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Sunday, February 05, 2006

On the End of the Spear controversy, part I

(If you’ve had enough of it, read no further!)

I’m know I'm getting my comments in late but there’s been a lot to think about. The writings of others have helped the process along, and for that I’m grateful.

I’ve appreciated Alex Jordan's assessment of both the controversy and the movie itself; he’s discussed various factors involved in making a work of Christian art that are relevant to the controversy. His well-articulated reaction to the movie is similar to mine. However, our conclusions as to its merits differ; for example, where he wanted to see more character development, I am content with the characterizations as they are (except for the silliness and lack of prayer on the part of the missionaries)* because I saw the movie as a narrative. The interactions of people and their beliefs and the outcome that resulted were the story being told. Some may feel that this approach (a kind of dramatized documentary) was too literal, but to my mind it’s the narrative that carries the film and I think enough of the true story was told to make it effective.

I wish that the actor who played Mincayani (a composite character based on the real Mincaye) had looked less “Hollywood jungle-hero,” as my husband put it, and self-conscious, but then what can you expect from a soaps actor? ;-) He was convincing, otherwise – even Mincaye thought so! The “jungle music” in the soundtrack was effective too; far from being stereotypical, it served to depict and represent.

As I watched Chad Allen in the movie, I examined his actions to see whether or not they belied his sexual orientation (not that I’m any great judge of that!) or faltered in any other way in his portrayal of Nate Saint/Steve Saint. He did a nice job acting the sweet, loving husband and father (he kisses his wife convincingly on the mouth before departing on that fateful day), though perhaps was not as convincing as a missionary. That’s the complaint of many, I realize. I’m not sure that the script doesn’t share equal blame for that, though, even if it can be said that Allen’s acting lacked depth. Still, the strength of the story itself overcomes this weakness, as it overcomes the film’s other weaknesses.

A small but important role in the movie was that of Frank Drown, member of the search party who had to report back to the wives that their husbands were dead. It was made more powerful by the fact that it was played by Steve Saint. Interestingly, Saint portrayed Drown as matter-of-fact, while in a taped interview (shown in Beyond the Gates of Splendor), Drown barely keeps his composure when describing the difficulty of the recovery mission. I wonder what it was like for Saint to play that role. It had to be moving, though in a different way than flying the “big wood bee,” an exact replica of the plane his father had flown.

Regarding the hiring of Chad Allen, he was purportedly chosen by virtue of being the best applicant for the part. He may have kept silent about his homosexuality initially in order to get the part, but whether that counts as deceit is tough to call since Every Tribe Entertainment’s stated policy in hiring was to be “inclusive.” Apparently Allen hoped to “build a bridge” with Christians through acting in the movie, and perhaps he thought that if he didn’t reveal his homosexuality at the start he could get past prejudices and show that gays can be good people, good actors, and even good Christians. The fact that he hoped for this doesn’t mean that his hope was realized, however, at least in the manner he hoped for.

ETE certainly could’ve done a background check on Allen had they thought they needed to; they will no doubt be more discerning about their hiring in the future. Nevertheless, I admire the fact that ETE aimed to find the best actors for the parts and I think that this, rather than a political motivation, is the underlying purpose for their inclusivism (though I am open to evidence to the contrary). Should ETE have let Allen go once they found out about his sexual orientation and his actions to promote tolerance? Considering the fact that they did not inquire before offering the part, it seems to me that Mart Green (founder and CEO of ETE) was rightly bound by his initial agreement with Allen.

Though it wasn’t their original motive in hiring Allen, the movie’s makers hoped and prayed that he might be influenced toward the gospel through his portrayal of Nate Saint. Whether he was or will be or not, though, isn’t the issue...he was given the chance, which he would not have been had he been let go. (Allen apparently did offer to step down, but ETE kept him on.) Despite claims to the contrary, I have not yet seen that Allen is using his participation in the movie as a platform – really, he can’t! No one who made the movie has publicly said that they endorse his lifestyle, quite the opposite. Of course he’s going to advertise his participation in the movie and why should he not? How do we know it's only because he thinks he got "in" with some evangelical Christians? He got to play a great role and he did so well; there’s nothing wrong with being proud of that. He also had edifying interactions with others involved in the project, which counts for something.

