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Thursday, February 09, 2006

On the End of the Spear controversy, part II

(part I is below)

There have been many significant posts written on this controversy, including one by Catez Stevens that links to Barbara Curtis’ posting of an exhaustive article by Randy Alcorn. Alcorn describes his discussions with Mart Green and Steve Saint, whom he contacted as a result of Jason Janz’ post and mass emails that discussed the circumstances of Chad Allen’s hiring. Alcorn was disturbed by Janz’ dissemination of false information. Janz, however, has fully apologized for not verifying his information before publishing it. Unfortunately, his posts seemed to act as a springboard for slander, undue speculation, and insinuation, without repentance.

These things, as well as other judgmental and unkind speech against Every Tribe Entertainment and Steve Saint, are clearly sin. Whether criticisms are fair or not, Scripture is clear that correction and exhortation be done in love (I Corinthians 13). Even if Allen, Saint, and Green erred in their decisions (and I believe that Allen certainly has with his sexual practice and view that Christianity encompasses it), they stand before God, the ultimate Judge of their actions, as do we all. It is unkind and unfair to assume that the makers of EOTS were rationalizing, or capitulating, or any such thing, without clear evidence. Only God knows their hearts. It’s not necessarily unkind nor unfair to suspect a problem, but suspicion ought to stay silent unless evidence proves it.

Nine years ago when Mart Green first learned about the story (after hearing Steve Saint and Mincaye speak), he was deeply inspired to make a film of it. The reason Mincaye and the Waodani agreed to be involved was so they could be missionaries of a sort to Americans! They hoped that Americans might learn that there is a better way than retribution and revenge. I cannot imagine that ETE would’ve knowingly and purposely betrayed Mincaye and the Waodani, who had put their trust in them. It would’ve been unthinkable to take advantage of them in this way, and I really can’t imagine that Chad Allen, or the building of false bridges, or anything else would’ve been more important. Unless there’s something really scandalous that we don’t know about the producers of the film, and they had a gay agenda going along with their agenda to publicize the story of the Waodanis. In which case they are outright lying.

The thing is, life is messy. It doesn’t unfold neatly and cleanly with all the pieces seemingly falling into place as we might like it to. If we try to keep it neat and clean, we end up serving a false god, and yes, I’m guilty of this too. If we get mad at others or judge them to be dirtying up our nice, clean Christianity or our nice, clean Christian “stuff,” then the problem lies as much with us as with them. The controversy comes down to this: do we really know enough to be able to judge the motives and actions of the makers of EOTS? And if we have suspicions, are we justified in voicing them without sufficient evidence?

When all is said and done, what is the most important criterion for the movie? That only supposedly good Christians are hired? Or that the story be told in as true a way as possible? If a gay man can portray Nate Saint better than anyone else they found (and maybe others know more about whether they could or not; I admittedly don’t), why should he not do so just because he’s gay, or a gay activist, even?

Does using Allen compromise the telling of the story? Does it dilute the message of the film? If so, how? He played the part well; his homosexuality was not apparent from the way he played the role. If his being in the movie dilutes the Christian message at all, it only does so in the minds of those who make that judgment. The so-called public-relations nightmare is not necessarily the fault of the producers. Even if they did not disclose the truth about Allen in the manner they should have (and who is to determine that?), why must this influence the reception of the movie?

Does the fact that Allen was allowed to be in the movie condone his sexuality in any way? If so, how? The movie’s producers haven’t condoned it; they’ve stated that they allowed him to stay on in spite of his homosexuality. I think that’s a pretty powerful statement. They gave him a chance. Does the film act as a springboard for Allen or allow him a platform? In other words, might he use his notoriety from the film to advance his agenda? Again, I’m not sure how this would happen. Those who are sympathetic to his agenda probably aren’t terribly receptive to the “Christian” message of the story. Some may see the film because Allen is in it, and be affected toward the gospel.

Is the message of the film really as unclear as many say? Was the purpose of the film to preach the gospel, and should it have been to preach the gospel? Jason Janz thinks so. I don’t agree with him, though. The film is not seeker-sensitive in the sense of compromising or watering-down its message or becoming like the world in order to reach the world; the producers have stated that they wanted to tell the story as well as they could, and, since the gospel is the heart of the story, the gospel is the ultimate message. No, there is no specific statement in the movie that Jesus died for our sins, but does there need to be? Would the film have been a better evangelical tool had those words been in it? I don’t think the answer is necessarily “yes.”

I do think the movie would’ve been better served by having more explanation of certain elements, including some of the Waodoni activity and the missionaries’ behavior. Would this have made a difference in the way the overall message came across? It’s possible, but I think the main points were still pretty clear. The Waodani learned that there was a better way. The movie shows that there is a better way than retribution and revenge. Who demonstrated this? The missionaries. Why did they do so? Because they loved the Waodani. They loved the Waodani because of the love of God through Jesus, Who "was speared (on the cross) but didn’t spear back". This was a revolutionary concept to the Waodani, yet it was something relevant to their lifestyle, something they could understand and relate to. Mincaye himself fought it for quite some time but eventually came around, praise God.

