Yesterday during the James D. Kennedy Coral Ridge Broadcast, Ted Baehr once again slandered Christianity Today and my colleagues in Christian film criticism. And in the meantime, he either got the facts wrong, or he lied… you decide.
From a friend who heard the broadcast:
Ted Baehr (who starts the broadcast by taking credit for The Passion, Chronicles of Narnia, Madagascar, and other films) notes that he gave The Passion a “movie of the year” award last year.
Then he says: “Christianity Today gave it to a movie about an abortionist and didn’t even put Passion of the Christ in their top ten. So the problem is the Left dictates a lot of the views of the increasingly liberal evangelical community. So we’re losing the church to the emperor’s new clothes. …”
Kennedy replies: “I have been increasingly disappointed with Christianity Today in recent years because of that seemingly liberal trend that’s going on there. I don’t know what’s going on there, but somebody’s apparently sneaked into their departments and are making a big change.”
Hooo, boy… where to start?
1) I would like to hear the directors of The Passion, The Chronicles of Narnia, and Madagascar asked what they estimate the influence of Ted Baehr was on their finished films. I would like to hear what they think about the impact he claims to have made on them.
2.) I would like Baehr to show me some evidence… anything at all… showing that Christianity Today gave their “movie of the year” award to a film about an abortionist.
We gave our “movie of the year award” last year to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. It’s not about an abortionist.
Is he referring to Vera Drake? That film was #9 in our critics’ list of the Top Ten for 2004. Vera Drake is, indeed, about an abortionist… an abortionist who is so naive that she tells “troubled young women” that the solution to their problems is an abortion, which is laughable, because she also tells them that the solution to their other soul-crushing problems is a good serving of tea and biscuits.
It’s a film about the way we treat each other with naivete… the way that compassion sometimes isn’t enough, and discernment is called for. The film does not portray Vera Drake as some valorous champion. She’s really quite pathetic. Hers is the most dangerous kind of care… care unchecked by intellect. She would solve a headache by sweetly and gently beheading the sufferer.
Moreover, the film powerfully portrays the destructive potential of those who react to abortionists with irrational hatred and violence and rage.
It’s a fair and challenging film. It is, as Baehr says, “about an abortionist.” So what? It is not “recommending abortion.” It is Baehr’s opinion that a filmmaker cannot addres the subject of abortion in a film, or examine different characters in their opinions and choices?
As for The Passion of the Christ… it is indeed a powerful and important film, and Christianity Tody devoted more articles and attention to that film than any film in history. But the critics who voted on the films they thought were the best-made rated it just shy of ten other films. It was a true and powerful representation of the Gospel. But just because a movie portrays the Gospel doesn’t make it the Greatest Movie Ever Made, and the CT critics did not find great enough artistic achievement there to merit a Best Film award.
3.) Baehr says, “So the problem is the Left dictates a lot of the views of the increasingly liberal evangelical community.”
I challenge Mr. Baehr to show me one instance at Christianity Today in which “the Left dictated” a view to us and we embraced it.
I do not take dictation when I write reviews. I respond honestly, from my head and heart. Likewise, the critics at Christianity Today express their own opinions, quite thoughtfully in most cases. They assess art in all of its aspects, rather than subjecting works of art to a checklist judgement (the kind Baehr himself employs at Movieguide), judging it by how may cusses they count or glimpses of skin that occur.
4.) And Mr. Kennedy says: “I have been increasingly disappointed with Christianity Today in recent years because of that seemingly liberal trend that’s going on there. I don’t know what’s going on there, but somebody’s apparently sneaked into their departments and are making a big change.”
I encourage either Kennedy or Baehr to call out who it is that they think “sneaked” into CT. I’d like to know how exactly someone “sneaks” in there. I’d like them to point to the change that has caused what they see as a devastating change. And I’d like Kennedy to define what he means by “that seemingly liberal trend.” Does he mean that it is “liberal” to examine art, its level of excellence, and the meaning that it reflects? If so, count me as one who seeks to be “liberated”!
Let it be known that the head of the Christian Film and Television Commission is not speaking for the whole Christian film criticism community. And of the dozens of Christian film critics published online, I know of very few who would say that Baehr represents their idea of thoughtful, thorough film criticism.
In fact, his idea of film reviewing (don’t forget, he has come out and said very clearly in the past that, in spite of his views, he is “not a film reviewer”) is a very different thing than what I understand as the responsibility of the conscientious and discerning art critic. If you’re interested in just how clearly he contradicts himself on this point, check this out.
I love the illustration of “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” I just think it applies to this situation in a very different way than Baehr thinks it does. The truest statement in that excerpt comes from Kennedy, when he says: “I don’t know what’s going on there.” That shows how, as Christian engagement with the arts continues to deepen and grow, he is being, to borrow a phrase popular among evangelicals, “left behind.”