Category Archives: Culture War

God’s Not Dead 2: A Movie That Scores on Its Own Net

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God’s Not Dead 2 is the second installment in the popular Christian films series.  The first film, God’s Not Dead, hit theaters in 2014.  The plot of that movie featured a Christian college student who accepted a challenge from his atheist professor to convince the class of God’s existence.  The third film, God’s Not Dead 3, is scheduled to be released in the Spring of 2018.

God’s Not Dead 2 (2016) depicts the persecution of a Christian public school teacher who was sued because of her mention of Jesus in the classroom.  Grace, a dedicated history teacher at Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial High School, taught a lesson on how Martin Luther King, Jr. and Gandhi both used non-violent methods to effect major social change in their countries.  A student asked whether Jesus’ statement to “Love your enemies” was similar.  The teacher agreed and mentioned how Martin Luther King, Jr. was heavily influenced by Scripture.  She was disciplined by the school board, and sued by the ACLU for violating the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution.  This storyline resonates with Christians in America where bakers, florists, photographers, and the like, are losing their businesses because their convictions clash with the popular secular humanist ethics of the day.

The movie has a few side plots to go along with the main story.  A female reporter/blogger, Amy Ryan, a former antagonist to Christianity, discovers her cancer is in remission.  (See God’s Not Dead for more on this storyline.)  Now, she is struggling with godsnotdead2athoughts that her new-found faith was merely an emotional response to her cancer.  She begins a journey to explore this faith now without the interference of that crisis.  This subplot of a miraculous cure for cancer after conversion and prayer has the tendency to perpetuate the thinking that prayer will always be answered the way we want, and that all you have to do to be healed is to believe hard enough.  As any Christian who has been tested will tell you, that is not the case.  (Here is an example of what I mean from my own life experience.)  The subplot, however, is not too over-the-top with Christian emotionalism that leaves sound doctrine in the shadows.  The movie awkwardly gets free-lance reporter, played by Trisha LaFache, involved in the lawsuit when her niece, played by Sadie Robertson of Duck Dynasty, asks for her help.  Her role was supposedly to get the word out that a Christian school teacher was being persecuted for her faith.  This part of the movie has no real flow, or believability.

Pastor Dave Hill, played by David A.R. White, seems to be going through a slump.  He stubs his toe at breakfast, has iced coffee spilled down the front of his shirt, and he inadvertently dumps his coffee when trying to unlock the church office door.  The slump continued with the mail: bills, bills, bills, junk mail, and, to top it off, a jury summons.  In his rut, he seems to be questioning God’s purpose for his life.  As the lawsuit moves on, that purpose is to be Juror No. 12.  He is a pastor with a cynical outlook on life, as portrayed by his reading the newspaper instead of paying attention to his online jury orientation.  He figures, as 1 of 300 jurors summoned, he has a better chance at getting godsnotdead-davidarwhitestruck by lightning than being assigned to the jury, so why should he waste his time.  (Incidentally, according to National Geographic News, the odds of getting struck by lightning in the U.S. are around 1 in 700,000.  So, Pastor Dave would be incorrect that his 1 out of 300 odds to be paneled on the jury is a longer shot than being struck by lightning.)  Instead of lightning, he is struck with acute appendicitis while in the courtroom.  He again wonders what the purpose for his jury service was.  He saw the opportunity to make a difference for God by being on the jury, but now he is in a hospital, recovering from surgery.  His friend encourages him to have faith, God’s plan is at work.

God often orchestrates events that do not make sense to us.  We can see only partly.  We do not have all the necessary information to understand events or motives.  But “[W]e know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28.  Do we really trust God?  That is what faith really is about: trust.  Not believing hard enough that something is true.  Faith is about trusting what God said, even when our circumstances tell us otherwise.  (See my post A Celebration of Life.)  Our approach to our faith in God is often with the same cynical nature as Pastor Dave.  (I am looking me straight in the mirror.)  We come to expect disappointments from God because he seems to so often answer our prayers with “No” or “I have something else for you.”  But, this cynicism really stems from both ingratitude and mistrust.  We are ungrateful for what God does give us and we do not really believe God’s plan for us is for our good.  God does not always orchestrate our healing from cancer, or our winning court cases against secular humanists that seem to permeate all levels of government.  But, trust God we must.