The thing is, we can’t expect people who have no means for grasping it to hear “Jesus died for your sins; repent and believe” and just say, “Oh, OK.” Paul says in I Corinthians 9:18-23 “What then is my reward? That, when I preach the gospel, I may offer the gospel without without charge, so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel.” He is speaking of money, but I think that “right in the gospel” has broader application. He speaks of preaching the gospel in such a way as to have nothing to boast of, except for the gospel itself. He goes on, “For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, that I might win the more.” This is so important!!! “And to the Jews I because as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law, though not being myself under the Law, that I might win those who are under the Law; to those who are without law, as without law, though
not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, that I might win those who are without law.
To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all me, that I may by all means save some. And I do all things for the sake of the gospel, that I may become a fellow partaker of it.”

I don’t pretend to be a preacher, but my understanding of what Paul is saying is that he ”speaks the language” of whomever he is speaking to in order to be understood, while not compromising his own behavior and speech in any way. I see the purpose of End of the Spear as being similar. The “hook” is the common language of story. The invitation is to receive the message of forgiveness as Mincaye and the Waodani did.

It’s been said that those who defend the movie and the producers’ decision do so because of their emotional attachment to the story, which may be true to an extent. But this doesn’t mean it’s not possible for someone to support those decisions for reasons of attachment to truth and Scripture. I also think it’s equally possible that those who feel the producers erred may themselves do so because of an emotional attachment to the story, or to a shining ideal of truth rather than real truth.

To wrap this up – I highly recommend the documentary, Beyond the Gates of Splendor, which was also produced by ETE and precedes End of the Spear. The documentary sheds much light on the movie and contains extensive footage and moving testimony of the Waodani, the five missionaries, and their families. There are bits of it in EOTS.

I want to close by listing what I believe are things that make End of the Spear succeed:

1) It seeks to tell the story of Nate Saint and his co-missionaries as well as possible, and this intent is clear, as are the main points. All of the elements were very carefully planned toward this end.

2) If one pays attention to the subtitles, one can see unmistakable reference to God, Christ, and the Word of God. Through these, non-believing viewers are gently invited to explore further on their own. I can say that it was this kind of “evangelism” that drew me to real Christianity; I can’t imagine I’m the only one like this.

3) The forgiveness at the end is clear: Steve Saint (the character) says, “My father didn’t lose his life; he gave it.” He refuses to spear Mincayani in revenge. Why would a man do this for another? For a cause outside of himself. In war, men (and women) do this for their country. In the film, the missionaries did it for God. I’m sorry, but I think that in itself is pretty powerful, something capable of moving someone to look into the matter further.

Most people don’t come to Christ just like that (*snap of fingers*). Not many have a Damascus road experience, but if they do, that’s just the beginning. How many Christians, or those who have been Christians for as long as they can remember, have achieved Christian maturity just like that (*snap of fingers*)? It’s a process! Is it impossible that End of the Spear would be one of the early steps in someone’s process, or even be an edifying “step” in a Christian’s process? I know that in seeing this film I was powerfully reminded of the reality and power of God’s love.

4) The adoring relationship Steve Saint had with his father is portrayed well. This is a very important element; had he not loved his father so, it would not have been such a powerful thing for him to forgive his father’s killer.

5) It’s clear that the missionaries were serious about what they were doing; why else would young American couples with babies and very young children go to the jungle wilds where murderous savages lived?

6) It is clear that Rachel Saint and Elisabeth Elliot went to live with the Waodani (after the spearings of the missionaries) in forgiveness; there’s no other way they would have done so.

7) The action and pacing were great. Even my young children (yes!) were engaged by it.

8) Strong feelings were well-played; there was no lack of them and they worked to make the story believable as well as moving.

9) The humanity portrayed in both the Waodani and the missionaries was very poignant and there were many examples, such as the dashed optimism of the missionaries and a young Steve running after his father’s plane as it left, never to return. The beauty of the yellow plane soaring over the lush jungle with blue sky overhead, juxtaposed with the brutal lifestyle of the Waodani and the spearings of the missionaries, was very effective. Waodani women and children ran in panic, hiding from those who would spear them. Scenes of Waodani children laughing and playing and of tribesmen joking showed how human the Waodani were despite the violence of their lifestyle.

10) The clip at the end of movie from Beyond the Gates of Splendor is wonderful; it shows how Steve Saint’s and Mincaye’s relationship has continued (and is pretty humorous as well). It piques one’s interest to seek out the documentary and watch it (at least, it did me!)

20 Comments:

  • I think you did a great job with balancing different viewpoints here. I appreciate your tone and spirit in writing this. Of course, some would say that's only because I agree with you, and therefore we both are deluded, but... ;)

    steve :)

    By Blogger Steve Sensenig, at 11:27 AM  

  • Bonnie,

    I think we'll have to conclude that we disagree on this one. I've yet to hear a compelling argument for why a Christian company (as opposed to secular), producing a work of evangelism, should include a gay activist in the production. Moral standards, in my opinion, trump acting ability; and potential evangelistic impact, besides being entirely subjective, is not quantifiable (one could just as easily argue that not including a gay activist, or including a less than stellar actor would have, potentially, reached certain non-Christians). The movie was not marketed, as far as I know, to a market segment made up primarily of non-Christians. If it had been, then perhaps the entire structure of the movie would have been different. As it is, it's an account of a true story... not an allegory or metaphor.

