Faith and Film (Part 2): An Interview with Stephen Weinkauf

In case you missed Part 1 of this conversation, here’s the scoop: We’re talking with film buff and all-around cool dude Stephen Weinkauf about film from a Christian point of view. Last week, Stephen talked about the art and craft of film. This week, he’ll talk more about how people of faith should engage this powerful cultural medium.

DTH:

Do you believe there is spiritual value in film, and if so, how do we tap into that?

Stephen:

I do believe that film can have great value for the Christian in a few different ways. Some are personal, some can be true of everyone. For me, film is a medium in which God has provided me great rest. When my body and mind are weary from the busyness of life, film is a wonderful outlet for resting. It helps me to unplug from the worries and wearies of life and enjoy a good piece of art for an hour or two, and I praise God so much for that! Rest is an important thing, God made us beings that require rest, and this rest is designed to point us back to him and remind us of the great work of sanctification that he is doing in us who are followers of Christ. Film points me back to God in praise because of the great rest it brings me.

I think it is good for Christians to be consuming art. Whether that is a novel, a painting, a sculpture, a film, a video game, etc. God made us beings that can create beauty and art, and all art (including film) brings me to a state of praise to God for his creativity in creation and in us.

Film can also have evangelistic purposes. The gospel pertains to everyone’s life and everyone’s struggles, but if we aren’t aware of the struggles the world is dealing with, we can present the gospel in a cold, unthoughtful, uncaring, naïve way. This can (and should) be resolved in a few ways (like asking someone good questions to learn more about their worldview). Film is one of those ways. As we’re sitting behind our stain glass windows there’s a lost world in need of the gospel, that is full of anxieties, fears, failures, pride, struggles, strife, pain, that we Christians can become cold to out of ignorance. Film can be a way to learn about what the world thinks, feels, fears, etc. We can learn from film and can tactfully present the gospel to the lost, instead of just coldly throwing it out there and hoping someone finds it worth investigating, or believing.

DTH:

Many Christians judge the value of movies based almost entirely on their morality (language, sex scenes, etc.). Do you think this is a good metric, or are there other considerations that should be taken into account?

Stephen:

The biblical conviction that all Christians must agree on is that if a film causes you to fall into sin (lust being the most obvious stumbling block in films), don’t watch it. Aside from that, I (personally) don’t think judging a film on morality is a good idea.

I think that any Christian who judges the value of movies based entirely on their morality should be consistent. If cussing, poor sexual ethics, actively sinning, and poor morals in general makes a movie valueless, then what does that say for your neighbors, family members, co-workers, who cuss, have unbiblical sexual ethics, sin, and have low morals? Certainly, we should not delight in wrong-doing, but with those who are lost, we can and should love them and value them without delighting in their wrong-doing. This doesn’t mean that if you dislike a certain film simply because of its low morals, then you do the same to people, but it can certainly give that vibe. And you should certainly check your heart and evaluate how you view sinners (I need to check my heart too). Are the lost (like you were) in need of a Savior? Or are they heathens who you hope end up in Hell? Or are you indifferent to their condition?

We can also learn a lot about the world’s view of sin from films that have unethical things in them. You might be surprised what you learn about the world’s view of sexual ethics, it may be a lot different than you tend to assume (although still anti-God). You might be surprised by the reasons why the world is against murder and thievery (like Christians are). You also might learn a lot about what the world holds as good morality and why. You may even see some values like social justice, care for the poor, being a loving mother or father, etc, being held to such a high esteem that you don’t see in the church. Maybe watch a film about an LGBT couple, and you may learn a bit about LGBT people and how to love them, instead of focusing on the woes of the LGBT agenda.

DTH:

There seems to be an increasing market for “Christian” films. What are your thoughts about that, and what would you like to see different about this emerging trend?

Stephen:

The following statements cannot apply to all Christian films on the market because I have not seen them all. It does, however, apply to the overall trend I see in the “Christian” film market. That said, I’m not a big fan of the current trend in “Christian” films for a few reasons, and aesthetics isn’t one of them.

First, Christian films blatantly lie about the world.

Recently I saw the trailer for the film, A Wish for Christmas by John K.D. Graham. A young woman, frustrated with her parent’s faith, successfully wishes their faith away. They were Christians, and overnight, without explanation, become atheists. The film depicts the Christian version of her parents as benevolent lawyers seeking the good of the community and their family. But when they become atheists, oh no! They are absorbed by their phones, instead of spending time with their family. They turn into malevolent lawyers who lie, manipulate, and actively hurt those in the community. They frivolously waste money on fancy cars. They approve of belly button rings and even say, “Happy Holidays!”

