I watched a couple of Christian movies yesterday. The first was Lukewarm, which was a 2012 Christian movie. The second was What Would Jesus Do?, a 2010 movie that was based on Charles Sheldon’s 1896 classic, In His Steps. John Schneider from the Dukes of Hazzard and Smallville was in both movies. Here are some of my thoughts:
1. There was a lot going on in the first movie that I saw, Lukewarm. Luke Rogers, a Christian (ha ha, LUKEwarm!), is working at a bar with his friend and is calling himself spiritual rather than an old-fashioned Christian on his drunken joy-rides with his friend and some attractive ladies. Luke’s friend drinks and drives and accidentally runs over a homeless man one night. One of Luke’s neighbors, an older gentleman named Thomas, is handing out Christian tracts and is annoying a non-Christian neighbor, who wants Thomas to leave. Luke’s girlfriend, Jessie, is being pursued by a New York lawyer, who thinks that he can love and support her better than Luke can, but she still loves Luke, as much as Luke disappoints her. Meanwhile, Luke is dealing with resentment because his father (played by John Schneider) walked out on him and his mother when Luke was a kid and failed to pay consistent child support. Luke has fond memories of his father, yet cannot bring himself to forgive him.
The movie was rather enjoyable, I guess, but the character I liked most was Thomas. Thomas had lunch with a homeless man and told him never to underestimate the power of prayer. When the homeless man said that he never accepted Christ because he figured that his card had already been punched for hell, with all of the sins he had committed, Thomas encouraged him that God could forgive him. What was remarkable was not that scene, as much as the fact that Thomas continued to maintain a relationship with the homeless man—-to have lunch with him regularly. Thomas didn’t just witness to the man, figure that his job was done, and walk away, but he sought to maintain a relationship with him and to offer him prayers, friendship, and support.
Thomas also prayed with Luke, asking God to take away Luke’s anger and to give Luke the strength to forgive his father. Thomas knew about the destructiveness of anger, for he saw it in his father, who (as an African-American) deeply resented the injustices he suffered in the Jim Crow South. Thomas also told his persecutor, George, that George must be filled with anger, and he told George that he would be praying for him. The reason that this stood out to me is that I’ve felt in the past as if Christians expect me to carry the burden of my anger alone—-it’s my problem and responsibility to forgive. But I could have used prayers and moral support. Evangelical men often support one another when the issue is sexual lust, but I have not seen that type of support among evangelicals when it comes to anger or unforgiveness. Perhaps they are reluctant to admit such things because they believe that they convey weakness: Sure, they’ll talk about their struggles with lust when a nice-looking lady hits on them, but they want to come across as the strong, Stoic types, the sorts of people who do not get angry. Maybe I am off base here, but I am just communicating my speculations.
2. In What Would Jesus Do?, John Schneider plays a drifter who drifts into an economically depressed town. He is looking for work, but he is turned away, even by people who go to church. One lady, a real estate agent, tells her secretary not to give leftover sandwiches from a meeting to him because he would then keep coming back, but she should throw the sandwiches in the trash instead. Another lady does not want to hire him at her newspaper place because he has no experience, plus she does not know him.
Meanwhile, people are struggling. A shady politician is promising jobs through the replacement of a church with a casino. The real estate agent and newspaper editor are supporting him. The pastor of the church is mourning the loss of his family and finds himself jaded and unable to pastor his congregation. A young man writes Christian songs and is offered a lucrative contract if he will sing the company’s songs, and he and his mother need the money because otherwise they will be thrown out of their home. People are pressured to compromise, morally and spiritually.
The drifter challenges the people about their failure to follow Jesus, right before he dies. After that, the movie gets a bit cheesy: the cold real estate agent is now a committed Christian and becomes a candidate to challenge the shady politician. The rest of the movie still had some redeeming moments, however, as when the real estate agent’s even colder mother finds within herself the compassion to reach out to a homeless runaway.
Overall, the movie was good because it challenged me to think about how people can go to church every Saturday or Sunday yet fail to live according to Christian ethics the rest of the week. Why are so many of us like this? Are we afraid to do what’s right because of possible negative consequences? And can we reach out to people or do what is right, while being realistic? Should we throw realism out of the window for the sake of principle, or is there a way to be principled and realistic at the same time? I am sure that people on the front lines of helping others have wrestled with these questions.