David Burchett Christian Blog and Commentary

Sunday Morning Masquerade - Part 1

I have done a couple of recent articles in my “Grumpy Old Man” series. I wrote about civility being on life support in two recent blogs. I have written about how lawsuits have caused product manufacturers to desperately try to protect us from ourselves. For example…a real warning label that said…

Warning: Do not use lawnmower to trim shrubbery

Now I read that the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) is slapping a PG rating on a movie because it “it heavily laden with messages from one religion and this might offend people from other religions.” Sounds like a job for Grumpy Old Man! But before I began my rant I decided to get the rest of the story.

Terry Mattingly  is one of America’s best journalists on religious issues in our society. Mattingly does an excellent job of backgrounding the story with this report he filed with the Scripps Howard News Service.

The Motion Picture Association of America is crystal clear when it describes why its "PG" rating exists –  it's a warning flag.

"The theme of a PG-rated film may itself call for parental guidance," states the online explanation of the rating system. "There may be some profanity in these films. There may be some violence or brief nudity. ... The PG rating, suggesting parental guidance, is thus an alert for examination of a film by parents before deciding on its viewing by their children. Obviously such a line is difficult to draw."

Disagreements are a given. The Christian moviemakers behind a low-budget film called "Facing the Giants" were stunned when the MPAA pinned a PG rating on their gentle movie about a burned-out, depressed football coach whose life, on and off the field, takes a miraculous turn for the better.

"What the MPAA said is that the movie contained strong 'thematic elements' that might disturb some parents," said Kris Fuhr, vice president for marketing at Provident Films, which is owned by Sony Pictures. Provident plans to open the film next fall in 380 theaters nationwide with the help of Samuel Goldwyn Films.

Which "thematic elements" earned this squeaky-clean movie its PG?

"Facing the Giants" is too evangelistic. The MPAA, noted Fuhr, tends to offer cryptic explanations for its ratings. In this case, she was  told that it "decided that the movie was heavily laden with messages from one religion and that this might offend people from other religions. It's important that they used the word 'proselytizing' when they talked about giving this movie a PG. ...

"It is kind of interesting that faith has joined that list of deadly sins that the MPAA board wants to warn parents to worry about."

Overt Christian messages are woven throughout "Facing the Giants," which isn't surprising since the film was co-written and co-produced by brothers Alex and Stephen Kendrick, who are the "associate pastors of media" at Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Ga. In addition to working with the megachurch's cable-television channel, they created its Sherwood Pictures ministry, collecting private donations to fund a $25,000 movie called "Flywheel," about a wayward Christian used-car salesman.

"Facing the Giants" cost $100,000 and resembles a fusion of the Book of Job and a homemade "Hoosiers," or perhaps a small- school "Friday Night Lights" blended with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association movies that used to appear in some mainstream theaters. Sherwood Pictures used local volunteers as actors and extras, backed by a small crew of tech professionals.

The movie includes waves of answered prayers, a medical miracle, a mysterious silver-haired mystic who delivers a message from God and a bench-warmer who kicks a 51-yard field goal to win the big game when his handicapped father pulls himself out of a wheelchair and stands under the goal post to inspire his son's faith. There's a prayer-driven gust of wind in there, too.

When contacted by ABC News the the MPAA said the uproar was simply a matter of miscommunication on both sides. Its spokesman doesn't deny that the world "proselytization" may have come up in the conversation between the filmmakers and the ratings board. "It may well have come up, but it wasn't the reason they got that rating," said John Feehery, executive vice president of the MPAA. "The reason they got the rating was because of some of the more mature themes that were in that movie."

I took a detour to get the definition of the PG warning directly from the website of the MPAA. Here it is…in their words.