    Perhaps part of the disagreement we have (and, btw, I'm having a similar debate with one of our homeschool group mothers) stems from how we view media presentations, whether they be art displays in a museum or movies shown in a theater. While I enjoy art, in a general sense, I tend to view it from a more linear mode - hidden or alternative meanings, and subjectively driven significances don't really impress me as much as they seem to do others. Thus, if someone is going to tell me the story of five missionaries who were killed in 1956, then tell it to me straight, regardless of whether or not you are a Christian or secular company. But if you are a Christian company, and your intentions are evangelistic, then don't hide behind artistic pretense. (sidenote: another difference in how we approach this issue, I think, is evident in that my wife and I would not even consider taking our children, ages 5 & 10, to this movie... viewing a depiction of such events can wait, for them)

    I don't consider you and Steve deluded, just wrong. ;^) All in all, I think it was a well produced movie, not without flaws, that simply had some aspects that were very badly managed.

    Rusty

    P.S. He refuses to spear Mincayani in revenge. It's my understanding that this event is fictitous, which underlies my point that I think a non-Christian would walk away from the movie thinking about the human power to forgive...

    By Anonymous Rusty, at 12:56 PM  

  • I think it's sad such a big fuss is being made over the issue of homosexuality, instead of focusing attention on the original story on which the film was based.

    I would prefer to see a documentary, such as you mentioned, to a re-enacted version of a real event (a la Dan Rather and the exploding gas tanks). Once you're seeing a dramatization, you know things are changed, added, lost. I like fiction to be fiction, and fact fact.

    However, I don't think dramatization such as The End of the Spear is wrong. Once I accept the fact of re-enactment, I wouldn't balk at the fact that an actor is someone quite different than the person s/he's portraying. That's what you're buying, when you buy into the concept. As Catez, wrote: "It's acting"!

    By Blogger Julana, at 5:07 PM  

  • Good post Bonnie. There's only one point that I disagree on:
    I believe that Allen certainly has with his sexual practice and view that Christianity encompasses it

    That's not so clear. There's one line from an interview in whch Allen mentions the gospels - but he never identifies as Christian himself, and is not a "gay Christian" in the sense that some people use the word (not to my knowlege). I think his view of Jesus is more like many New Agers who also say they believe certain things about Jesus but don't identify as Christians. In fact Allens spirituality is derived from the 12 Steps (the "God of my understanding" comes from one of the 12 Steps) and he is in addiction recovery. He also describes a type of universalism I would call New Age. As I mention in my post, he agrees that his beliefs are not the beliefs of the missionaries depicted in the movie.

    Your point is arguable, but the weight of Allens statements leads me to conclude that he is not claiming to be Christian, but is really a New Age influenced 12 Stepper.

    Good points in the post. I think the whole thing about "it doesn't have the gospel" is a real red herring. I particularly liked the way you discussed the process of conversion and of course - all things to all!

    To Rusty - the fact is ETE don't claim to be a Christian company. A company owned by a Christian - but then many businesses owned by Christians employ non-Christians. A company telling a story about some Christians in a movie - but they do not call themselves a Christian company.

    By Blogger Catez, at 8:31 PM  

  • Bonnie I should add - although I see one point diferently it doesn't change your main point at all - I agree with you and think you've written a great post here.

    By Blogger Catez, at 8:33 PM  

  • Bonnie, I haven't seen the movie because, sadly, it isn't showing in Korea. But I am all too well aware of the controversy. I have to say that I agree with you in all that I can affirm without actually having seen the film. (Sorry, that sentence is kind of gangly.)

    I don't think every film ever made about a Christian or by a Christian has to include a ABC gospel message or an invitation. Several books in the New Testament don't! And I don't see that an actor has to have a perfectly pure life before he can be "worthy" to act in a film about a Christian.

    Honestly, Bonnie, it really upsets me that many people are against the casting of Allen. It reminds me of a similar controvery playing out here in Asia. An Korean actress was originally offered a role of "Memoirs of a Geisha" but she turned it down "for nationalistic reasons" according to the paper. Koreans deeply resent seeing a Korean act as a Japanese person, especially when the see the role of a geisha as tatamount to a prostitute. So a Chinese actress got the role, and now Chinese censors are banning the film in China because it offends Chinese people to see a Chinese woman playing the role of a Japanese. This is because of what happened during WWII, of course. Is it so unthinkable for a Korean/Chinese to play the role of a Japanese? I don't think so. Is it really so unthinkable for a gay man to play the role of a straight Christian man? Well, I don't think so. In both cases, politics have blinded people to the stories in question. Sorry to go offtopic a little, but I really see parallels between the two controveries.

    By Blogger Hannah Im, at 9:31 PM  

  • Thanks, all, for your comments.

    Catez, I should've made that statement clearer. I can't remember where I read it, but I was referring to something Allen was quoted as saying -- not that he himself was a Christian but that he thought there was a Christianity that embraced homosexuality. I think All Saint's Church in Pasadena, which he has or does attend, was mentioned also.

    Rusty, I’m fine with disagreement. I am, however, still curious about some things, for example:

    Moral standards, in my opinion, trump acting ability

    Which specific moral standards?

    (Did you see my last comment in the “part I” comment section? For some reason it wasn’t showing up so I re-posted it. I explained why I thought ETE could’ve been justified in including Allen in the production. I’d be interested in what, specifically, you thought was error in my arguments).

    Regarding marketing of the film, I think that the movie was marketed to churches for the purpose of having them use it as a tool for outreach, i.e., for youth groups and for Christians to take their non-Christian friends to. You know, "dare to make contact."

    But if you are a Christian company, and your intentions are evangelistic, then don't hide behind artistic pretense.

    How was ETE hiding behind artistic pretense?