Some are of the opinion that the investment and arrangements that had already been made toward the filming of the movie, such as the schedule for filming in Panama, should have been of no consideration when trying to decide whether to keep Allen on board or not once his sexual preference was known. I don’t know how anyone who’s not in the shoes of ETE could know this, though. It’s easy to be an armchair judge, to make a judgment based only on the necessarily limited information found in articles or blog posts. Should the whole timetable for making the movie have been thrown out just because of an unfortunate and inadvertent occurrence? ETE was beholden, ethically, to a lot more than just the Chad Allen problem.

Others say that ETE capitulated to social pressure of one type or another, but I don’t see evidence of this either. They knew how their decision might be regarded by the Christian public as well as family members of the missionaries, and took this into account. Perhaps Saint and Green should have inquired further into the opinions of family members than they did, I don’t know. Steve is the son of one the missionaries, though; it was, to a large extent, “his” story being told. He had as much “right” as any other family member involved in the original situation to be offended and to influence decisions about the movie.

As to the Christian public, they do not have a “right” to influence the decision of the producers, nor are the producers morally obligated to consider their opinion. Even were such opinion to be consulted, in the final analysis the decision is up to the producers; otherwise, political correctness is being served over integrity! Whether or not any of us feel a sense of ownership of the story, or even of the gospel message, the truth is we don't have such ownership! The story is very important to many yet none own it, not even those who played a part in it (though of course their part in it commands deference and respect). In regards to the gospel message, we are all owned by God and have no more claim to Him or to the gospel than anyone else.

Some spurn the idea that Steve Saint was guided by God via a dream. I realize that this opens another can of worms, but, until I am corrected I must ask, why wouldn’t God speak to him in a dream? If God created everything about us, including the fact that we dream, and if He works with us on a moment-by-moment basis, guiding us via the words of others and all sorts of other circumstances, why can’t He reveal something in a dream? If the dream-revelation were to directly contradict Scripture, that would be another story. But I don’t think it’s clear that Steve’s dream did that. It seems most likely, from what I’ve read, that both Green’s and Saint’s hearts were/are in the right place, and therefore it’s easier for me to believe that they were less than brilliant in their explanations of what they thought God was telling them than that they erred theologically.

(Side note: Marj Saint reveals, in Beyond the Gates of Splendor, that she had a dream in which she foresaw the deaths of her husband and friends. And as to signs, Elisabeth Elliot (in BTGOS) breaks up while recounting a moment when she and Jim were sitting in a cemetery and the shadow of a cross fell between their shadows, confirming their calling to do God’s work.)

I don’t think there is Scriptural defense for the view that it’s morally wrong for a gay man to portray a Christian straight man in a drama. Allen wasn’t being considered for a position in a church; he was being hired to act. Might a Christian have given a more convincing portrayal? Perhaps, but not necessarily. Had there been more explicitly Christian activity by the missionaries in the script, including Allen’s character, Allen very well may have been able to portray this convincingly. We don’t know, though, having not seen him attempt it.

Is it wrong for a non-Christian musician to play Bach’s liturgical music? Or does the inherent power and strength of the music itself carry the music’s intent when well-played according to the “rules” of the craft? Who would better convey the message of the music – a Christian musician who wasn’t very accomplished, or a non-Christian one who was?

If the film attempted to portray the characters or story inaccurately; for example, if one of the missionaries was shown lying, or having an affair, or something like that, then there would be cause for outrage. Condemnation of such inaccuracies would be entirely appropriate (spoken in love, of course!) But this was not the case!

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Steve Saint is in the middle; Mincaye is at his right and Kimo at his left.


*After seeing Beyond the Gates of Splendor, I understand this better. Family members (including the widows) described at length the missionaries’ fun-loving antics, also mentioning the oddness of their jungle location and mission as juxtaposed with gathering together to dance, etc.

(edited for clarity 2/6/06)

8 Comments:

  • I love the tone of your post. I was definitely one of those who, like you, saw a lot of positive here and gave ETE the benefit of the doubt.