The central struggle in this movie is certainly plausible.  An anonymous tip to an anti-Christian organization brings a team of angry atheist lawyers against a school teacher or school policy.  Organizations such as the Freedom From Religion Foundation, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the ACLU all are antagonistic toward God, and therefore to his family.  We have seen them persecute Christian bakers in Colorado and Oregon, a florist in Washington, photographers in New Mexico.  The list doesn’t stop there.  Military personnel, monuments, high-school coaches, college students, government mandated abortion coverage.  I could go on.  So, the plot in God’s Not Dead 2 is not only believable, it is already a reality.

Despite the plausibility of the plot, the storyline really has some glaring problems from a legal perspective.  Although the case is styled as a civil lawsuit, Thawley v. Wesley, it comes off as if Grace is a criminal defendant.  First, she is the only defendant.  The school gods_not_dead2courtroom1district is not on trial.  While this is not unusual for a state employee to be personally liable for violations of the Constitution, a lawsuit almost always includes the “deep pockets” as a defendant because that is how lawyers make their money.  In the movie, however, the school board attorney stated that the ACLU was not interested in suing the school, only the teacher.  This point is later contradicted by the ACLU attorney, but a second lawsuit against the school board may go nowhere because the plaintiff’s failed to join the necessary party for the first lawsuit.  A second reason the case comes across as a criminal trial stems from Grace’s first meeting with her union appointed attorney who was hired from the public defender’s office.  She insists to him that she is not a criminal.  Her attorney said “Don’t be so sure about that.”  Third, when Grace is called to the stand she questions the judge whether she is required to testify, as if a civil defendant has the same Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination as a criminal defendant.  Fourthly, after the examination of Grace as a witness, the judge asks her attorney if he would like to change her plea.  He answers “No, your Honor. I say she is innocent of all wrongdoing” which sounds a lot like discussion about a criminal defendant.  Several aspects about this script make the nature of the case unclear.

Without getting into an esoteric discussion about the dynamics of the way voir dire (jury selection) was conducted (eg. attorneys do not object to jurors in front of the jury), or the fact that the godsnotdeadvoirdirelawyer for the defendant went straight into closing argument while his client was still on the stand, this trial scene was hard to watch as an attorney.  It makes for good theatre, but the movie script was very sloppy surrounding the trial.

More problematic for this movie than the sloppy script was the huge violations of the rules of professional conduct by Grace’s attorney.  Let’s start with their first meeting.  Grace meets with her new attorney in the non-confidential, public place of a coffee shop.  According to Arkansas Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 1.6 (c) (the setting of the movie is in Arkansas) states “A lawyer shall make reasonable efforts to prevent the inadvertent or unauthorized disclosure of, or unauthorized access to, information relating to the representation of a client.”  By meeting in a public place where anyone could overhear their discussion, the lawyer might be violating this rule.  Also, he may lose the claim for Attorney-Client Privilege for the discussion in the coffee shop because the communication was not kept in confidence.

The most egregious violations, however, occurred when Grace’s lawyer put her on the stand.  First, in putting her on the stand against her will he violated Rule 1.2(a) where a lawyer shall abide by a client’s decisions concerning the objectives of representation, and, as required by Rule 1.4, shall consult with the client as to the means by which they are to be pursued.  Rule 1.4(a)(2) requires the attorney reasonably consult with the client about the means by which the client’s objectives are to be accomplished.  By surprising his client with his antagonistic tactic, he failed to consult with her on the objectives of the representation.

