young woman of superior virtue but finds the reward she expected elusive. She works very hard to put into practice everything she is taught, but reaps no reward. In the end her frustration at doing everything right but having nothing go her way, leads her to jump in there and do for herself what God would not- take down her competition, remove the sinners from her world, so that she will finally get the life she has been told righteousness reaps.
Of course all that brings into her life is exposure and shame, the very things she wanted for those she saw as enemies of the faith. I loved, absolutely loved her final scene, which I interpret as a smashing of her fundamentalist idols. I like to believe it was the beginning of a new freedom in Christ for the character, that she would finally start to understand that God has bigger plans for our hearts than inhabiting a Christian sub-culture where everything is in its place and people play their prescribed roles without deviation from the fundamentalist script.
Other characters in the movie, particularly the protagonist, portray other ways our children misunderstand us. Actually, they understand better than we do exactly what we are saying and they put it into practice without all the dissembling and double-speak that keeps their elders from putting into practice all they say.
I am teaching a class in British Literature right now, and the martyrdom of Thomas Becket comes to mind. The king asks rhetorically, "Won't someone rid me of this man?" and his knights take him literally and go murder Mr. Becket.
I think a lot of the religious rhetoric we parents throw around is on the same level. In the movie, the protagonists boyfriend tells her that he thinks he might be gay. The heroine, believing that homosexuality is an abomination that sends people to hell, also believing her whole life should be dedicated to "saving" people, decides that God has called her to save this young man from damnation. How else to do this than by turning him to heterosexuality? She has come to believe, by giving equal weight to all she has been taught, that being heterosexual is as important to salvation as any thing else the Bible teaches.
I won't go into all the other ways the message the adults think they are giving out is not the message the kids are internalizing. Or rather it is what the kids are internalizing, but without all the nuance, experience, mental trumps and denial in which adults are so well-versed. (Like the pun? =)
Focus on the Family should have given this movie a thumbs up for parents and older teens at the very least. There is a lot that evangelical Christians can learn from this movie. It is a critique of Christian subculture, and as such it does expose the weaknesses without highlighting any of its virtues, but that is the whole point of the movie. It's a drama, not a documentary. I think it gets the message across well.
The message? It is far more important to live the Great Commandment than to load our children down with doctrines and rules to keep them from sin. Real life is too messy for a list of rules, and knowing which spiritual premise trumps which rule is not something we can anticipate and teach with doctrine. Better to teach and live the greatest of these: love God and love people. Treat them how you would want to be treated. Accept one another just as Christ accepted you, and not to argue. Major on the love God has for all people, the message of reconciliation of which we have been made ministers. Major on the message that brought joy to each of us when we first heard it.
At least that's the message I got. You may find something else. Certainly other messages are that Christians live messy complicated lives like everyone else in the world, and adults capacity for denial is larger than we want to admit. Both of those messages are supported by the movie as well. Take what you need! =D