WASHINGTON – In Morristown, N.J., at one of the state’s fastest-growing churches, it’s being hailed as the “Cosmic Christmas” services, a three-week series centering around “Star Wars” characters and plots – even a live “nativity scene” featuring Princess Leia, Han Solo, Chewbacca, and R2D2.
In Middletown, Ill., another church is telling the Christmas story through a “Star Wars” pageant.
In Clarendon Hills, Ill., another church is capitalizing on the release of “The Force Awakens” Dec. 18 to help ministers retell the Christmas story because more Americans are familiar with the “Star Wars” saga than they are with the first two chapters of the Book of Luke.
Those are just three of many examples of American churches turning to “The Force” this Christmas season to fill the pews and the offering plates giving Jesus, Mary and Joseph a break.
Is it a trivialization of the gospel? Heresy? Profane? Blasphemy? A sacrilege?
Take it up with the churches.
“We want to draw on the excitement surrounding ‘Star Wars’ in order to reach new people and teach them about Jesus Christ,” explained Tim Lucas, lead pastor and founder of Liquid Church in Morristown. “There are no rules that says church needs to be dry and boring. One of our core values at Liquid is that ‘church is fun.’ It’s OK to laugh and celebrate together while talking about Christmas. If that means having ‘Star wars’ characters in costume and dancing storm troopers, I’m all for it.”
The church promises 14 Christmas services will be “jam-packed with ‘Star Wars’ surprises” and expects 7,000 people to attend.
Watch Pastor Tim Lucas share his excitement for Cosmic Christmas.
“I already have my tickets for the December 18th premiere of ‘The Force Awakens,'” says Lucas. “I’m a huge ‘Star Wars’ fan! In fact, as a child, I would take the family nativity and replace the figurines with ‘Star Wars’ action figures – that’s the inspiration for our live ‘Star Wars’ nativity. At its core, ‘Star Wars’ reflects spiritual faith. It’s the battle between good and evil, the light versus the dark, and that’s something we can all rally around.”
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In Middletown, at the Community United Church, they say it’s a great way to engage the kids.
“What we are trying to do is kind of take the story of the Magi, and those are the star troopers, those are our Jedi knights, and they’re on their way to discover a new light that has come into the world,” said Laura Crow, the church’s director of faith formation. “God has placed a new star in our world.”
But it seems like the common denominator between many of the churches turning to “Star Wars” themes this Christmas season is the passion the pastors themselves have toward the movies.
The Rev. Matthew Rogers, senior minister at the Christian Church of Clarendon Hills said he was looking for something new in the retelling of the Christmas story in 2015.
“That’s when the ‘Star Wars’ idea came to me,” he said. “I’m a big ‘Star Wars’ fan. I saw the original when I was a kid, and there are parallels with major symbols with the Christmas story. The parallels came together really easily once I started thinking about it.”
He was so excited about the idea, he started his “Star Wars of Christmas” theme Nov. 29 and will take it all the way through Christmas Eve.
But is all this just a big marketing scam?
“Along with the parallels with ‘Star Wars’ and the Christmas story, this also makes an easy invite to the church,” Rogers admits. “We want people who enjoy ‘Star Wars’ and are curious about the parallels with the Christmas story to come to our services and listen to the messages. It’s an easy opportunity to invite the non-believer friend to church.”
The Life Church in Saginaw, Mich., is also enlisting in the “Star Wars” Christmas frenzy.
The Rev. Jonathan Herron, another “Star Wars” fan, started the non-denominational church three years ago, using contemporary music and comedy to attract the under-40 crowd, so he says the latest promotion makes sense. The services will include “create-your-own-lightsaber activity, free photos with a storm trooper and “Star Wars” merchandise giveaways.
While there’s no separation between church and entertainment as far as the church in America goes, it hasn’t worked in the reverse this year in England where British theaters rejected advertisements from the Church of England targeting “Star Wars” fans. The ad featured Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and others reciting phrases from The Lord’s Prayer.
The ban brought criticism on the theater cartel from some unlikely sources. Richard Dawkins, the world’s most famous atheist said he strongly objected to suppressing the ads on the grounds that they might offend people. “If anybody is offended by something so trivial as a prayer, they deserve to be offended.”
Actress Carrie Fisher, who played Princess Leia told the critics of the ad to “get a life.” On Twitter she proclaimed, “I don’t find it offensive … even if I did it shouldn’t be banned. You can’t ban everything that may offend someone.”
Movie critic Stephen Greydanus of DecentFilms.com and the National Catholic Register suggested “The Force” is exactly the kind of “spiritual but not religious” symbolism that has been widely embraced in England.
“Which is bigger in England – ‘Star Wars’ of the Church of England” he asked. “There may be more practicing Anglicans these days than there are members of the Jedi faith, but it says a lot that we can even ask the question with a straight face. It’s safe to say that more young people in England are familiar with the details of the ‘Star Wars’ mythology than with the contents of the Book of Common Prayer.”
In the 2001 Census, 390,000 people in England and Wales stated that their religion was Jedi, according to David Robertson, the director of Solas Centre for Public Christianity.
“The Scots, always the more sensible and level-headed part of the U.K., had proportionately less at 14,000,” noted Robertson. “The decline of the Jedi is spectacular – down to 175,000 in 2011. It seems the joke is wearing thin. But the increasing diversity of religious belief in Britian is no joke. … The removal of Christianity as the primary philosophical, ethical and guiding force in our land will have profound consequences, not the least because it may result in the removal of the very values – equality, justice and freedom – which some people seem to think mean that Christianity should not be given a special status.”
Mega-church pastor Rick Warren in California recently dissed the comparisons between the God of the Bible and “The Force.”
He said some people believe He’s like “The Force” – “an impersonal force that we can bend to our own will. If I thought God was like [that], I wouldn’t trust him either. But he’s not. The Bible paints an entirely different picture of the character of God. The truth is, God is infinitely worthy of your trust because no being in the universe is as capable to influence the world around you as He is. … God has the power (and the desire) to sustains and helps you through whatever you’re going through. He wants to give you his best for your life — and he is uniquely able to help you get there. He is the creator of the universe. He literally has all the resources in the universe that he can mobilize on your behalf as you seek to follow him. But the key is, you must trust him.”