    BTW, I certainly don’t think everyone should take their young children to this movie just because we did. That’s a decision each family must make.

    You said in a previous comment, My issue is that a Christian run company went ahead and used [Allen] in this film. There's something wrong with that because I don't expect Christians to be so casual about such a lifestyle.

    The key word here may be “expect.” I think we must always examine the basis for our expectations to determine whether they are justified, or whether we are justified in allowing them to come to bear on certain things. Also, you are characterizing ETE’s stance on the homosexual lifestyle as being casual – how can this conclusion fairly (or objectively) be drawn? (see my last comment in the “part I” thread addressing the points you made)

    P.S. “He refuses to spear Mincayani in revenge.” It's my understanding that this event is fictitous, which underlies my point that I think a non-Christian would walk away from the movie thinking about the human power to forgive...

    You’re right, it is a fictitious event. Saint has said that he didn’t feel revenge toward Mincaye; by the time he had grown old enough to understand all the things that happened in his early childhood, he was already good friends with Mincaye. It had to hurt pretty badly, though, to know that this man had killed his father (or at least, participated in the spearings; I’m still not clear, based on conflicting accounts, whether Mincaye actually speared Nate Saint. I need to do further reading.) I saw the final scene as a parallel to the Waodani way of revenge-spearing; what blew the Waodani away was that the missionaries didn’t “spear back.” This was because of their love for the Waodani, because of their love of God. I think your average non-Christian would get this from the movie, and don’t know why they’d have reason to attribute a different motivation to Steve’s forgiveness of Mincaye.

    Now, if you want to make a case that the scene was deceitful, I suppose you could. Yet the movie is billed as being “from a true story” because of the way they decided to craft the plot in order to effectively tell the story in the medium they were using. Tough call, especially not knowing the ins-and-outs of movie-making.

    By Blogger Bonnie, at 12:41 AM  

  • Julana

    I think it's sad such a big fuss is being made over the issue of homosexuality, instead...

    I do too. And it could have been avoided had ETE not made such a bad decision. Also, to clarify my stance, I am not balking at the fact that an actor is someone quite different than the person being portrayed; I am balking at the fact that an openly gay activist was used in a Christian production.


    Caetz

    ...the fact is ETE don't claim to be a Christian company.

    That ETE may employ non-Christians is irrelevant to my point. Mart Green dropped a lot of money into making this movie for evangelistic reasons. In terms of intent this production by ETE is not comparable to, say, the Narnia movie. I think The Mission is an example of a company telling a story about some Christians in a movie.

    Hannah

    And I don't see that an actor has to have a perfectly pure life before he can be "worthy" to act in a film about a Christian.

    That's a false dilemma. I don't know anyone who is claiming that only a perfectly pure actor could portray Nate Saint. The issue has to do with moral accountability, moral standards, and decency. When Paul outlined standards for church leaders on Crete, he wasn't looking for a perfectly pure person... he was looking for someone who was morally upright. When Mike Trout was let go from FotF it was due to a moral failing. Athletes are fined or banned for moral lapses. It seems to me that this is a pretty basic concept.

    While you and other Christians are honestly upset about people being against the casting of Allen, I am honestly flabbergasted that so many Christians don't seem to see his gay activism as an issue. Instead, I see Christians that appear to be so afraid of offending the homosexual, that they've become a bit casual in their view of the sinner.

    Bonnie

    Forgot to tell you previously, but I do appreciate all the work you've put into researching your posts on this subject (I know what it takes!).

    No, I hadn't seen your last comment on Part 1 of your EOTS posts. I'll address some of it here...

    ...I don’t think Steve is obligated to us to “prove” his dream was from God...

    That's fine. But I'm under no obligation to believe that he had a dream from God. As such, I think he would then have to provide scriptural support for his decision.

    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.

    Not hiring Allen would also be treating him as a human being and it would have indicated that ETE considered his gay activism to be so separate from Christianity that he should not be a part of the production. Again, I have no problem with his ability to act the part... that has never been my concern.

    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.

    Yes, and do you see the difference between placing your kids in an art class with a homosexual teacher and hiring a gay activist as part of an evangelistic movie production? They are two completely different settings. One is within a secular setting while the other is not. Where will this leniency towards immoral behavior stop? Don't you think a Christian school should forbid a homosexual teacher from being on staff, despite possibly being the "best" art instructor around? I don't see how being "kind" really plays into such situations.

    Which specific moral standards?

    Homosexuality and sexual immorality (in this case).

    How was ETE hiding behind artistic pretense?

    By rationalizing the decision to hire Allen because he was the best actor to audition.

    ...you are characterizing ETE’s stance on the homosexual lifestyle as being casual – how can this conclusion fairly (or objectively) be drawn?

    By their actions (that's the way I see it).

    Bonnie, I think we've played this one out as far as it will go. I understand your concerns and acknowledge the sincerity of your arguments. Like I told Hannah, I'm completely flabbergasted at how many Christians have supported the hiring of Allen. IMO, I see it as a consequence of how modern Christians have tended to want to "please" non-Christians or, at least, certainly not offend them - lest they turn from the message. We've even given them a new name... Seekers. The motivations you and the others have, grounded in Christian love, are sincere but, I think, misguided. Sin is sin. It is wretchedly unholy and is abhorred by a Holy God. As you've alluded to, sin is enough of a problem within the church - so why yoke ourselves with open, unrepentant debauchery from outside our midst?

    There are much better, wiser, and cheaper methods of evangelizing.