Second, in his questioning of his client on the stand he asks her to apologize and to admitgodsnotdead2perjury she made a mistake.  She told the court that she couldn’t do it because she did not believe she did anything wrong.  Her attorney then said “As your attorney, I’m advising you to do it anyway.”  By advising his client to lie under oath, he violated Rule 1.2(d) “A lawyer shall not counsel a client to engage, or assist a client, in conduct that the lawyer knows is criminal or fraudulent….”  Perjury is a crime.  Advising his client to testify to the court something that she believes to be a lie is counseling her to commit a crime.

Third, he revealed confidential communications of his client to the court without consulting her in violation of Rule 1.6(a) “A lawyer shall not reveal information relating to representation of a client unless the client gives informed consent, the disclosure is impliedly authorized in order to carry out the representation or the disclosure is permitted….”  Grace had told her attorney that God had spoken to her when she encountered a church sign that read “Who do you say that I am?”  In his witness examination of her, he revealed the existence and nature of that conversation to the court.  Thus, revealing information relating to the representation of his client without consulting her.

godsnotdeadlawyerGrace’s attorney is more of a clown than an attorney.  He comes across as incompetent when it comes to the rules of conduct he must uphold (which would violate Rule 1.1).  His behavior would certainly warrant disciplinary action from his state bar.

The most disappointing part of the movie was, however, the whole trial strategy employed by Grace and her attorney to transform the case from being about religious expression in the classroom to merely a discussion on what is or is not historical fact.  Grace tells her attorney “Listen, this isn’t about faith.  This is about history…Their whole attack is about me preaching in class, but I didn’t do that…We can separate the history based elements of Jesus’ life from the faith based element.”  No longer was that case godsnotdeadvoirdire2about her being persecuted for expressing her faith in school.  It became a trial on whether Jesus Christ existed.  Who is even arguing that Jesus never existed?  I suppose for a movie called God’s Not Dead, the existence of God the Son would be central to the plot.  However, the movie portrays her as a martyr who was persecuted for her faith, when in the end her defense was simply “Nuh-uh, I didn’t express my faith in the classroom.  I simply talked about an historical figure.  See, Jesus is an historical figure just like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Gandhi.”  The implication is that expressions of faith still do not belong in the classroom.  The movie pretends to champion religious liberty.  But in the end it just reinforced the “separation of Church and State” myth by making the case about history instead of faith.

For a Christian movie, it was rather disappointing.  If this movie sought to inspire the own goal giffaithful to endure such persecutions, this movie was a dud, a swing-and-a-miss.  In fact, the true metaphor for this movie is to compare it to scoring on your own goal.  Instead of slaying a giant (the prohibition of religious expression in the classroom), the movie settled for knocking down a straw man (that Jesus Christ did not exist as an historical figure).  In doing so, this movie perpetuates the myth of separation of Church and state.  (And there goes the ball into our own net.)

I hope God’s Not Dead 3 is better.

 

 

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Judgment Day Is Coming to Hollywood

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Often I’ve heard that tiresome canard “I don’t go to church because it’s full of hypocrites.”  People dismiss the truth claims of Christianity because of the hypocrisy of Christians.  Mahatma Ghandi famously said “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”  Setting aside the fact that Ghandi is hardly an expert on Jesus, and his comparison between Christ and Christians came from having created a “Jesus” to his own liking, Christians do fall short of perfection.  The truth is the Church is filled with hypocrites.  But Christianity is the one place hypocrites can go to be cured from their hypocrisy.  Church is the “hospital” for hypocrites.

In fact, in the 1980s, a cleansing judgment on hypocrisy began with the house of God.  Several scandals centering around sexual and financial improprieties rocked the Church scandal.jpgChurch.  Televangelists Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart made headlines for their sexual and financial infidelities.  Oral Roberts insisted in a fund-raising campaign that God would let him die if he did not raise $8 million.

The Catholic Church endured its own cleansing when allegations came out of priests who struggled with homosexuality molested young boys.  An analysis of the abuse of children under age 17 by priests from 1950 to 2002 showed that over 10,000 victims reported being molested.  Some have suggested that there may have been as many as 100,000 victims.  Nearly 5,000 priests were accused, which is roughly 4% of the 109,000 priests in the American Catholic Church.