(I almost used a recent trailer I watched for God’s Not Dead 2, by Harold Cronk, for similar reasons, but decided not to use it. You’re welcome to look it up though. If you find it on YouTube you may want to avoid the comments if you like the film. Many people unapologetically point out the major flaws in the story of this film.)

Wish for Christmas, and other Christian films, falsify what atheists are like. Sure, some atheists act like the lawyers depicted in the trailer, but so do some Christians. It is unfair to say that atheists are automatically big jerks actively trying to hurt others and promote gross immorality. I have two really good friends (husband and wife) who live in a nearby city. They both work for non-profit organizations. The husband works for a non-profit that helps the government in his city better house and help people who are homeless. He has a master’s degree, but willingly chose to leave the “high-life” of academia to work tirelessly for pennies helping the less fortunate in his city. His wife also has her masters and also gave that up to work for a non-profit. She works for a mentorship program that helps connect grade school kids with an adult mentor (usually a teacher or professor) to help them succeed in school, and set them on a path towards success in education, giving these kids opportunities they may not have had otherwise. They make about as much as I do (and church interns aren’t paid all that well) and work very hard for the sole purpose of helping people in their community who desperately need it. If you had to guess, what would you say their faith is? Are they Christians? Nope, they’re atheists!

When films like Wish for Christmas and God’s Not Dead, depict atheists as silly jerks, scumbags, and Christian’s enemies, they are insulting, demeaning, and lying about atheists. The thing that upsets atheists the most is when Christians try to tell them that they’re scumbags who just hurt society.

When Christians make films like these, that insult, demean, and lie about atheists, they are insulting, demeaning, and lying about my mission field – my friends – the people that I love dearly, and long to share the gospel with, but their hearts grow cold to the truth because of these lies. I hope these filmmakers stop.

Second, Christian films blatantly lie about Christianity.

Jesus came to this filthy world as a good shepherd. He came to seek, love, and serve the lost. He didn’t come to try to change legislation so that Christians who work in public schools can impose their beliefs on their students. He didn’t come so that white privileged Christians can finally feel like they’re being persecuted in this nation (even though they’re not). He didn’t come to ignite war against the lost or get in court cases with them. He didn’t come to lie about them in order to justify his own faith.

He came to love sinners (us included). Meet their needs, show them grace and mercy, sacrifice his own life for them. Truths you don’t see (especially if you aren’t a Christian) when watching some of these “Christian” films.

What I would like to see different from Christians who make films is creating thought provoking secular films that can be (and are) enjoyed by many. Christians can use these films to open up opportunities to relate with and learn more about their non-Christian friends by asking questions about some of the ideas or characters in the film. These films shouldn’t be hyper-happy, false representations of what the Christian life (or non-Christian life) looks like, they need to be honest about the difficult emotions and struggles of life here on earth, even for Christians. They need to be honest about the sin that people in the church struggle with. The church isn’t perfect; we are still growing, and to make films that give the vibe of Christian’s perfection, or that they’re better than others seems very elitist.

DTH:

If your house burns down and you can only grab three movies on your way out the door, which ones will you grab?

Stephen:

This question is taking me longer to answer than all the other questions combined, and it will probably change 5 minutes from now. But after spending way too long staring at my film collection, I’d have to land on The Darjeeling Limited by Wes Anderson, Ponyo by Hayao Miyazaki (this trailer does not do the film justice), and Thoroughly Modern Millie by George Roy Hill.

DTH:

What is a recent film you’ve seen?

Stephen:

When Marnie Was There by Hiromasa Yonebayashi. A beautiful film about a lonely orphan who hates herself, and struggles to connect with her foster parents and others her age because she assumes they must hate her too. This film hit me close to home.

DTH:

What is an upcoming film you’re looking forward to?

Stephen:

The Red Turtle by Michael Dudok de Wit. I’m not sure why, but I’ve been in an animation kick recently and I am looking forward to the day when this French-Belgian-Japanese film comes to the states so I can finally see it!

A hearty “thank you” is in order to Stephen for taking the time to share his thoughts and challenge mine. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this interview, and I hope you’ll stay tuned for more interviews in the future with all kinds of interesting people about all kinds of interesting topics.

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