    It's been sad to me to even see people now bashing Randy Alcorn for his words regarding the way some of those same people handled the original controversy.

    *sigh*

    steve :)

    By Blogger Steve Sensenig, at 7:07 AM  

  • Good job. I haven't read much on this controversy, and, thanks to you, don't think I need to. Good point about Bach.

    By Blogger Martin LaBar, at 9:16 AM  

  • Bonnie,

    IMO, the best approach towards this event would be an effort exhibiting Christian love. The past few weeks have been rocky, to say the least, but I believe that the final reports from Janz, Alcorn, Green, Saint, etc. indicate that they have attempted to remember that they are brothers in Christ.

    Personally, it's difficult for me to believe that Green and Hanon were not made aware of Allen's gay activism until after the contract was offered (note, not signed). But I'll take them at their word. However, I find it impossible to believe that there weren't those at ETE, that have a working relationship with Hollywood, that did not know about the situation. IMO I think it was an error of judgement to keep Allen in the film and, after producting the film, to tap-dance around disclosing the information to the public. [I have no problem with Saint receiving direction from God through a dream, but it's really his burden of proof to demonstrate that it was God telling him what He wanted him to do.]

    Some of my friends have stated that ETE ran the risk of a lawsuit had they pulled the contract from Allen. My response is "so what?" Is that how we determine to run what is supposed to be a Christian film produced by a Christian company? Then again, I'm not the one facing a potential lawsuit. Note: I have no problem watching the movie (saw it on 1/21, as a matter of fact) knowing full well that Allen is a gay activist. My issue is that a Christian run company went ahead and used him in this film. There's something wrong with that because I don't expect Christians to be so casual about such a lifestyle. By contrast, I'm not really upset that there might have been homosexuals in Narnia, The Mission, Chariots of Fire, The Passion, Luther, Lord of the Rings, etc., because I don't expect secular movie companies to be so strict about such a lifestyle.

    For an interesting thought experiment, try replacing the word/phrase "homosexual" with "ped*phile" and see how the arguments fly...

    It boils down to a comment from a lady at our church, when she found out about the inclusion of Allen in the film... "What were they thinking?"

    P.S. I'm a bit undecided on how direct the Christian message is, in the film. Considering we all already know the story, we are probably viewing it through rose-colored glasses. I'd be interested in finding out what a non-Christian, who is unaware of the storyline, has to say about the movie. I suspect, and this may be my cynical attitude shining through, that such a person would walk away thinking the movie was mainly about the power of human forgiveness.

    By Anonymous Rusty, at 3:32 PM  

  • Thanks for your comments, gentlemen.

    Rusty, there’s much to respond to in your comment, but for now:

    I agree with you that the Christian approach must exhibit love. For example, I don’t believe that the burden of proof lies with Steve Saint and ETE insofar as we are concerned. They answer to God, not to us. This is not to say that we cannot ask for answers, but if we do, we must judge the answers according to the inherent limitations of the forum in which we do so.

    Some of my friends have stated that ETE ran the risk of a lawsuit had they pulled the contract from Allen. My response is "so what?" Is that how we determine to run what is supposed to be a Christian film produced by a Christian company?

    No, of course not, but I’d like more information about this. Who would’ve filed suit?

    It boils down to a comment from a lady at our church, when she found out about the inclusion of Allen in the film... "What were they thinking?"

    My question has been, what is the thinking behind such a question? What is it based on? How does one defend such a question?

    I'd be interested in finding out what a non-Christian, who is unaware of the storyline, has to say about the movie. I suspect, and this may be my cynical attitude shining through, that such a person would walk away thinking the movie was mainly about the power of human forgiveness.

    Yes, I’d be interested in that too. I wonder, though, whether a non-Christian would attribute that level of forgiveness to mere humanness. S/he may merely push it aside in disbelief. No one can miss the fact that the five men killed were missionaries, though, and I’d think that most would surmise that they derived their ability to forgive from their faith in God.

