I watched the 2012 Christian movie, The Last Ounce of Courage. Some people in my Bible study group were recommending it, and, after coming home and reading what it was about, I was expecting not to like it. Well, I recently watched it, and I didn’t like it.
The movie is about a crusty mayor and pharmacist named Bob Revere. Bob’s son has recently died in battle, and the family is recovering from that tragedy. But the movie is largely about Bob’s fight against an ACLU-type lawyer for the right of his town to celebrate Christmas, a crusade that Bob believes is faithful to the freedom that his son fought to protect. Bob wants to display Christmas objects in public places, and the cigar-smoking ACLU-type lawyer believes this violates civil liberties and the separation of church and state. Meanwhile, some Christian kids at the local public school are conspiring to convert the school’s secular, sci-fi Christmas play into an actual Christmas pageant, nativity scene and all.
Did the movie display any grasp of nuance? Well, on some level, it did. When Bob’s grandson is threatened with suspension for bringing a Bible to school, the school’s janitor remarks that bringing a Bible to school is not against the law, in response to Bob’s comment that “When they took prayer out of the schools, they also took out the Bible.” The principal was banning the Bible from schools not because of any law, but rather out of a desire to maintain peace on the campus. Bob himself, when he is launching his crusade to bring back Christmas to his town, says that the law allows him to put Christmas objects in public places, so long as other faiths are allowed to have tokens of their religion there, as well.
A lot of this regard for legal nuance got muddled in Bob’s crusade for Christmas, however. The footage of Bill O’Reilly attacking the alleged war on Christmas did not exactly help matters. Although the ACLU-type attorney was expressing his opinion in the movie, he came across as a bully, rather than as someone with legitimate arguments and concerns. While Bob and others were acting as if there was a ban on Christmas in the town, the fact is that the ACLU supports nothing of the sort. People can put nativity scenes in their own lawns, or in their churches’ lawns. But the government is required to be neutral and not to prefer one religion over the other. Moreover, stores, in their desire to be inclusive to all people, opt to say “Happy Holidays” rather than “Merry Christmas.”
I can understand the sentiments of conservative Christians who wonder why a cross should be removed out of a public place just because an atheist gets offended: Shouldn’t the atheist exercise tolerance, in that case? But I don’t want to go back to the days when my Mom was a child and her public school put on an actual Easter pageant, to the discomfort of some of the Jewish students. I don’t want to go back to the time when those who didn’t want to say the school’s prayer were sent into the hall, like they were criminals, and sometimes even put up with bullying from their classmates because they were different. I can’t expect too much from a conservative Christian movie, but the movie would have been much more powerful had it gone into different perspectives, seeking to understand why people feel the way that they do.
A conservative Christian story about church-state issues that I liked much better was an episode of Adventures in Odyssey, which is produced by Focus on the Family. It was called “The Graduate.” In this episode, Connie is graduating from school, and she is to be the valedictorian. Her principal forbids her to say a prayer at the ceremony, but Connie’s teachers and others are organizing to back Connie up if she decides to say a prayer. Connie ultimately decides to say no prayer, out of respect for the authorities and for the sacred nature of prayer itself. This particular episode did not display a grasp of the nuances of church-state debates, and yet I liked it because it went beyond the usual rhetoric of the culture wars. Out of respect for God and the authorities, Connie decided that losing a battle in the culture war was the right thing to do.