Film and Religion

This site contains studies and comments by professors Robert Torry and Paul Flesher about the portrayal and use of religion in film. See their new book, Film and Religion: An Introduction (Abingdon, 2007) for a textbook on this topic.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Christian Film rated PG — From Sightings

Here is a copy of the July 6th 2006 posting from Sightings. Bob and I thought it was worth posting. Thanks to the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago!

Parental Guidance in Matters of Faith
-- James L. Evans

In the latest clash between fundamentalist Christianity and the rest of the world, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) recently assigned a PG rating to an explicitly Christian film. The movie, Facing the Giants, is the story of a football team with a losing record that suddenly gets turned around and starts winning when the coach finds God.
Even though it's a low-budget movie, produced for a mere $100,000, the film may find its way to a national audience. The producer needed to secure permission from Sony to use a Christian song as part of the theme music for the film. Sony indicated they wanted to see the movie first. After viewing the film, Sony agreed to distribute it in 400 theatres.

That's when the MPAA got involved, and that's when the fight broke out.

Don Wildmon, founder of the American Family Association , attacked the rating as a direct assault on the faith. Wildmon's group distributed an e-message under the headline, "MPAA places Christianity in same category as sex, violence, profanity." In this message, Wildmon accuses the MPAA of telling parents that the film is "objectionable."

Unfortunately, that's not the truth. The PG rating is designed to alert parents that certain themes or ideas may not be appropriate for children. It says nothing about teenagers over the age of thirteen (presumably a target audience for a film about high school football!). All the PG rating does is say to parents, "You might want to look at this before allowing your child to view it."

Isn't that what Christian groups are always telling parents to do? In fact, isn't that precisely what the American Family Association does every week with their bulletins about what's objectionable on television? The PG rating is not an indictment of Christianity. It is merely a flag for parents to be sure they know what's going on.

Of course, maybe Wildmon and his ilk expect us to accept anything with the label Christian on it without question. But if that's what they think, they're living in a fantasy world. I would not let my children attend a Bible school at a neighboring church without first finding out something about the church, and my guess is that most conscientious parents are the same way. Just because the package says Christian on the outside doesn't mean Jesus is on the inside.

This is not to say that Facing the Giants is not a faithful rendering of a Christian story. It may be. But alerting parents that a movie has a strong religious theme -- from any religion whatsoever -- is not an attack on faith.

We are left with two conclusions about this matter. First, it appears that a certain segment of Christianity in America has a big chip on its shoulder. Any sort of slight, any questioning of the faith -- or, in this case, any suggestion that parents should guide their children in matters of faith -- and the fight is on.

The other conclusion is more disturbing. It would seem that watchdog groups like Wildmon's American Family Association are capable of twisting even the most inconsequential issue into a national emergency. If they are doing this just to keep their base agitated for the purpose of raising money, then it reflects a level of cynicism that even the most hard-boiled politician does not practice.
This kind of thing makes me want to give the AFA a PG rating, or more.

James L. Evans is pastor of Auburn First Baptist Church, Auburn, Alabama. He can be reached at

The current Religion and Culture Web Forum features "Religious Identities of Latin American Immigrants in Chicago: Preliminary Findings from Field Research" by Andrea Althoff. To read this article, please visit:,


Sightings comes from the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School.