    By Blogger Bonnie, at 1:11 AM  

  • Bonnie,

    I don’t believe that the burden of proof lies with Steve Saint and ETE insofar as we are concerned. They answer to God, not to us.

    Not sure exactly where you're going with this one. When I referenced Saint's burden of proof, it had to do with his claim that God spoke to him through a dream. While I believe God is capable of doing such an act, it is rare and not portrayed scripturally as the normative manner in which God "speaks" to us. In essence, such an argument is a showstopper, for who can argue against a direct message from God? Thus, I believe that anyone who claims to have received special direction from God is under obligation to present proof of such. Now, if you were referencing ETE and their burden of proof, with regards to the whole affair, then I think it is more a issue of pragmatism. IMO they made a bad decision, regardless of their motives.

    Who would’ve filed suit?

    Gay rights groups based on alleged discrimination.

    How does one defend such a question?

    My issue with ETE has to do with a Christian company involved in a project that is, supposedly, intended to be an evangelistic tool. As such I believe that the company and project should reflect Christian character and values throughout the project. I know that God can work with whatever He desires, yet the issue is not what God can do, but what we should do as Christians. One of the arguments for choosing Allen was that he was the best actor for the role (of those that auditioned). Well such a statement is subjective, to say the least. The best? Says who? In an evangelistic project, how important are the acting, special effects, marketing methods, etc.? If any one, or all, of these aspects are sub-standard then, using the same argument, couldn't God use them for His glory anyway? Or, to take the "best actor for the job" argument further, consider if the best actor to audition also had an eye for young boys (not too young, mind you, let's say... 12). Would that matter? Does the fact that it is illegal matter? How about the morality factor? Couldn't God use that situation the same was as Allen's? You see, the issue isn't what God can do, or whether or not we should love a sinner (for we should love the 'boy lover' as well, right?). The issue is, I believe, just how does a Christian company, engaged in evangelism, exemplify and maintain Christian standards?

    In that sense, regarding having Allen in the movie, what were they thinking?

    I’d think that most would surmise that they derived their ability to forgive from their faith in God.

    Again, maybe I'm being too cynical, but I think that a lot of non-Christians would, while acknowledging that the men were missionaries, discount the implications of that fact for what they understand to be the point of the story - that of human forgiveness and tolerance. It seems to me that the mindset of our society is that we can tap into ourselves for salvation (e.g., self-help). Sigh.

    Further ref. posts at Jollyblogger
    and at Stand to Reason

    By Anonymous Rusty, at 1:34 PM  

  • Here's the correct Stand to Reason link

    By Anonymous Rusty, at 1:42 PM  

  • Thanks for your response, Rusty. It seems we're getting into the root beliefs and assumptions that underlie our thoughts on these issues, and that’s good. It’s hard to treat them adequately in a comments thread, though. But I’ll try.

    What I’m getting at with the comment about burden of proof is that I don’t think Steve is obligated to us to “prove” his dream was from God. How would he do that, anyway?

    Now, if you were referencing ETE and their burden of proof, with regards to the whole affair, then I think it is more a issue of pragmatism.

    I wasn't, but how so?

    ***

    Why would gay-rights groups sue ETE if Allen himself had offered to step down?

    I believe that the company and project should reflect Christian character and values throughout the project.

    I think that’s what Green and Saint tried to do. It seems they tried to make the best decisions they could in the situation they had (unless one or more of them is lying). That’s all any of us can do. There will be consequences to what we do as well, which I think they were well aware of.

    The best? Says who?

    The ones who were doing the hiring. Which is their job. (Not ours!)

    Obviously it would be terribly unwise to hire a p*dophile to work closely with a young boy, never mind the fact that p*dophilia is illegal. This does not mean that just because something is legal, we (as Christians) are free to do it, but in the case of Allen I think we are hard-pressed to make a valid case against hiring him to play Nate Saint/Steve Saint as a professional actor given the purported circumstances. ETE made it clear that they were not supporting his homosexuality but were treating him as a human being, a professional, and the good actor he was. Was it ideal to have a gay man play a straight Christian man? No, as ETE has acknowledged, but Allen pulled it off. (I’ve mentioned the controversy to two friends, both of whom who saw the movie and had no idea that Allen was gay.)

