I have been reading with my usual mix of amusement, sadness, and disbelief the growing debate over the movie End of the Spear. Some in the Christian community have decided to grab the pitchforks, light the torches, and storm the gates of Every Tribe Entertainment, the production company behind the movie. In case you have been a cloistered monk until today I will give you a bit of background. Here is the mission statement from the company’s website.
- To create quality entertainment for a broad audience that inspires hope through truth. Every Tribe Entertainment grew out of the hopes and dreams of film-makers and individuals who desire to make a difference in our world and in our culture. Frustrated with the lack of quality story content in films today, and driven to provide more than just entertainment in our films, Every Tribe was founded to bring to life stories of courage and strength of the human spirit. Courage, tolerance, mercy, forgiveness, faith and love. We base our film choices on what we hope to inspire rather than what we hope to sell. This philosophy has its fingerprints on what we do and how we do it. We hope to inspire all who view our films as well as those who work with us to create them.
Sounds good. Every Tribe Entertainment was the darling of the Evangelical community because the company planned to release a theatrical version of the amazing story of Nate Saint. He and his four missionary colleagues were murdered trying to reach the Waodani tribe of Ecuador. But Evangelicals, like a mistreated pit bull, can turn on you in a heartbeat. I know that to be true because I am part of the Evangelical tribe and my first book brought out a few of those pit bulls (when they grab on it is hard to shake them off!). The primary reason that we have released the hounds on Every Tribe Entertainment is their choice to cast Chad Allen as the main character in the movie. Allen plays the dual roles of Nate Saint and later his grown up son Steve. The choice is generating great controversy because Chad Allen is a gay activist and recently appeared on the cover of the leading gay magazine. This has caused a flood of anguish about what we should do about the movie and how we should respond to Every Tribe Entertainment. Here are my thoughts in no particular order of importance…
1) What should we do with the movie?
Go see it.
It is a very good movie with a powerful message. Don’t worry about sin in the lives of the cast or crew. If that becomes a criteria you will never see another movie in your life. Actually, you won’t even be able to go to church! Remember the incredible and heartwarming story of Eric Liddell that was told in the movie Chariots of Fire? The role of Liddell was played by Ian Charleston, a gay actor. Does that mean the impact of Chariots of Fire has been diminished? Of course not. And I believe the supernatural message of redemption and forgiveness in End of the Spear is not affected because Christians might not like the choice of Chad Allen.
2) What should we do about Every Tribe Entertainment?
Write them and thank them.
They have put their time and treasure into making a movie that they believe in. Just because you might not like every part of it does diminish what these men and women are trying to do. My late friend and mentor Bob Briner would have been rejoicing to see a company like this using their skills and vision within the culture. His book Roaring Lambs (http://roaring-lambs.org/) was a major influence in my life. Bob once said, “It’s time for believers to confidently carry their faith with them into the marketplace so that our very culture feels the difference.” That is what the people at Every Tribe Entertainment are trying to do. I commend them.
I also know that what they are attempting is not easy and we should be supporting them as the body of Christ in prayer and encouragement. Perhaps they will take a little different approach for their next project if we (the Evangelical Pit Bulls of America…or EPBA) don’t cause them to give up and go live in the jungles of Ecuador.
3) Should Christians be concerned about a gay activist playing such an important role?
Not in the way that I suspect most are concerned.
Jason Janz wrote about his concerns at his weblog (http://www.sharperiron.org/showthread.php?t=2244). He voices some issues that I would gently disagree with and discuss. Here are some of Jason’s thoughts.
“Every Tribe Productions seems to believe that there would never be a case where someone’s public and known behavior would ever disqualify him from playing a Christian missionary in a film. Does anyone really believe that Chad Allen was the best possible actor for Nate Saint? This would be like Madonna playing the virgin Mary. I propose that the Christian film-making community come up with a code of ethics that will show the difference between a Christian film company and a secular film company. If you are going to ask for our loyalty and support, you need to be willing to hear our concerns and let us know that you will protect our beliefs, not muddy the waters.”
First of all, Every Tribe Entertainment thought that Chad Allen was the best choice and they put up the money to get it produced. If we want to do a better job we could choose to drop our stones of criticism and enter the arena. I don’t believe that a company who produces a film needs to be willing to hear my concerns before they spend their money. They can always ask for my loyalty and support but it is my call as to whether it is merited. But coming up with a “code of ethics” to warrant our support is not an idea I can support. I believe if Every Tribe had done that they would have produced a film that played only to Christians and would have gone straight to video after collecting about $200 in box office revenues.
The leadership of Every Tribe issued this statement to the Baptist Press.
“We are the filmmakers of End of the Spear. We cast Chad Allen because he had the best audition of anyone else by far. We know that the character in the film and the actor are not the same. If as a film company we could only work with people who were completely sanctified, then the film would never have been made. We do not agree with Chad over homosexuality. End of the Spear is not about Chad Allen, but rather it’s about remarkable people who lived their faith against all odds, and dared to reach out at the cost of their lives.”
I am praying for God to bless the efforts of this company. I believe their mission is sincere. Even if they made a mistake in casting Chad Allen I still believe that the awesome and sovereign God can use the power of this story in the lives of many viewers. My God is the same God who told Isaiah, “My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.” His plan will be accomplished. And imagine the uproar and further damage between evangelicals and the gay community if Every Tribe had dropped Allen after learning of his advocacy.
The Baptist Press continued in their story about the End of the Spear controversy.
“The producers have said they were not aware of Chad Allen’s homosexuality when they gave him the role of Steve Saint in the film but decided to stick with him once they were told of his sexual practices. Saint, who has befriended Allen, hopes that the film will help people see “that all of us have tragic, shattered relationships in our lives and that God is the one who can put them back together in incredible ways.”
“If Mincaye and I can be very close friends, be family, love each other, and my kids and my grandchildren can love Mincaye and his family -– if that can happen out of the tragic relationship that we started with –- then maybe it’ll give people hope that their strained relationships can also be reconciled and that, better yet, God can be part of the answer,” Saint said in an interview with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association’s Decision magazine.”
As for Chad Allen I have a very simple strategy. I am praying for him. If we believe that his beliefs and lifestyle are unbiblical then how about challenging the body of Christ to pray for him? I am afraid that the firestorm that has greeted his role in this movie has not caused Chad Allen to want to reevaluate his syncretic view of faith and embrace the liberating truth of the gospel. He has had the privilege of portraying a martyr for our Lord Jesus. But he is merely an actor. Chad Allen is not Nate Saint. I find it an amazing irony that the word hypocrite comes from the Greek word for actor. Hyprokrites means one who plays a part, an actor. Perhaps all of us should take a moment to see if the actor who is the real problem is the one in the mirror. I am a sinner saved by grace. Pray for me. Pray for Every Tribe Entertainment. Pray for Chad Allen. Pray that our Evangelical agenda will not keep away those who would be touched and even changed by this story. And pray that every Christian will hide this truth in his or her heart…
This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. (Romans 3, NIV)