By Dan Cummins
In the ’70s, it was Jesus Christ Superstar Lloyd Webber’s musical box-office smash of blatant blasphemy to portray Jesus Christ as a delusionalmegalomaniac who had a love affair with the prostitute, Mary Magdalene. The emerging flower-child culture of the ’70s worshiped its new-found son of God as a superstar. He was, after all, just a man with all the paranoia, depression and sexual desires of every other wannabe messiah. The culture quickly embraced this mortal Christ.
There were many in the religious community who protested this Judas betrayal by Hollywood, but this modern messiah was welcomed by a lascivious culture that only wanted to know: “Jesus Christ, Superstar, do you think you’re what they say you are?” The betrayal went for more than 30 pieces of silver. The 1973 box office receipts were a little more than $24 million.
A generation later, on the largest ever opening weekend in America, “Man of Steel” took in more than $125 million in silver coins. All across the nation, there were no flowers in their hair, only iPads, cell phones and ear buds in their backpacks, as Generation Text – an electronic, device-driven, texting-addicted culture – watched “a new explanation” of Jesus Christ as just another superhero attempting to save the world.
This time around, it is not Hollywood drawing the comparisons between Jesus Christ and the “Man of Steel.” No, Lois Lane, it’s the clergy – America’s men of the cloth. Urging their parishioners to purchase a ticket and a box of buttered popcorn to catch a glimpse of this celluloid digital-savior leaping tall buildings in a single bound, all in surround sound sensation, mega-church pastors across America helped boost box office totals to record levels for a June release.
Thanks to movie trailers provided to super-churches to show in their super-sanctuaries on their super-sized screens, the Sunday morning crowds went straight from Sunday school to the silver screen – in sanctified numbers. According to Phillip Sherwell’s story in the London Daily Telegraph, June 19, 2013, “screenings for pastors of U.S. mega-churches helped boost its box office to record levels.”
Warner Brothers hired Grace Hill Media, which provided these super-shepherds with movie clips, bulletin inserts and even super-sermon outlines to promote the similarities between a fictitious super-hero and the Son of God. ”Superman’s mythical origins,” the sermon notes say, “are rooted in the timeless reality of a spiritual superhero who also lived a modest life until extraordinary times required a supernatural response. How might the story of Superman awaken our passion for the greatest hero who ever lived and died and rose again?”
Sherwell reports that Grace Hill Media has promoted about 300 films to more than 150,000 ministers. “I don’t know if you’ve seen a contemporary church service lately, but they’re pretty big, modern places with lots of TV screens, definitely not your grandfather’s church with an organ,” said Jonathan Bock of Grace Hill. ”If you’re a pastor and you just paid $35,000 for a massive high-tech screen, you don’t just want to screen out the lyrics to ‘Our God Is an Awesome God.’ Now, if they want to tell a story about hope they can use a clip from ‘The Shawshank Redemption.’”
There may not be any kryptonite in “Man of Steel’s” plot, but this humanistic philosophy embraced by America’s men of the cloth has zapped the only supernatural power from the Gospel to save planet Earth from the evils of sin. Jesus Christ is neither a superstar nor Superman. He is the way, the truth and the life – the only Son of God. Has the spirit of discernment been preempted by spirits of deception in the minds of the ministry?
The Daily Telegraph article reports “the younger church leaders understand that they must embrace contemporary culture if they are to attract greater congregations.” Maybe contemporary culture needs to be confronted with the old, rugged cross by these young, upstart super-pastors instead of coddling up to it. The church is to change the culture, not embrace it.
But if the motive of the Great Commission is “to attract greater congregations,” then these young whippersnappers are leading the church in the pathway Jesus intended. Hollywood and the holy church are singing a harmonious duet of “Oh, How I Love Jesus” as the plate is passed and tickets counted.
If “middle America is a major market where millions take their social cues from pastors,” imagine the outcome of the 2008 presidential election – where more than 40 million of the mega-church moviegoers preferred a movie ticket to a political ticket – if their pastors would have encouraged them to register and vote? Would we have avoided five years of the most anti-Christian administration to date?
Why are America’s shepherds sending their flocks to the wolves of Hollywood to be led astray by an apostate perversion of the Gospel? Why would the church support this lurid industry, with their super-tithe dollars, that has done more to destroy “truth, justice and the American way”? Why won’t the clergy encourage their flocks from their super-screens in their super-sanctuaries to be a superhero by the super powerful act of voting?
This is not the first time Hollywood has evangelized America’s super-pastors. More than 22,000 trailers of “The Blind Side” were provided and apparently shown in sanctuaries with the power of a locomotive. Faster than a speeding bullet, that rocketed the film’s grossed $309 million to leap more than 10 times the production budget. Image if 10 times the number of Christians would show up to vote in 2014. Maybe America could be saved from the evil villain of socialism.
It is America’s men of the cloth who’ve been blind-sided by Hollywood promoters and left holding a ticket to a raffle whose prize is as temporal as the sensations experienced at a Monday matinee. What a sad review on the state of the church that’s being written. The church is not only complicit with the culture, it has been overwhelmed by it, absorbed into it, to the point of imitating it. Sunday morning productions with their smoke, mirrors, lights and surround sound sensations provide churchgoers with as much hope to save their world from the evils they face as the average Joe who buys a box office ticket to the movies. At least he knows what he’s watching is fantasy.
Dan Cummins is founding pastor of Bridlewood Church in Bullard, Texas, and originator of “Washington – A Man of Prayer,” a historical event held annually in Statuary Hall of the U.S. Capitol honoring the inaugural anniversary of President George Washington. His website is ComePrayWithMe.org.