Simplistic, Americanized Christianity Vs. Radical Islam in the Court of Public Opinion

One of the things we believe in strongly at The Crossing is the value of film. There are a couple of basic reasons for this. First, we’re made in the image of a master Creator who appreciates and enjoys what he’s made. This means that we’re also wired to enjoy creativity in all its various forms. Second, movies are always interwoven with ideas. Through their artistic presentation, they dramatically show the worldviews of their creators. Similarly, the reaction of those who see a film can serve as a window into their own perspectives. As a result, movies are opportunities to gain insight into what our culture values and believes.

I was particularly struck by this latter point as I watched Holy Wars, one of the numerous films playing at the True/False Film Fest this past weekend. Here’s part of the synopsis of the film from the T/F website:

Here’s a seeming recipe for disaster: take one Muslim advocate for global jihad and put him in a room with one conservative Christian on a mission to evangelize the world’s Muslims. Which man will be left standing? In Holy Wars, Sundance-award-winning filmmaker Stephen Marshall pits the proverbial immovable object against the irresistible force. Khalid Kelly is an Irish convert to Islam who works to implement sharia law (stoning, veiled women, corporal punishment) in Britain. Aaron Taylor is an American conservative Christian whose organization takes both democracy and the gospel abroad as weapons in “the war between good and evil.”

While several aspects of the film and the director’s comments afterward would be worth discussing, I’ll limit myself to the audience dynamic during the showing. There were a handful of points at which I noticed the audience openly laughing at or expressing some other kind of incredulous reaction toward Aaron and his family/associates as they spoke of their views. Since those views sometimes reflected a simplistic and/or American-centric understanding of Christianity, I can’t say as I blame them. I often found myself wincing at the same scenes (though I certainly didn’t find everything expressed to be problematic).

What was more noteworthy, however, was that I don’t remember the same level of reaction toward Khalid and his associates. Keep in mind this is someone who (1) named his first child “Osama,” (2) desires very conservative Muslim law to be Britain’s law of the land, (3) flees the UK to escape a possible imprisonment for activities sympathetic to terrorism, and (4) leaves behind his family, buys a gun, and seeks out the Taliban in the tribal areas of Pakistan (he felt that, even in that country, society was not in line enough with Islam). In other words, Khalid is the definition of an extreme Muslim fundamentalist.

This sparked a number of thoughts:

  1. I think it’s a safe bet that we could find many people in America today that would articulate their faith in ways very similar to the version of Christianity prominent in the film. (I should note that Aaron does change his views somewhat by the end of the movie.
  2. For that reason, I wonder how many people see this particular expression of faith to be a fair representation of Christianity in general.
  3. I don’t want to over-interpret, but it seems to me that the audience’s reaction is anecdotal evidence that some people find this version of Christianity to be, in some respects at least, less credible than radical Islam.
  4. If all this is accurate even to some degree, we’re left asking some interesting questions. Foremost among them is this: what challenges does this perception pose to the spread of the biblical gospel in at least parts of contemporary American culture?

I’d grant the possibility that I simply took greater notice of the reaction to Aaron and other Christians in the film. Perhaps if I’d paid more attention, I would have noticed a similar level of negative responses to Khalid. I’m just not sure that considering Christianity (however flawed) to be similar, rather than inferior to radical Islam provides a great deal of encouragement.

Much more could be said. But for those of us who have placed our faith in Christ, all of this should spur us in a couple of important directions. First, we need continually to seek to grow in our understanding of biblical Christianity, as well as our ability to communicate it clearly yet winsomely in both word and deed. If we’re mocked and dismissed, let it at least be for the right reasons. Secondly, we should be driven to pray that God would overcome whatever obstacles stand in the way of people being drawn to the truth, beauty, and sufficiency of Christ.

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