    Of course, I could be wrong...

    By Anonymous Rusty, at 2:05 AM  

  • Rusty, I appreciate the time you’ve taken to comment. I also appreciate clarification of your concerns; I think I understand them better now.

    One is within a secular setting while the other is not.

    The movie theater is a secular setting. ETE is not a Christian school, or a church; they are a movie company whose goal is Christian evangelism. Allen is not a church leader. In my mind it is not a secular vs. Christian setting issue, it’s a purpose vs. role issue. Perhaps ETE needs to re-examine their whole approach, I don’t know.

    I'm completely flabbergasted at how many Christians have supported the hiring of Allen.

    I think most who support it take ETE and Saint at their word (that they didn’t know initially about Allen’s sexuality) and support that ETE “kept its word” to Allen. Whether that word needed to be kept or not, since Allen agreed to step down, is probably the real issue.

    IMO, I see it as a consequence of how modern Christians have tended to want to "please" non-Christians or, at least, certainly not offend them - lest they turn from the message.

    I wouldn’t say it’s about pleasing vs. offending; I’d say it’s about doing the right thing. Doing the right thing may please, or it may offend. Doing the wrong thing may please, or offend. What the right thing actually was is what’s disagreed upon.

    There are much better, wiser, and cheaper methods of evangelizing.

    Aagh...how can you say, “I think we’ve played this one out as far as it will go,” and then make a statement like that?!

    (I’m headed out to the garden shed now to chew on a tiki-torch...).

    By Blogger Bonnie, at 11:36 PM  

  • Hi Bonnie:

    I appreciate the thoughtful way you have approached this film and the surrounding controversy.

    On one side, it seems to me, are those calling for a respectful dialogue, one that does not slander Christian brothers and sisters. This side is also strongly concerned with whether a right attitude (one that reflects well on us as Christ-followers) is being reflected in the Christian response to this film and to other things in our culture with which we disagree. Many on this side also seem to feel that the controversy would not exist, or would not be as strong, if the issues did not include the homosexuality of Chad Allen.

    On the other side are those who have been concerned that choices made by the producers of this film, though well-meaning, dilute or compromise in some way, the gospel message we are all called to share.

    I hope that in my writing and comments I have been able to respect the concerns on both sides of this issue, since I agree, as per your comments over at my blog, that the concerns of both sides on this debate are legitimate.

    I have a few points in response to your article.

    1."Does the film act as a springboard for Allen or allow him a platform? In other words, might he use his notoriety from the film to advance his agenda? Again, I’m not sure how this would happen."

    But this has already happened. It's probably no coincidence that Mr. Allen was asked to be on Larry King Live a few days before the opening of End of the Spear. Besides being an openly gay actor, the fact that he was about to open as the lead in a Christian-themed movie is likely one of the reasons he was asked to participate in the show, whose theme was Gay Marriage: Right or Wrong? (http://www.chadallenonline.com/press/larrykinglive-gaymarriage2.htm). On the show Allen makes his views about homosexuality very clear, and connects these views with his participation in making the film. He doesn't say that ETE endorsed his hoosexual lifestyle, but he seems to view his participation in the movie as a kind of "bridge-building" between gays and Christians. Yet it is clear that his bridge-building is all about Christians coming around to his way of thinking, rather than vice-versa.

    2.The film is not seeker-sensitive in the sense of compromising or watering-down its message or becoming like the world in order to reach the world; the producers have stated that they wanted to tell the story as well as they could, and, since the gospel is the heart of the story, the gospel is the ultimate message.

    This is a film made about a true Christian story, but the film wasn't marketed as such, I assume because ETE didn't want to frighten away non-Christians (this strikes me as a bit seeker-sensitive). Though the film does make clear that Nate Saint and the others are Christian missionaries and that what they were able to accomplish is because they proclaimed a Christian message, I still feel that the gospel at the "heart of the story" is not convincingly or fully rendered. I think the screenplay is mostly at fault here.

    Reagrding the film itself, I think that you find it a lot more convincing on many levels that I did. A question I raise is why is it that so many secular reviewers also didn't find the film's drama very compelling? I think that it is because of the shortcomings of the film's story-telling.

    It seeks to tell the story of Nate Saint and his co-missionaries as well as possible, and this intent is clear, as are the main points. All of the elements were very carefully planned toward this end.

    Actually the film does not focus on only the story of Nate Saint and his co-missionaries but also on the Waodani point of view. Perhaps the constant shifting between points of view is what does not allow the filmmakers to develop stronger characterizations and motivations.

    In the film, the missionaries did it for God. I’m sorry, but I think that in itself is pretty powerful, something capable of moving someone to look into the matter further.

    I agree that perhaps the film might be capable of moving one to look into the matter further. However I think the fact that the the missionaries did it for God is very superfically explored.

    The adoring relationship Steve Saint had with his father is portrayed well. This is a very important element; had he not loved his father so, it would not have been such a powerful thing for him to forgive his father’s killer..

    This is an excellent point, but I think it was not enough to make the film's climatic confrontation between grown-up Steve Saint and Mincayani (Mincaye) convincing. Perhaps more scenes along these lines would have helped.

    It’s clear that the missionaries were serious about what they were doing; why else would young American couples with babies and very young children go to the jungle wilds where murderous savages lived? ... It is clear that Rachel Saint and Elisabeth Elliot went to live with the Waodani (after the spearings of the missionaries) in forgiveness; there’s no other way they would have done so.