This is a film which clearly needs to be examined by parents before they let their children attend. The label PG plainly states parents may consider some material unsuitable for their children, but leaves the parent to make the decision. Parents are warned against sending their children, unseen and without inquiry, to PG-rated movies. The theme of a PG-rated film may itself call for parental guidance. There may be some profanity in these films. There may be some violence or brief nudity. However, these elements are not considered so intense as to require that parents be strongly cautioned beyond the suggestion of parental guidance. There is no drug use content in a PG-rated film. The PG rating, suggesting parental guidance, is thus an alert for examination of a film by parents before deciding on its viewing by their children. Obviously such a line is difficult to draw. In our pluralistic society it is not easy to make judgments without incurring some disagreement. As long as parents know they must exercise parental responsibility, the rating serves as a meaningful guide and as a warning. 

I love the line “in our pluralistic society it is not easy to make judgments without incurring some disagreement”. In my circles that would be called “covering your backside”. So what is my take on this mild controversy?

  • I suspect this is just an example of knee jerk PC over-reaction on the part of the film board but I understand their desire to CTB (cover their backside) in the current cultural climate. I happen to believe that all films need to be examined by parents before they let their children attend. There would will be some who will be offended by the message of the gospel of Jesus portrayed in this movie. I am often offended by the message of movies. I chose whether my kids could go to certain movies or not. That is called parenting. If no parenting is available there are worse things the kiddos could see than a story of faith and overcoming adversity.
  • I attended several movies like this growing up. Billy Graham films used to release movies that played in mainstream theaters and even offered a call for action to accept the Christian faith. To be honest, I was not persuaded by the movies. I was persuaded to examine the claims of Christ when I encountered a few people who were actually living a changed life. They told me it was because of Jesus. That is what sparked my interest.
  • I don’t think this is a battle worth getting exorcized over. I went back and checked some other religious themed movies. Chariots of Fire received a PG rating. For the life of me I cannot remember what was in that movie that I needed to be concerned about with my kids. Fiddler on the Roof got a G rating. That movie had pretty strong religious content, scary ghosts in the dream sequence, and some really bad dancing by Tevye. But I don’t remember being threatened to abandon my Protestant faith. On the other hand, I don’t remember not being threatened. On the other hand…
  • If you decide to voice a concern to the MPAA or other organization please be intelligent and grace filled in your comments. Suggesting their eternal destination with directions is not a good way to win hearts. See my recent post on how to win friends and influence people.
  • Every movie has a message. That is the point of telling a story in a visual format. Without a message or story you have, well, the movie Gigli.
  • Go to the movie. Christians need to support efforts like this. Start taking ownership of what you can control. If you are not a movie goer buy some tickets and give them away. We need to support efforts like this with our prayer support and especially with our wallets. It does not matter if the rating is G or PG. You can take your kids or send your kids. Maybe they will think it is cooler to go to a PG movie anyway. And it does not matter if it is not an award winning production. Financial success of projects like this will lead to others with bigger budgets and greater impact in the marketplace. That is how it works. While you are at it why not go to your local video or bookstore and buy Michael W Smith’s movie The Second Chance and Every Tribe Entertainment’s End of the Spear. Those efforts deserve a little financial love as well. Or you can click on the movie links and order online.

For me this ratings “controversy” is a non-starter. On my Grumpy Old Man Meter this registers only a One …for mild political correctness over-reaction.

Terry Mattingly noted that the scene that caught the MPAA's attention may have been the chat between football coach Grant Taylor, played by Alex Kendrick, and a rich brat named Matt Prader. The coach says that he needs to stop bad-mouthing his bossy father and get right with God.

The boy replies: "You really believe in all that honoring God and following Jesus stuff? ... Well, I ain't trying to be disrespectful, but not everybody believes in that."

The coach replies: "Matt, nobody's forcing anything on you. Following Jesus Christ is the decision that you're going to have to make for yourself. You may not want to accept it, because it'll change your life. You'll never be the same."

That is the bottom line. Nobody is forcing anything on anybody. My agenda is just to tell others what God has done in my life. Following Jesus has changed my life. I am not the same. That is a decision you have to make for yourself about who Jesus is and what that means to you. Some are offended by that message. That is cool. It is no surprise to Christians that some are offended. Jesus said in Matthew told His disciples to go and tell John the Baptist what they had seen and heard. He told them to tell John…

And tell him: `God blesses those who are not offended by me’.

May God bless you in your journey.

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