Breaking News: ‘Faith-Based’ Films Take On Hollywood

“The Redemption of Henry Myers,” due out this fall, is a Western about a wounded bank robber who is cared for by a widow and her children.

Where did you expect to see former senator Rick Santorum a year after his presidential campaign? How about as the head of a new faith-based film studio?

Yes, and one focused on making its own story with a stunning plot twist: They’ll offer actual quality movies, but faith-based.

The Religion News Service reported:

[Santorum said] faith-based films tend to be lousy, and Christians should quit trying to lock modern popular culture out of their lives. . . . “For a long time, Christians have decided that the best way to fight the popular culture is to keep it at bay, to lock it out of their home. … That’s a losing battle,” Santorum said in an interview . . .

Reading this brings me the same response as hearing, say, that “The Church is in Trouble,” or that “More Christian Men Must Man Up”: You don’t say?

Surely most Christians agree we must reject those “lock out pop culture” notions. But we seem confused about what’s next and especially why.

Instead, Santorum says, Christian conservatives should acknowledge that modern popular culture is here to stay, and use that platform to produce Christian-themed films that will also have quality and popular appeal. It’s a strategy he says he intends to pursue in his new role as CEO of a ground-breaking faith-based film studio.

[…] “Quality. Quality acting, quality directing, quality scriptwriting. That is going to be a watchword for me,” Santorum said at a news conference talking about the studio’s pending projects.

This makes one wonder:

  • What experience has Santorum with fiction? Isn’t this more like stunt casting?
  • Doesn’t this resemble a begrudging, pragmatic “use” of cultural things? We’d prefer to fight on other grounds, but people like this popular movie stuff, so let’s give that a try.

The Religion News Service article continues:

Santorum said one problem with Christian-themed films was that they’ve traditionally been aimed at just Christian audiences, rather than attempting to appeal to audiences that don’t necessarily share the movie’s messaging going in.

Perhaps my own Christian-movie cultural exposure is limited, having only seen Fireproof (2008) and Courageous (2011) in theaters, both from Sherwood Pictures. But based on those, Christian movies are meant “for Christians” mainly in these ways:

  1. Christians, more films should clearly preach the Gospel, John 3:16-style. So we’re on it.
  2. Christians, have you been backsliding? Here are positive characters to imitate.

Then there is this quote:

He said the goal was to produce movies “that rival any good Hollywood film.”

Judging from the studio’s current repertoire, Santorum must mean “any good Hollywood film limited to inspirational/contemporary/Western genres.” But what may EchoLight offer that isn’t already common to CBD catalogs and The Hallmark Channel?

And if its goal is described as aiming at non-Christian viewers, I suspect they will find only two plotlines: 1) replace natural Gospel light-echoes with moralism, 2) be even more overt with John 3:16 altar calls.

Appeals for quality will stay limited if Christians neglect the purpose of stories: not only to entertain, edify, or evangelize, but to explore all God’s beauties and truths.

About E. Stephen Burnett

E. Stephen Burnett is a journalist, aspiring novelist, and editor and webslinger at Speculative Faith. His mission: to explore and enjoy epic stories that reflect the truths and beauties of the first and greatest Epic Story, God’s Word. He also writes for a dynamic news franchise in Austin, Texas and delves into Christ-and-culture doctrine at Christ and Pop Culture. He also enjoys nonfiction, soundtrack music, and spending life with his wife, Lacy, in their Texas headquarters.

  • Esther O’Reilly

    I notice Erin Bethea of _Fireproof_ is taking the female role. I enjoyed her work.

    I guess these responses I’m seeing to Santorum are making me scratch my head a little, because it seems like he’s just repeating the very memes critics have used against Christian film-making. I’m not even saying I disagree with them entirely, but it just confuses me to see people saying anything other than “Yes, that’s exactly what we’ve been saying all along!” Almost a lose-lose kind of feeling.

    For the record, I prefer a whole-hog Christian movie like _Courageous_ to something mushy and in-the-middle like _Soul Surfer_, which was kinda sorta flirting with a really sudsy kind of Christianity. I take the Yoda approach: Do or do not. It just looks really awkward and hokey when you obviously can’t decide what kind of movie you want to be. At least Sherwood had a plan and followed it.

  • E. Stephen Burnett

    My main contention is that while Santorum’s criticisms on the surface seem to echo the same as other “Christians make too much bad art” critics, he simply can’t get far by requesting quality bricks without straw.

