Reel Life Imitates Real Life? Really?

godsnotdead2-1Pure Flix has posted the list of court cases they show at the end of God’s Not Dead 2 in a post entitled “Real Life Imitates Reel Life.” (Actually, it should have been the other way around, since the movie was supposed inspired by events in real life. But, that’s not so important).

As you might know, God’s Not Dead 2 deals with a teacher who is sued for discussing Jesus in a history class. The film has been described as being a “wake up call” that is “ripped from the headlines.” As a part of proving the legitimacy of the film’s premise, the filmmakers chose to show a long list of court cases that supported their case.

The interesting thing is that if you look over the list, twenty-three of the cases were situations where a Christian sued someone else, and only eleven were situations where a lawsuit was brought against a Christian – as happens in the film.

And it’s even more interesting that none of the cases mentioned dealt with a teacher being sued for mentioning Jesus in a high school history class, or any other similar situation. In fact, only one case involved a classroom (Brooker v. Franks), and that was a case where a student sues their university. Incidentally, that case was also in the list given in the credits of the first God’s Not Dead.

In Brooker v. Franks, a student was given an assignment that went against her religious beliefs (dealing with adoption and homosexual couples), and so she sued the university, and the university very quickly settled the case out of court. This all happened over ten years ago, and you can read more about it online by searching for “Brooker v. Franks.” I’d especially recommend that you read the professor’s point of view, as he is also a Christian, and claims that he allowed the student to do a different assignment.

But things get more interesting when you look at the bulk of the cases. Thirteen of the listed cases dealt with issues of homosexuality and twenty-two dealt with abortion/healthcare issues. If the filmmakers had chosen their fictional protagonist to take a stand based on her convictions on one of these issues, it would have been a much gutsier move. As it is, the story in the film is just fantasy, and the court cases mentioned, when properly scrutinized, don’t seem to do anything to bolster the legitimacy of the film’s premise.

gods-not-dead-2-1And considering the storyline for God’s Not Dead 3 that was teased in the end-credits scene of GND2, it seems like that film will have even fewer legal precedent legs to stand on.

Thoughts?

After writing this, I came across a more thorough examination of the cases over on Patheos’s The Friendly Atheist. A reading of that more complete dissection demonstrates that Pure Flix’s inclusion of the list of court cases doesn’t actually help their argument at all. But, I suppose just having the list breeze past makes the core audience feel better, because if it’s up there, it must have deep meaning, right?

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9 thoughts on “Reel Life Imitates Real Life? Really?

  1. “(Actually, it should have been the other way around, since the movie was supposed inspired by events in real life. But, that’s not so important).”

    Are you sure? Maybe they’re just *that* narcissistic.

  2. “…Real Life Imitates Reel Life.” (Actually, it should have been the other way around, since the movie was supposed inspired by events in real life. But, that’s not so important).”

    Try looking at it as if they got it correct. They weren’t saying the movie was based on specific cases. They were giving examples of cases representing the pressures Christians are facing. It was as if they were saying, “Oh you watched a movie about religious freedom, and you don’t think it’s an issue we face as believers? Here are some examples of our religious freedom under attack.” I think it’s safe to assume most viewers watched the movie before even knowing about most of those cases. So yes, “real life imitates reel life” is correct if you look at it in the correct context.

    It seems you missed the entire premise of the movie. It wasn’t merely about saying the name of Jesus in a classroom. It was a much bigger message than that. The movie was entirely about the growing pressures the Church is facing – all because the Church has remained silent for too long. To quote a line from the movie: “If we sit by and do nothing, the pressure that we’re feeling today will mean persecution tomorrow. We’re at war.” They chose to write a story that reflected one of many scenarios – a story that still fit into the “God’s Not Dead” theme, proving His existence.
    Again, it wasn’t specifically based on any particular case. It was “inspired” though, as you said, if we are looking at the principle of the matter and not the specific details.

    Now, technically speaking, 15 Of the sited cases were examples of lawsuits against Christians or Christian values, not 11 as you stated. But at the end of the day, does it actually matter who sued who? Religious freedom is already written into the Constitution. Christians shouldn’t have to sue anyone to defend the right to live a Christian life. Unfortunately, more and more often, suing seems to be the only solution.
    But that freedom has already been granted. And that is what the movie represented.

    • Thank you Amber, for taking the time to respond. I appreciate your tone, and your respectful contribution to this issue.

      Here’s my problem with GND2 showing all of those cases, regardless of who was taking who to court: it was an implication that their film’s idea had meaning, because – as you say, look at all of these cases that show that Christians are facing growing pressures! And GND2 is an attempt to demonstrate that by showing a Christian facing the ultimate pressure – risk of losing job, certification, basically everything. “Ripped from the headlines” they were saying in interviews.

      And had they used a situation similar to any of the cases that they list in their film, I would have been completely supportive of the story’s idea. It would have been realistic, and it would have been a firm underlining of the thesis that you mentioned – about pressures and potential persecution.

      For example, if they had shown a Christian teacher getting in trouble for honestly expressing her feelings on same-sex marriage based on her religious convictions, that would have been fantastic, and an admirably brave move! If they’d had a teacher counseling a pregnant student to not get an abortion, and get in trouble for that, I would be in, and I would have been impressed that they had the guts to touch such a difficult and controversial topic!

