I recently watched the 2014 Christian movie, Redeemed, which was produced (in part) by Pure Flix Entertainment, the company that gave us the movie God’s Not Dead. As is the case with a number of Pure Flix films, David A.R. White played a significant character.
Redeemed is about marital fidelity and guarding one’s marriage from adultery. In this movie, Paul Tyson is a Christian, a devoted husband, and a businessman, but he is tempted when a beautiful representative of a Brazilian company, Julia, visits his company to see if her company should do business with his. Paul makes excuses to see Julia and lies to his wife about her. In the meantime, a couple he knows from church has recently split up, and the husband, David (played by David A.R. White), tells Paul that this was because his wife fell in love with a man she met online.
Paul receives conflicting messages about what he should do. He sees a therapist of a seedy fellow employee, and the therapist tells Paul that being attracted to another woman is natural and so Paul should not worry too much about it. The therapist is a bit surprised that Paul considers this attraction a problem, especially since Paul has not crossed any lines and committed actual adultery. David, however, tells Paul that Paul is treading on pretty serious territory. David refers to Jesus’ statement in Matthew 5:28 that looking at a woman and lusting after her is adultery of the heart. When Paul responds that nobody takes that seriously, David asks why Jesus said it if it wasn’t important: was it to hear himself talk?
There is also a Brazilian pastor, whom Paul meets on a plane to Brazil. Paul is going to Brazil to confess and to apologize to the Brazilian company, since there have been shady dealings going on. Paul also wants to see Julia. On the plane, Paul unloads his story to the Brazilian pastor, who listens compassionately, asks him why he is not at home with his family, and invites him to a Brazilian church, where Paul can experience Brazilian Christian hospitality! Paul goes to that church’s service and is convicted of his sins.
The movie had quite a bit of intrigue, but I do not want to get into that in this post, since I did not entirely follow it, plus I want to focus on the movie’s theme of adultery. I’ve read a number of post-evangelical bloggers or listened to post-evangelical podcasts, and they have problems with the sort of message that the movie conveys. They do not respond to the movie itself—-maybe they have heard of it, and maybe not—-but the movie expresses prominent conservative evangelical messages about marriage and adultery: that one can commit emotional adultery, and that married men and women should not get too intimate with people of the opposite sex who are not their spouse. Some post-evangelicals say that it’s all right to be friends with people of the opposite sex. Some go so far as to suggest that evangelical teaching on marriage and sexuality can objectify people just as badly as pornography does: when a man sees an attractive woman as a threat, for example, he is objectifying her rather than viewing her as a real person.
I can somewhat identify with what the post-evangelicals are saying. The portrayal of women as a lure that men should resist has contributed to the stigmatization of women within Judaism and Christianity throughout history, and, yes, it has objectified and dehumanized women. At the same time, I think that there is something valuable to the conservative evangelical message, themes that even non-evangelicals appreciate and teach. Allow me to share with you two examples.
First of all, there was a presentation that I attended back when I was a student at Harvard Divinity School. The presentation was about how ministers should not become romantically involved with their parishioners—-or, for that matter, people in authority should not become romantically involved with people under their authority (i.e., professors should not date students). We watched a video, presenters offered their comments, and the class split up into discussion groups. One of the presenters said that it is perfectly understandable for a person in authority to become attracted to someone under his or her authority, but the person in authority should establish boundaries. If he is going to an event specifically to see the person to whom he is attracted, that is a warning sign. If their conversation becomes a bit too hot, it is time to back off. While the subject-matter of this presentation was a bit different from that of the movie Redeemed, both highlighted the importance of establishing boundaries.
Second, there was an anti-fundamentalist book that I perused years ago: Pathological Christianity, by psychologist Gregory Max Vogt. Vogt tells the story about a woman whose husband was a respected and loved pastor, and this pastor would have golf games with another woman. The pastor insisted to his wife that nothing was going on, but she still felt that he was giving another woman the intimacy that belongs to his spouse.
Any lessons here? Probably be careful. The conservative evangelical message offers warnings that should be heeded and that should encourage the establishment of boundaries. But one can easily take boundaries to an extreme that is not good—-they can discourage platonic friendships and objectify people.