The Christian Oscars: Does Everything Suck in the Christian Ghetto?

duck dynasty movieguide

Sam Sweet, writing for The New Yorker, had this to say about the Movieguide Faith and Values Awards:

Ted Baehr is a Christian film critic whose Movieguide has grown from a modest newsletter into a mammoth Web database that attracts millions of readers each month. For thirty years, the site has reviewed most every Hollywood film released in theatres, picking up on thematic intricacies that other critics tend to overlook. For instance, Movieguide noted that the first Harry Potter movie relies heavily on “evil occult themes and a spirit of selfish rebellion among its children characters.” In the year that “Avatar” swept the awards shows, Movieguide cautioned against its “New Age pagan worldview, which contains extremely anti-capitalist content with a strong Marxist overtone. It promotes group-think and argues in favor of the destruction of the human race.”

Baehr has no interest in this year’s Academy front-runners: Movieguide called “American Hustle” “predominantly pagan,” and complained that “12 Years a Slave” portrays “a mean Christian who uses Scripture to justify slavery.” But that doesn’t concern him, as he has his own awards show: the twenty-second-annual Movieguide Faith & Values Awards Gala, which will be held tonight, at the Universal City Hilton, in Los Angeles. Better known in industry circles as The Christian Oscars, Baehr’s ceremony gives cash prizes to films and television programs that “increase man’s love and understanding of God.” Originally a fringe event, the gala has recently attracted the attention of the major studios, who come for Baehr’s annual report to the entertainment industry, which attempts to demonstrate a correlation between Movieguide-approved content and box-office revenue…

When Mel Gibon’s “Passion of the Christ” became a hit, in 2004, Baehr saw it as proof of what he’d been telling the industry: Christianity sells tickets. In the years following “Passion,” Fox and Sony both established divisions for evangelical films. They frequently outsource production to independent Christian studios, like Sherwood Pictures, which is run by a mega church in Albany, Georgia. Sherwood’s banner release was “Fireproof,” which starred the former “Growing Pains” actor Kirk Cameron, as a fireman who repairs his marriage by recommitting his life to Christ. It was the highest-grossing independent film of 2008. Movieguide called it “an incredibly gripping, compelling, heartrending, transformational story,” and at the Christian Oscars it was given the highest honor: the hundred-thousand-dollar Epiphany Prize, supported by a grant from the John Templeton Foundation.

Sherwood’s low-budget Christian fare fails to move Jeffrey Overstreet, an author and film critic who worked for ten years at Christianity Today and now blogs at Looking Closer. “Just because a car has a Jesus bumper sticker doesn’t mean it’s an excellent car,” he says, speaking from his home in Seattle. Overstreet first encountered Movieguide in the late nineteen-eighties, as a high schooler growing up in a strict Baptist community in Oregon. “I was raised to believe that movies were generally bad unless they were clean, which meant no curse words, no violence, no blatant sexuality,” he said. “If a film was rated R, Christians shouldn’t go. Those films were called ‘stumbling blocks’—I heard that phrase all the time. The idea was that if you witnessed immoral behavior onscreen you were likely to imitate it when you left the theatre.”

Overstreet started studying film history as a student at Seattle Pacific University, where he now works. “I wanted to be able to explore art, but was stifled by the Movieguide approach. So a film by Scorsese was forbidden because it had swear words and violence, yet we’re studying Shakespeare in school. And the stories in the Bible have tremendous violence and sex and, in some cases, harsh language that has been censored in translation. The heart of gospel is a horror story! It portrays the senseless torture and crucifixion of innocent man. The cross is a torture device. But it is depicted within a specific context, for a specific purpose.” Overstreet describes how he came to believe that “a fear-based approach to art cuts out the heart of what a work of art can do. The great works of art are about evil, destruction, weakness, the power of love, the power of grace. If we’re not allowed to explore evil in a work of art, how are we going to deal with it when we encounter it in the world? You can’t alter human nature by pretending it doesn’t exist.” …

…In recent years, Movieguide’s reviews and awards have become increasingly politicized as more of its funding has flowed from right-wing lobbyists. Baehr now delegates most of the film writing to a team of interns, who are instructed to tally the sins in each new release. Overstreet has published testimonials from a host of former Movieguide employees who say that their reviews were often retrofitted with feverish rhetoric. “Humanist,” “Feminist,” and “Environmentalist” have been incorporated into the guide’s lexicon of pejoratives, which also already included “PC” (“politically correct worldview or elements”), “Ho” (“homosexual worldview or sexuality”), and “NNN” (“extensive nudity”)…

…When the movie industry crosses the religious right, Movieguide capitalizes on the opportunity. When many in Hollywood denounced the stars of “Duck Dynasty” for racist and homophobic remarks, Baehr invited them to the ceremony, where the show has been nominated for a top prize. Last week, when the Academy revoked a Best Song nomination for “Alone Yet Not Alone,” because of unsanctioned lobbying, Baehr immediately booked the evangelical Christian singer Joni Eareckson Tada to perform it at the Movieguide gala…

You can read the entire article on The New Yorker website.

Comments (3)

  1. Aram McLean

    What a truly bizarre way to view the world. Not to mention they take ‘literal thinking’ to a whole other level.

  2. unapologist

    “The idea was that if you witnessed immoral behavior onscreen you were likely to imitate it when you left the theater.”

    This is why I was not allowed to go to rock concerts as a kid. Same principle was applied. All rock music was from the devil. We actually had a record burning at my church when I was a teen. And since I said record, yes I’m that old.

    1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      Same here. This is why Polly and I started living our teenage/young adult years when we were in our forties. Better late than never. :)


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