    One can surmise that they were serious, but the way the movie portrays them, one might also think they were deluded, foolish or naive. I think that the weakness of the film is showing, for example, how it was that the women left behind after the 5 missionaries were speared managed to overcome their grief and reach out in forgiveness to the Waodani is a serious flaw in the film. Christians knowing the story can perhaps relate, I think that non-believers would be baffled. This is not just because such behavior is a bit baffling to explain apart from the gospel--it's because the film doesn't show how the gospel worked to make this happen in those women.

    The action and pacing were great. Even my young children (yes!) were engaged by it... Strong feelings were well-played; there was no lack of them and they worked to make the story believable as well as moving.

    I guess making judgments about this is somewhat subjective. Actually I think the pacing was okay but I found myself confused with what was happening at times. The strong feelings being well-played I cannot agree with fully. I think this was very hit and miss, but most particularly in the film's biggest moments I think the acting did not rise to the level required in the scenes. When the missionary ladies find out their husbands have been killed, for example, or again, the climactic confrontation between Minayani and Steve Saint.. I'm not saying these scenes were absolutely awful, but they're not on the same level with the best work of Hollywood.

    The clip at the end of movie from Beyond the Gates of Splendor is wonderful; it shows how Steve Saint’s and Mincaye’s relationship has continued (and is pretty humorous as well). It piques one’s interest to seek out the documentary and watch it (at least, it did me!)

    I felt the same way, but for me those few clips were so much stronger than the movie I had just finished watching. There was power in the authenticity of those few scenes that highlighted the unreality of the film for me.

    Well I must get on with my post-End of the Spear existence :). Thanks for your reflective post and your willingness to respectfully engage with those who have different opinions.

    Blessings,

    Alex

    By Blogger Alexander M Jordan, at 6:03 PM  

  • Hi Rusty,
    Re this:
    That ETE may employ non-Christians is irrelevant to my point.

    No, it's completely relevant. They do not claim to be a Christian company. Sorry, but your argument to me reads like they should be the sort of company you want them to be, rather than focusing on what sort of company they are. Mart Green poured money into his project - his company, his boundaries.

    By Blogger Catez, at 10:37 PM  

  • Alex,
    I think you are right - your views are subjective here. You have fallen into speculation. For example:
    It's probably no coincidence that Mr. Allen was asked to be on Larry King Live a few days before the opening of End of the Spear. Besides being an openly gay actor, the fact that he was about to open as the lead in a Christian-themed movie is likely one of the reasons he was asked to participate in the show,

    This is not based on real evidence - something Bonnie mentions in her post. You say it was probably no coincidence, and it's likely one of the reasons...

    There is nothing to back this up except your own specualtion - and let's face it, the speculation comes from your subjective bias.

    Example:
    This is a film made about a true Christian story, but the film wasn't marketed as such, I assume because ETE didn't want to frighten away non-Christians

    You say, I assume ETE didn't want to frighten away non-Christians. But you really don't known their motive or purpose at all.

    This sort of stuff, piling on speculation, infers motives that you do not actually have evidence of.

    Randy Alcorn made some excellent points in his article - and I really do recommend reading it more than once to see what he says there. I also see again that some arguments centre on what people speculate about ETE or Allen, and what they want a movie company to do.

    By Blogger Catez, at 11:10 PM  

  • Thanks again, Bonnie. Your usual good job.

    By Blogger Martin LaBar, at 8:50 AM  

  • Catez:

    When I made the comments about subjectivity, I was referring to a very specific portion of my comments, specifically, my personal reaction about the believability of the acting, and the film's pacing. I realize that this seems to be a more subjective element of movie-watching. But I don't agree that all of my arguments have been completely subjective.

    Regarding Allen appearing on the Larry King Show:
    What I'm saying is that whenever an actor is set to star in a new movie, they tend to be featured more in interviews, talk shows, etc. So I'm making the logical inference that Mr. Allen was asked to be on a show whose theme was "Gay Marriage" because 1. he's gay and is known for gay activism and 2. he was coming out in a new movie in a few days.

    Here's what Larry King said during the show (from the transcript):
    "Here in Los Angeles, Chad Allen, the openly gay actor best known for his long-running role on "Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman" and star of the movie "End of the Spear." It opens in theaters this Friday, it's a decidedly Christian movie."

    The filmmakers made a Christian-themed movie and do not advertise/market it overtly as Christian. It's logical and obvious to conclude that they take that approach in order to reach non-believers. Is this wrong on their part? Not necessarily, but my thesis has been that part of the lack of overall effectiveness of the movie is that it wasn't a boldly Christian as it should have been, given the nature of the story. I'm judging that from the film itself.

    But when I also look at the marketing of the film, and other choices the filmmakers made, these things also seem to back up this thesis.

    By Blogger Alexander M Jordan, at 3:41 PM  

  • Hi Rusty,
    Re this:
    That ETE may employ non-Christians is irrelevant to my point.

    No, it's completely relevant. They do not claim to be a Christian company. Sorry, but your argument to me reads like they should be the sort of company you want them to be, rather than focusing on what sort of company they are. Mart Green poured money into his project - his company, his boundaries.


    I agree with Rusty here.

    In an email, ETE asked for the support of many churches to promote this movie, saying that this film could be used as an evangelical tool. Would a non-Christian company have done this? The company is not presenting themselves as Christians-- as far as their on-line mission statement-- but nevertheless, the heads of the company are Christians. In explaining the decisions that they made regarding the film, they have pointed to their faith and to the role of personal prayer.