    For what is the former senator known? Great tales and fiction-crafting? No, his mission has been cultural engagement on behalf of (arguably Biblical) social values. If that is his calling, then it is not a very good match to try to head up a film studio, even for the betterment of culture through well-made stories. It seems to reinforce the common Christian notion that the purpose of stories is to promote Good Morals and be Harmless Entertainment. That is a very limited view of stories’ purpose. (Were these the only points of Christ’s parables, or of the Psalms?)

    I liked Courageous all right and appreciated the filmmakers’ steady hand on what they were doing. Unlike other squishy “you evangelicals will dutifully Support our movie too now, yes?” films, they set out to make a proper evangelistic movie and they fulfill that goal. So in that they’re above criticism. I only wish they would have more faith in the power of their own story-telling skills, and not feel this uniquely evangelical compulsion to over-explain the point they’re trying to get across. More of my attempted constructive criticism is in the above link about Courageous. (In that open letter, I also challenge the film’s ending “altar call” scene, very cliche in Christian movies, to say nothing of actual church services, and the daddy/daughter date scene, which oddly enough also happens to echo a very subtle but still Biblically questionable Romance Prosperity Gospel.)

  • Esther O’Reilly

    Yes, I agree it’s odd for a politician to start a faith-based film-making company! Exactly what kind of experience is he bringing? I voted for him back in the primary and would gladly do so again, so this isn’t a knock on him personally or on his policies, but… film-making? I guess I just don’t get it. However, if the movies are good I’ll just enjoy them as they come. I do agree that there’s a danger of moralism, however, it’s not like mainstream Hollywood is free of moralism either. Frankly it’s hard to find good movies ANYWHERE anymore. You know it’s bad when even popcorn flicks are dropping un-subtle political metaphors right and left (um, pun not intended).

    I also felt the altar call scene in _Courageous_ was rather forced, and the daddy/daughter date scene too. However, they do have some genuine talent as film-makers, and I wish they’d loosen up a little bit and let the stories unfold by themselves without being thrust forward so much.

  • Guest

    they do have some genuine talent as film-makers, and I wish they’d
    loosen up a little bit and let the stories unfold by themselves without
    being thrust forward so much.

    Agreed.

    Much of this, I’m sure, comes from a uniquely Christian emphasis on words instead of images. We believe that didactic sermons and/or nonfiction carry more spiritual power than other communications methods, such as drama and poetry — and that if we do opt for the other communications methods, this is a deigning, and we need to tie it back to the sermon somehow or else it won’t be powerful.

    But this isn’t what we see in Scripture, with its variety of genres and descriptions of images, and especially Christ, the “image” of God.

  • E. Stephen Burnett

    ^^^ That is me. I’m not sure why it left out my name.

  • Esther O’Reilly

    Oh yes, here we go with the whole “Catholic vs. Protestant/image vs. word” thing. ;-)

  • danallison

    These movies can’t possibly be anything other than propaganda. Fundamentalists — Catholic & Protestant both — are OPPONENTS of art, literature, and any kind of free thought. And THAT’s why Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan have done more for the cause of Christ than every “Christian Rock” band put together.

  • Esther O’Reilly

    I’m a fundamentalist and I like Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan. Stereotyping much?

  • Christopher Koenig

    “But what may EchoLight offer that isn’t already common to CBD catalogs and The Hallmark Channel?”

    I don’t know that they’re really trying to offer anything different. I read this at Deadline:

    “He reportedly will do everything from reading scripts to weighing acquisitions for films in the $2M-$2.5M range that target “soccer moms” ages 35-55 who drive minivans and listen to Christian radio.”

    Those “soccer moms” are who they’re after. Those soccer mom’s watch a lot of Hallmark Channel and Lifetime content. Those soccer mom’s wield collectively a ton of cash. So, make some pictures on par or better than what that is being consumed in that market and see how much share of that market they can gain.

    I suspect Santorum is there because he help them raise capital.

  • Christopher Koenig

    Romance Prosperity Gospel. That’s a perfect description for something that’s I’ve found disturbing for years. Kuddos for coining it or at the least sharing it.

  • jerrybolt

    I’m a Protestant and like Cash and Dylan. Your point?

  • Esther O’Reilly

    Just to clarify, you liked my comment so I assume you’re replying to the guest?


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