What should we do when both sides in a dispute make strong cases? Suggestion: If we are to err, err on the side of grace.
Christians have been debating how to respond to the casting of End of the Spear, the movie that shows how the murder of five missionaries in Ecuador 50 years ago led to the murderers' conversion ("Walk this way," Jan. 21). After actor Chad Allen signed a contract with the Christian-led film company to portray one of the martyrs, the filmmakers learned that Mr. Allen is gay-and not only gay, but a vocal gay activist.
Because God has placed us in a modern Babylon rather than ancient Israel, I'm not troubled by the presence of gay actors in movies with theistic themes. That's nothing new: Homosexuals masterfully portrayed Eric Liddell in Chariots of Fire and Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings. Few people urged Christians to boycott these films that wonderfully communicated truths about Christian conscience and divine providence.
I do take the gay activism seriously. When someone goes out of his way to proselytize for anti-biblical conduct, should Christians help to raise his profile? Heterosexual adultery is a larger problem in American society than homosexuality, but adulterers are usually ashamed of their behavior, while many homosexuals march in gay pride parades and consider their conduct virtuous. The end of chapter 1 of Romans notes that engaging in vice is bad but offering public approval of it is worse.
Worldmagblog.com has hosted vigorous debates on the casting issue, which has its nuances. Sure, what's most important is what an actor does on-screen, not how he lives his life off-screen, but we need to recognize that movies are about suspension of disbelief for two hours in a darkened theater or living room, and off-screen activities sometimes affect an actor's ability to bring viewers into the illusion.
One commenter wrote, "It diminishes the message to know that the man who portrays [missionary] Nate Saint in the movie is someone who is actively and outspokenly working to undermine God's Word. . . . To put it another way, I loved the [Vietnam War] film We Were Soldiers, but I would have been offended if Jane Fonda had been cast in the female lead role as the wife of Colonel Moore."
That's a reasonable concern. So, after reading numerous well-argued comments from both sides, here are five conclusions. First, the filmmakers should have done their homework before offering a contract to a gay activist. It takes so much time, effort, and money to make a major movie that one casting decision should not be allowed to jeopardize the whole enterprise.
Second, once the filmmakers had offered a contract, they were right to honor it. Even though God had told the Israelites to destroy the Canaanites, once Joshua made a covenant with the Gibeonite deceivers, he stuck to it. And Chad Allen did not lie to the filmmakers; he just did not answer an unasked question. Not honoring the contract would have been stealing from him.
Third, beyond prudence and law lies grace. One message of End of the Spear is that within God's providence the willingness to forgive changes lives. Elisabeth Elliot awesomely traveled with her daughter to live with the people who had killed her husband. Her parents and parents-in-law were upset about such extreme personal sacrifice-yet that crazy behavior (by worldly standards) communicated the gospel to murderers in a way that nothing else could have.
Fourth, think of evangelism. Dumping Chad Allen would have told the world that Christians can forgive a savage murderer but not a homosexual activist. Some say we should purge the evil among us, as was done in ancient Israel, but America is a land of liberty in which God gives us opportunities to be strong and courageous not by wielding swords but by performing the sometimes-harder task of showing love to the unlovely. Remember: "While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us."
Fifth, praise and thank the filmmakers who, having made a mistake, made the best of it. Haven't we all made worse mistakes? A chorus of "gotchas" has rained on what should be a parade. The filmmakers should be hearing "attaboy" comments from those who wait for Christian-themed movies as old Simeon waited to see the Christ child.