    If ETE wanted the support of evangelicals in promoting their film, which they say could be used evangelically, then they must expect that those evangelicals would examine/evaluate what kind of gospel message the film was giving.

    By Blogger Alexander M Jordan, at 5:27 PM  

  • Alex,

    Thank you for your careful and thorough comments, both here and on your blog. I will attempt a deserving response:

    Yet it is clear that his bridge-building is all about Christians coming around to his way of thinking, rather than vice-versa.

    Yes, I’ve read Allen’s statements. I’m not sure I’d go so far as to say that he thinks Christians will come around to his way of thinking; I think what he wants is acceptance. He’s hoping that Christians will come around to saying it’s OK for him to be gay, once they’ve been friendly to him rather than rejecting him. I still see it as wishful thinking on his part, and that’s why I’m not convinced he can use EOTS as a platform, whether he wants to or not. Unless Christians come to accept homosexuality because of the movie, or ETE changes its own stance on it, I don’t see how Allen can truly get a platform from the movie.

    why is it that so many secular reviewers also didn't find the film's drama very compelling?

    That’s a good question; I haven’t read any secular reviews so I can’t comment on that. (I’m losing steam fast, but may look into that for my next project :-) ).

    Actually the film does not focus on only the story of Nate Saint and his co-missionaries but also on the Waodani point of view.

    Yes, that’s true. I think the two story lines that the film intended to follow were those of the Waodani and of Nate/Steve Saint. That statement of mine should be reworded. Thanks!

    One can surmise that they were serious, but the way the movie portrays them, one might also think they were deluded, foolish or naive.

    I really don’t think that the result of their efforts, as shown in the film, proved that they were deluded, foolish, or naive. I don’t know how much more convincing you can get than the results they got, especially when Mincaye and his cohorts were calling Kimo foolish at first, yet later they converted as well. Either the ones who sought revenge were the foolish ones, or the ones who refused to were; if a viewer chooses option (b) I don’t think it has anything to do with either the story or the film itself.

    I think that the weakness of the film is showing, for example, how it was that the women left behind after the 5 missionaries were speared managed to overcome their grief and reach out in forgiveness to the Waodani is a serious flaw in the film.

    I guess I’d have to see it again and watch for that. What I remember is the scene where the wives are watching the footage that their husbands took on the beach with “George” and the two women, and Dayumae jumps up with excitement over seeing her family members, then, with horror, realizes, “My family killed your family!” I saw EOTS (the first time) before I saw the documentary (or the timeline at the EOTS website) and understood that Dayumae was the bridge between the wives and the Waodani, and it was all because Dayumae had been “living well” with the “foreigners” who had taught her the Christian faith and who, in turn, taught the Waodani. I really think this was clear in the film. I don’t know that we need to see the personal process of how the women overcame their grief to understand that they did, and that they did because of their faith in God. As I said, Dayumae was a big part of it. The Waodani were used to dealing with grief by spearing back. They saw a different way in the missionaries. What was the contrast? I think it’s obvious!

    By Blogger Bonnie, at 11:58 PM  

  • (cont.)

    I didn’t go into the film with many expectations, although I assumed it would be pretty good. I went with curiosity and, yes, a head and heart already “full” of the story which I had a rudimentary familiarity with from the standpoint of Jim Elliot’s role. The film did not disappoint me, except for the many elements in it that were not adequately explained. A few minutes of explanatory text at the beginning of the movie would’ve been very helpful; straightening out some of the screenplay would’ve been helpful as well. I thought that the remorse Mincayani seemed to show after spearing Nate Saint was odd, considering that it wasn’t really followed-up upon, except for the strange “angelic visitation” scene at the end. That part didn’t make sense to me either. But overall I don’t think those things detract from the film’s message.

    I'm not saying these scenes were absolutely awful, but they're not on the same level with the best work of Hollywood.

    I’ll give you that; I noted this also in my “brief commentary” on the film. Again, though, it’s a matter of expectations. To compete with the “best work of Hollywood,” you need first-rate actors, etc. This movie didn’t have them. Does that affect the evangelistic potential of the film? Perhaps, yet I’ve seen much worse acting, esp. on television shows (like soaps) that are quite popular, which is to say that I don’t think the acting was so bad in an overall comparison. I also think it takes more than stellar acting and a stellar screenplay to make a successful movie.

    Maybe I’m subconsciously comparing EOTS to the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, I don’t know. LWW was a spectacular movie, yet in many ways it disappointed me (which I wrote about). What bothered me the most was the very thing you are saying bothers you about EOTS – what lay behind actions and events were not shown (as they were in the book). Liberties were also taken with the plot. The thing is, those things are central to LWW; they are central to EOTS as well but in a different way. LWW was about illustrating the spiritual truth behind human motivations and the way God works and has worked. EOTS was a real-life conversion story that also illustrated forgiveness and the "ultimate sacrifice." I think that the producers wanted the story to tell the story, if you know what I mean, and didn’t want to preach. They wanted to make it accessible. And in this I think they succeeded. I don’t believe that it’s fair to spin these things as having a wrong motivation or purpose, as per my comment at your blog.