    In Luke 6:35-36 Jesus says, “But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. And do not judge and you will not be judged; and do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; pardon, and you will be pardoned." Does this mean that Allen should be “pardoned” for his homosexuality as long as he’s unrepentant? No, of course not. But is it kind to turn him away from a part he can play well after he’s already been accepted for the part? He wasn’t being hired to do something he couldn’t do well. To love one’s enemies means to not deny them something for no good reason. If I observed Allen to be a great art teacher who maintained appropriate boundaries in a class, would I let my kids take an art class with him? Yes I would. If he wrote a book on how boys can “find themselves” when they’re young, would I recommend it to my sons? Absolutely not. The thing is, it’s not just people like Chad who have vices & things they are unrepentant of. There are Christians I know that I would not and do not trust with certain things.

    To love doesn’t mean to give someone something they shouldn’t have, as in giving an alcoholic a fifth of scotch on his birthday. Was giving Allen the part in EOTS giving him something he shouldn’t have? Did he abuse it or misuse it? I haven’t seen evidence of this. People say that by being on Larry King Live he was using EOTS as a platform, but I just don’t see it. Did he get the opportunity to be on LKL just because he was hired to be in EOTS? I’m not sure, but even if he did, so what? This does not mean he is using EOTS as a platform, and why shouldn’t he get notoriety for his accomplishment in the movie? He should! Why do we think we have to try to control all these things?

    Are people saying, “Look! It’s Chad Allen; he’s gay and he played a Christian missionary in a movie!” as if the fact that he did so somehow endorses his lifestyle? I think this is what people are concerned about. But who would think this, really, besides some Christians? If the movie he was in claimed to represent Christianity and endorsed the gay lifestyle, that would be a different matter entirely; both the actors and producers would deserve rebuke. But this isn’t the case!

    I still don’t see a precedent for people thinking that deep forgiveness comes from mere humanness. I think most people who see that kind of forgiveness just think that the people who forgave are nuts, or deluded, or superhuman, or whatever, whether the credit is given to God or not. I think most non-believers don’t want to be forgiving people, or else they accept certain kinds of forgiveness but not others. Certainly not the kind of forgiveness displayed in EOTS.

    I really didn’t see “tolerance” in the message of EOTS. The missionaries didn’t tolerate the Waodani, they forgave them, and taught them "God's way." This was clear in the movie.

    Regarding the posts you linked, I don’t see how the situation with Allen directly relates to David’s post. It’s one thing to become like the world in order to win the world, yet another to do as Paul says in I Corinthians 9:19-23. I don’t think that ETE was doing the former; I think their aim was to do the latter.

    Neither do I think that the message from Psalm 5 and Proverbs 16 can be extrapolated to fit this situation. First of all, it’s talking about what God hates. God hates sinners. But He loves them too, else He’d have never sent Jesus. Yet if one is going to apply these verses to the EOTS situation, then one must apply the “false witness” category to Jason Janz and others who have perpetuated false information. Yes, Janz apologized and of course he is forgiven. But what do we say about God’s hate in regard to what Janz did? We have to be awfully careful about the verse that comes after the part Melinda quoted as well, vs. 19: “and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers.”

    IOW, I agree with Melinda that “the state of a sinner is a terrible, fearful thing. In our good desire to express the grace of God, we must still allow the weight of the law and God's hatred to bring about the repentance that is necessary for a new relationship with God.” It’s just how we go about doing this that’s the question.

    By Blogger Bonnie, at 8:05 PM  

  • I think you're being way too nice. The notion that Christians should be getting upset that other Christians are allowing gay people to be part of their lives and part of their efforts for good is just evil. The gospel calls us to involve nonbelievers in our lives. Why should it matter what form of rejection of God's standards that should be? Evangelicals tend to highlight this particular sin as if it's higher than the others, but there's no biblical emphasis on it as compared with people who have been divorced or disobedient to parents. It's just that most evangelicals have never been tempted in this way, so it's easy for them to feel self-righteous about it.

    By Blogger Jeremy Pierce, at 8:07 AM  

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