These televangelists and pedophile priests made Christianity a laughingstock.  But the Church dealt with the hypocrites by removing them from their ministries and from fletch lives2positions of leadership.  Instead of letting the Church deal with its hypocrisy by itself, Hollywood, as a representative of the larger pop culture, lambasted the Church by making televangelists the villains in their movies like Chevy Chase’s Fletch Lives, Steve Martin’s Leap of Faith, and Steve Curry and Annie Potts’ Pass the Ammo.

Hollywood couldn’t keep itself from throwing stones at the Catholic Church with movies such as Philomena, The Magdalene SistersStigmata, The Da Vinci Code, and 2015’s Spotlight about the Boston Globe’s investigation into the child abuse allegations and cover up by the Catholic Church in Boston, starring Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, and Mark Ruffalo.

However, Hollywood over the years built its own sexual-predatory glass empire equipped with several casting couches.

Having continually cast stones at those who promote high moral standards, judgment is now coming to Hollywood.  (By “Hollywood” I mean American pop culture at large, but especially those in film media.)  Hollywood has its own long history of scandals and hypocrisy.  Does anyone remember fugitive child rapist Roman Polanski, and Woody Allen’s sexual liberties with Mia Farrow’s adopted children?  Hollywood protects its own.  It even awarded Polanski an Oscar for Best Director in 2003 to thunderous applause, and Meryl Streep’s standing ovation. 

Corey Feldman spoke out against the pedophilia in Hollywood that he said led to his friend Corey Haim’s death.  Hollywood and the media put on the full-court press to shutdown the truth from getting out.  During a segment on The View in 2016 with Corey Feldman as a guest, Barbara Walters asked him, “Are you saying they’re pedophiles?…Are you saying they’re still in this business?”  Corey Feldman answered “Yes.”  Barbara Walters then lamented that Corey Feldman was “damaging an entire industry.”  No, it wasn’t the pedophiles who were damaging an entire industry.  Barbara Walters hypocritically blamed the victim for speaking out. 

Hollywood came to the defense of President Bill Clinton who preyed on a White House intern.  His sexual misconduct was excused because he kept abortion legal.  (Just ask reporter Nina Burleigh who famously said “I would be happy to give him [oral sex] just to thank him for keeping abortion legal.  I think American women should be lining up with their Presidential kneepads on to show their gratitude for keeping the theocracy off our backs.”)  Hillary Clinton and James Carville worked overtime to smear Bill’s many accusers as “trailer trash.”

Now, dozens of women have accused media mogul Harvey Weinstein of sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape.  In the throes of this scandal Harvey said “I came of age in the 60s and 70s when all the rules about behavior and workplaces were different.  That was the culture then.  I have since learned that it’s not an excuse, in the office – or out of it. To anyone.”  Essentially, he is saying “Please excuse my moral ignorance. Now that I’m caught I’m a changed man.”  But, it was a story that the media knew about as far back as 2004.  NBC, however, spiked the story and flushed any of its remaining credibility down the drain.  In 2004, the New York Times dropped the Weinstein story when two actors, Matt Damon and Russell Crowe, urged the publication to back off.

Hollywood cannot sweep these accusations under the rug.  As more accusers come out, more and more people in the film industry have to admit to their knowledge, and their silence.  But, what has Weinstein done that Bill Clinton did not do to Paula Jones, Juanita Broaddrick, Kathleen Willey, Gennifer Flowers, Monica Lewinsky?  Why does Harvey have to go to rehab in Europe while Bill was able to serve out his term as president and remains at large?  In order to protect itself and its devious sexual practices, the power brokers of Hollywood will try to make Harvey the sacrificial lamb. 

