In the film God’s Not Dead (2014), college freshman Josh Wheaton (Shane Harper) accepts a challenge from his teacher, Professor Radisson (Kevin Sorbo), to prove to his classmates there is a chance God exists.
I saw the new movie God’s Not Dead (2014, Pure Flix Entertainment) Monday because my mom wanted to go, and that’s the kind of stuff momma’s boys do (mom 4 life). Afterward, though, I was glad I went.
It was an educational experience, and aside from some of the typical Christian movie cheesiness (if you grew up around the culture, you know exactly what I’m talking about), there were some tremendous, intellectual moments in the classroom scenes.
I’m wiser for having gone, and I encourage you to see it, too. This blog is not meant to discourage you from seeing the movie; it’s meant to fuel conversation.
I could relate with the protagonist’s plight, which is proving to his class that God is real – or, rather, proving that there is reason to even entertain the thought that there is an all-powerful creator. During my first semester of college, I also took an introductory philosophy class at a public university with a dubious-of-Christianity professor similar to the one in God’s Not Dead, and for my final project I chose to defend my belief in God.
In retrospect, it was a poorly developed essay – I read a lot of heavy material in a short amount of time about the second law of thermodynamics, Thomas Aquinas, and the Big Bang, and then I rushed out a paper – and he, being brilliant and well read, easily found the loopholes. (Are you judging me? All freshmen procrastinate, I swear!) I received a mediocre grade. I was proud of having done it, though; it challenged my faith.
So you’ll understand why I respected the protagonist, Josh, and despite the overwhelming obviousness of its appeal to strictly a Christian audience– I cannot picture any of my non-Christian friends attending or enjoying the film – I see immense value in the movie.
My main issue with it came, surprisingly, in the closing credits. At the conclusion of the film, white words scrolled across the screen reading, “This film is dedicated to the following college student groups who were persecuted for their faith,” or a reasonable facsimile thereof. Let’s think about what those words imply: that college students were not free to openly practice their Christianity or praise God at school, or that they received harsh punishment for attempting to do so. It’s a dramatic proposition considering we live in a country that practices freedom of religion (shout-out to Lord Baltimore!), and it’s not one to take lightly.
I perked up and began scrolling the list for my school’s name.
Sure enough, it came right at the end: UB Students for Life vs. SUNY Buffalo.
It made me uneasy. It almost made me mad. It inspired me to write this post.
Christians, it’s time to stop claiming we’ve been “persecuted for our faith” when the phrase does not apply. Persecution is not a light term, and throwing it around flippantly will not benefit us. It’ll make people even more doubtful that this God stuff in which we believe so passionately is credible.
I witnessed the UB Students for Life vs. SUNY Buffalo court case developing. It all started about a year ago, April 2013. Students for Life is an anti-abortion group on my campus, and they are extremely active in promoting their beliefs – which is 100 percent their prerogative.
But many UB students believe they crossed the line last year, when they invited this group called the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform to bring their “Genocide Awareness Project” to campus. The Center set up graphic billboards displaying photos of aborted fetuses and dead bodies from genocides like the Holocaust directly in front of the Student Union – essentially forcing every UB student to look at these horrifying images for two days.
I saw the trucks setting up. My response was immediate: Uh-oh.
As you might imagine, with this happening at the biggest public school in one of the most liberal states in the country, this spurred quite a response. Many students protested the display. There was spirited debate between both sides. Most of it, from what I observed from standing around for a couple of hours each day, was respectful (with, of course, a few exceptions). Here is more coverage from the newspaper for which I work: Anti-abortion display invokes student response.
I took a deep breath when it was over. Thank goodness.
Seven weeks later, though, Students for Life sued UB – not for money, but to force the school to admit it had “violated the constitutional rights” of the club’s free speech by not disbanding the protestors.
UB issued a statement in response: “As a public university, it is a fundamental value of UB that all members of the campus community and their invited guests have a right to peacefully express their views and opinions, regardless of whether others may disagree with those expressions.”
I couldn’t agree more. Being a journalist, I care deeply about the First Amendment. And I believe UB handled the situation properly and certainly did not persecute the group members for their faith.
Again, it was Students for Life’s right to set up their display, but it was also the other students’ right to protest the event – the photos were enough to make you sick to your stomach.
Do you realize the irony of Students for Life suing UB? They essentially said, “UB violated our freedom of speech by allowing other students to have freedom of speech!”
Which brings me back to the movie. These UB students were not persecuted for their faith. Not even close. Remember that I’m speaking from a Christian college student’s point of view.
This phrase – persecuted for their faith – has convicted me since I saw the movie’s credits. Using it in this case is nothing less than propaganda. Most students protested the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform’s event not because they were arguing for abortion rights but because they didn’t want to be forced to stare at horrifying images between classes. Can you really argue with that?
I didn’t want to look at them. I’m guessing you wouldn’t either.
Saying these UB students were “persecuted for their faith” makes Christians look crazy, oversensitive, and hypocritical.
For what it’s worth, the Students for Life didn’t ask to be put in this sequence. I know SFL’s president from the time very well, and he was surprised when I told him about the credits. He knows this blog post is going up. It’s not about his group. That’s a separate debate. I just needed to explain the situation to bring us back to why the credits irked me.
When Christian movies say situations like this one denote students are being “persecuted for their faith,” it becomes all the harder for me to witness to my coworkers, to convince my classmates to come to church with me.
So, this is my plea: Stop throwing around the phrase. Movie companies, this goes out to you. Do your homework before using it. Speak those powerful words only when they apply.
We are in this journey together.
I have planks in my eye, and I know that. I’m working on removing them, and it’s been a long process. But I wouldn’t be speaking the truth in love if I ignored this issue. I wouldn’t do anyone a service by staying quiet. It’s important that we, at the very least, discuss what it means to be persecuted for our faith.