    By Blogger Bonnie, at 12:18 AM  

  • (cont. again)

    I honestly think there is no way for any of us to be “entirely objective” about this whole thing. It’s obviously an extremely loaded issue. Lots of strong feelings that are tied to lots of personal concerns have been brought out. I am no exception. Yet I have tried to understand where others are coming from, and to understand where I myself am coming from. In so doing, I’ve realized that none of us can escape those things that mean a lot to us. What we ought to do, though, is examine why these things mean a lot to us. Are we motivated by God’s heart/mind, or our own? Difficult stuff. Life is a struggle; holiness is a struggle, purity is a struggle, righteousness is a struggle, etc. etc. etc. All any of us (Christians) can do is fall on our knees before the Father and admit our human frailty and our reliance upon Him. Some of us may be more mature than others in different areas but we all have our strengths, and we all have our weaknesses. I am powerless to escape myself except for the mercy of God.

    It’s also clear to me that folks could go around and around forever criticizing the movie and never really accomplish much except self-expression, because of the subjectivity involved and because each person’s own opinion is dear to them. Does Allens’ involvement enhance the movie’s weaknesses? I don’t know that a definitive answer can be given to this question, or whether ETE would be completely responsible could one be given. I don’t think that ETE and Steve Saint ought to be publicly lambasted, though, for a decision that was theirs to make, whether they made the right one(s) or not. I’m realizing that this is true of anyone. We are supposed to be responsible for our own selves and not judgmental of others. Even parents must not judge their children, but use discernment and seek to correct them when necessary. We can be outspoken about what sin is and what it isn’t, but each person is then accountable to God. Some of us who are in direct relationship are accountable to one another, but I think we need to be careful. We’re better off deciding who we need to be accountable to rather than deciding who needs to be accountable to us.

    If ETE wanted the support of evangelicals in promoting their film, which they say could be used evangelically, then they must expect that those evangelicals would examine/evaluate what kind of gospel message the film was giving.

    This is certainly true. I wonder, though, whether the judgment of some has been clouded by the controversy over Allen. There have been many who refused to even consider the movie because of Allen’s involvement, which, of course, is their prerogative. Apart from a reason having to do with Allen, though, I can’t imagine why churches would not want to support a film that at least has a chance (and, IMO, a pretty good chance) of influencing people for Christ. I still applaud what ETE was trying to do.

    By Blogger Bonnie, at 12:24 AM  

  • LWW was marketed by a non-Christian company. Spear was marketed by a non-Christian company. The possibility of both movies being used evangelistically is there. Saying that speculation is "logical" or "obvious" doesn't change it from being specualtion. It is also getting sort of picky to be honest. Allen may have been invited on King because of the movie or may not. No-one actually knows. So much has been made of that interview by some Christians - yet if you follow it through you see the exchange between Parshall and Allen - in which he agrees that his spiritual beliefs are not the same as the missionaries depicted in the movie, and that the message they took, and died for, was the gospel of Jesus Christ.

    I have to agree with Bonnie here regarding using the movie as a platform. In fact Allen has since been interviewed on playing his roles in the movie and not once mentions his sexuality or spiritual beliefs. (Bonnie - the link is at Dignans).

    Also missing from this is any understanding of the reactions from the gay community - it has been considerably muted and Allen has referred to the fact that he has had negative responses from that quarter too. And of course he will - because the film makers have publicly expressed the Christian position on homosexuality, and the film is a Christian film. If anyone has a platform it is the Christians here.

    The issue of how the gospel was presented is subjective. It is neither here nor there really. Some people love the movie, some don't. Some see the gospel in it. Some don't. I think the argument about the gospel in the movie has ben tacked on as subjective expectation on top of an inability to see the actor as just an actor.

    In response to Rusty - I am not taking a casual view of the sinner at all. I am taking a view of some-one acting in a movie. Lots of sinners act in movies.

    Anyway, I'll leave it there as it just goes round and round, and I said what I really had to say in my own post.

    Good comments Bonnie. I agree with this:
    Apart from a reason having to do with Allen, though, I can’t imagine why churches would not want to support a film that at least has a chance (and, IMO, a pretty good chance) of influencing people for Christ. I still applaud what ETE was trying to do.

    By Blogger Catez, at 4:49 AM  

  • Bonnie, these excellent posts and the very thoughtful comments have me thinking about how Christians can reach into the gay culture with the Gospel.

    Nate Saint and his fellow missionaries did exactly what Christ did: they took Christ's love to people who lived in darkness. They emptied themselves of every right and privilege and went to see the Waodani face to face. The Waodani were never going to leave the jungle, so the Gospel had to go to the Waodani.

    So the overarching story of a redeemer, incarnate God is portrayed in a way we can all relate to through the example of these missionaries. And that is why this story is so powerful. It isn't their deaths, per se, but that they willingly risked everything for the opportunity to reach the Waodani with the love of Christ.

    Perhaps this movie, which seems to have created so much scandal, was ultimately intended by God not as a tribute to a group of martyred missionaries but as a way into the gay community. No one can know the mind of God and I surely do not. But at times, though we set out to accomplish one thing, God works his sovereignty in quite unexpected ways, and we find ourselves surprised and participating in something we did not intend -- something much better than we intended.

    The Waodani have responded to the Gospel. Today, it is the west that lives in darkness.

    Who is going to bring the Gospel to the west? More to the point, who will go to this alienated GLBT subculture with the sort of love that Nate Saint showed the Waodani? And, I suppose I'm led to wonder if we done harm to that love by the way we have maligned Chad Allen and this movie. I think we have.

    By Blogger Charlie, at 2:22 AM  

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