The scandal of sexual deviance, however, does not end with Harvey.  Treating women (and young boys) as sex objects seems to be a systemic problem in Hollywood.  Ben Affleck recently apologized for groping Hilarie Burton and is now accused of groping a makeup artist.  The Left’s new Trump-hating darling, Jimmy Kimmel, is taking some flak for having done a bit for his “Man Show” that had women guess what was in his pants, telling one of them “Maybe it would be easier if you put your mouth on it.”  According to the UK’s Mirror, other Hollywood studios, producers, and actors are in fear of being exposed for their own “lay for pay” deals.  The Harvey scandal may just be scratching the surface.

In the midst of the televangelist scandals, Hollywood ignored its hypocrisy.  How did Hollywood respond to these Church scandals such as the PTL scandal?  They empowered the “victim” by having her take her clothes off.  The $269,000 hush money Jim Bakker paid to Jessica Hahn couldn’t keep her mouth shut, or her clothes on.  Touting her as “no longer a victim,” Playboy featured Jessica Hahn in pictorials in November 1987, September 1988, and December 1992.  She even made an appearance on Married with Children in 1991 as Al Bundy’s shoe-loving temptress, who tried to seduce the married Bundy into an adulterous affair.  Hollywood took the “victim” of the PTL sex scandal and starred her in roles as a hussy.

Doesn’t anyone else see the hypocrisy in that?

Hollywood was not concerned that preachers failed to live up to their moral standards.  Hollywood was angry that preachers had moral standards and that they insisted those standards are universal.  With the televangelist scandals of the 80s, Hollywood could safely drone on and on about “hypocrisy” in the Church while eschewing moral standards and ignoring its own hypocritical scandals.

No, the Church does not hold a monopoly on hypocrisy.  With the silence on Roman Polanski, Woody Allen, Harvey Weinstein, institutional pedophilia, Hollywood has a lot of explaining to do.  Having made much about Trump’s bragging that he could grab women with impunity, Hollywood now has to deal with an epidemic of studio executives, media moguls, and producers grabbing aspiring actors with impunity. 

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has now expelled Harvey.  In a statement the Academy said this expulsion was “to send a message that the era of willful ignorance and shameful complicity in sexually predatory behavior and workplace harassment in our industry is over…The Board continues to work to establish ethical standards of conduct that all Academy members will be expected to exemplify.”  Let us hope that is true.  Will Hollywood apply this new standard to the likes of Polanski and Allen?  Doubtful.  Unlike the Church, Hollywood is not submitted to a higher moral authority than themselves.  Instead of dealing with the larger problem, I’m afraid Hollywood will continue in its hypocrisy while hoping to make this current controversy just about Harvey.

Sexual Liberation of Women Leads to Sexual Slavery

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The article “We Were All Meant To Be Sluts” is one author’s attempt to liberate women from the sexual shackles placed on them by society.  The author, however, actually undermines the goal the author set out to achieve.  He wants to liberate women’s sexuality from society’s “system” of morality.  However, his postmodern advice will only lead to the sexual slavery of women.  (I do find it somewhat self-serving that a MAN would champion the sexual liberation of women, perhaps creating more willing sexual experiences for himself.)

Mark Groves, the author, asked “If sexuality and sexual freedom brings our character into question, then what do we think about the many wise and amazing human beings who found themselves and learned their lessons through sexual exploration and being open-mindedhit-by-bus about making mistakes?”  This statement assumes that personal experience is a preferred way of gaining wisdom.  You can certainly gain wisdom by walking in front of a moving bus, but wisdom from doing that is best learned from other people’s experiences.  There are consequences to sex outside of the safety of marriage, especially if those sexual encounters are frequent.  Sexual boundaries are meant to protect people from the consequences of promiscuity.

Mark also based most of his article on a straw man argument that those who promote the benefits of marriage and warn against the consequences of sex outside of the lifetime straw manexclusivity of one man and one woman have a “fear of sexuality.”  Yes, there are consequences for promiscuity that can have serious repercussions for families and society.  But, we do not fear the sex act.  Sex within the boundaries of marriage is satisfying and stabilizing.  Sex within marriage protects women from the savage, unrestrained sexuality of men.

Mark reduced marriage from a sacred status to simply “a beautiful thing” because the “divine heterosexuals who rule the institution” get divorced, commit adultery, and view pornography.  He is saying that marriage is only as important as people treat it; that the worth of marriage is wrapped up in the worth people give it.  By that logic black slaves were unimportant because slave owners treated them poorly; or that women in Saudi Arabia are less valuable than men because they are treated poorly.  Contrary to Mark’s assertion, marriage has inherent worth regardless of whether people treat it as valuable, because the One who created the institution of marriage defined and gave it value.  That people do not value what is inherently valuable does not reduce marriage’s worth.

In a bit of hypocrisy, Mark decried the suppression of female (promiscuous) sexuality in one breath, but then in the next breath, he shames the sexual freedom of rapists, child molesters, and people with sexual fetishes.  By what standard of morality does he condemn rape and child molestation?  Who decreed those sexual practices to be wrong?francis schaeffer feet in mid air.jpg  Mark Groves? Society?  If society has decreed rape wrong, isn’t that just another “system” that interferes with someone’s sexual freedom?  Didn’t society once say homosexual sex should be punished? Isn’t it society’s “system” that puts the brakes on female (promiscuous) sexuality?  Why is Mark upholding one system that suppresses someone’s sexual freedom while trying to tear down that system for sexual practices he prefers?  The truth is, Mark has no standard by which he chooses other than his own personal preferences.  Christianity, on the other hand, has a moral foundation for saying rape and child molestation is wrong because such acts are decreed wrong by a transcendent moral source, God.  In reality, Christianity promotes an eternal, objective standard of morality, while Mark promotes a relative, subjective standard that changes with the whims of society.

Towards the end of his article Mark offered a bit of postmodern nonsense advice.  He postmodernism relative truthsaid “There is no one way to do anything. And anyone who claims to have it all figured out is the very person to run from” and “There is no ‘right way’. There is only your way. And no one knows your life better than you. Live YOUR truth.”  He is essentially saying “You can’t tell people what to do” which is, of course, telling you what to do.  The problem with this advice is that it is self-defeating.  Self-defeating statements cannot possibly be true.  He is saying that truth is relative. The problem here is that he is making an absolute truth claim.  He is saying “It is true that truth doesn’t apply to everyone.” But in order for him to make that claim, his truth claim has to be true for everyone.  His assertion is self-defeating, and therefore, not true.  The truth is that truth is true for everyone.

Mark tries to summon the magic of John Lennon’s “Imagine” with his several “Imagine if” statements. He said “Imagine if we were told to just play, see, and feel.”  Yes, imagine acalvinhobbesmoralrelativism world where everyone did as he pleased.  Imagine if there were no judgments to prevent you from playing, seeing, and feeling what you’d like. Imagine no boundaries where the strength of men overpowers the weakness of women, but no one was allowed to make any judgments.  That is the world Mark Groves will find with his bad advice.

He tries to prevent this outcome by asserting “all of our decisions just need to be guided by our human capacity and desire to be kind. If every decision we made were based on the answer to the question: ‘What would love do?'”  But, Mark has no moral foundation to base his guidance on “human capacity and desire to be kind.”  “Human capacity and desire to be kind?” What if someone doesn’t want to be kind?  What gives Mark the authority to force someone to make decisions on kindness?  Who gets to define what “kindness” is?

Mark talked about “love” but then in the end just defines love as the sexual act.  “You are the expert of you. You know you better than anyone. You know how you love. You know what feels good, and you know what your heart beats for. You know what you want to try and what you are curious about.”  “Love” in his imaginary world is nothing more than the banality of sex for the sake of an orgasm.

human-trafficking.jpgAll that Mark has done with his article is to give people an excuse to “Live YOUR truth,” to abandon commitments because they are no longer pleasurable.  That world would not be paradise for women, but a hell on earth. Trying to liberate women, Mark Groves would put them in chains.