      As it is, they used a silly unrealistic situation and tried to make it seem relevant or applicable, and it just wasn’t. Not at all.

      Any teacher worth his or her salt would mention Jesus in a history class when answering a question asked specifically about the historical Jesus, and they would face zero repercussions. Zero.

      Grace did nothing wrong. It’s only in this fantasy persecution-filled America that Pure Flix is trying to create where that sort of terrible thing happens, and I firmly reject it. Both as a Christian and as a storyteller, not to mention as a fan and sometime critic of Christian filmmaking.

      And, as I said in the article, I’m really worried about where they’ll take it in GND3. Now, if they’re serious about this thing, they’ll make GND3 about Martin returning to China as a missionary (as I joked about in a former post, but now I’m serious). THAT would be risky, gutsy, and would potentially have tremendous meaning.

      But will they do it? Or will they continue down this path, and make it all about Pastor Dave sitting in jail for not turning in his sermons, something that has never happened in America?

      We’ll see.

      • You are focused on the extreme situation of this movie as not having any legal precedent. Now I may agree that nothing as small as this has resulted in full scale law suits but dies the political culture in this country really suggest it couldnt? When you have the ACLU going after 72 year old grandmas in Washington for standing firm to her not wanting to be involved in a homosexual wedding. I think the fear is what extreme measure will come next.

        And yes the Mayor of houston was forced to back down on asking for those pastors sermons. But that was the first major attempt.we saw, and it was a true attempt whether she failed or not. So the thought of “what will happen the mext time.” Has to be on the minds of pastors everywhere.

        These movies are just that Movies. It is still their design to sell tickets and dvds so over dramatic storylines is a hollywood standard. I expect the next one will be an extreme of what could of happened with the Houston case with pastor dave being at the center of it. But hopefully this will also get Christians ready for the fight that is coming. We will no longer be the silent majority in the future. We will be persecuted for our faith in a far more extreme way than even these movies show. The gospel offends. And with our country becoming far more suppirtive of anti christian morals and a atheist standard world view. Christians are going to become overwhelmingly offensive just trying to be who they are.

      • That’s why a simple title card before the movie of “in the not-too-distant-future” would have changed everything. The GND people are saying this is happening right now, because they’re setting in the right now. Set it in 2020, and you’ll be far enough ahead that you could make the case for possibility, but not so far ahead that you have to dress everyone in one piece silver jumpsuits and have flying skateboards.

  3. Your review of God’s Not Dead 2 misses the point of the reasons for the listing of the cases, which you say don’t represent anything relevant to the movie. I just wonder if you really know what is going on out there in the world with the major attacks that are happening to Christians? (think Syria–Christians actually dying for their belief). My thought is that you don’t either know or maybe don’t even care, you just seem to want to rip apart a movie that actually might be that “wake up call” for Christians to wake up to see what is happening, or has already happened to them.

    This particular case that is brought forward in the movie may not have actually happened, but it certainly could happen in today’s society, and if Christians aren’t aware of what evils they are facing, then the movie, by listing these cases as well as what is presented in the movie, might make them start thinking and observing so that they are better prepared to stand up and not be afraid to stand up for what they believe in. It doesn’t really matter that these cases don’t address the issue of talking about Jesus in the classroom, but that they address the issue of abortion, homosexuality, same sex marriage, or whatever else Christians are being sued for these days. What does matter is that these movies give Christians a little glimpse into what being a Christian is like and encourages them to stand up for their beliefs and will help them persevere through their trials, because if one does stand up for what they believe in, they will be persecuted, put on trial, and even maybe beheaded for what they believe in.

    As to the teaser at the end of the movie–did you know that ministers in Houston, TX fought against the ruling that they were supposed to bring their sermons into City Hall to make sure they were not preaching against homosexuality–there is legal precedent to stand on here after all.

    I for one, thought the movie was well worth seeing, one that was uplifting and encouraging to my faith, had a message to bring about standing up for one’s faith despite it “being just fantasy” (as you say), and I look forward to seeing what the writers will do with the next movie they produce. I say this because of someone who has had to stand up for what I believe in by a case that was brought against me in our family’s fight to have the freedom of religion and freedom of speech in putting up a display in our front yard against abortion using Scripture in our display.

    If this movie helps other Christians in the same way, it is worth it, even though the cases moving by in the credits may not directly apply to this particular movie–they do have a “deep meaning” even if you don’t see it that way.

    • Hi Gail,

      Welcome to the blog, and I’m glad to have your contribution to this subject.

      I’m also really happy if you or anyone else enjoyed GND2. I’ve liked plenty of films that others thought were not very good, and that’s typical of films of any genre. I don’t begrudge anyone the right to enjoy what they enjoy. And if people received some sort of Christian encouragement from the film, that’s fantastic as well. One of my favorite stories from the Bible is the story of Balaam’s donkey. As Rich Mullins sang, “you never know who God is gonna use…”

      Now, to your points, and I apologize in advance for the length of my answer.

      First, rest assured that I do know what’s going on in the world. Just to clarify my situation – I currently live in China, where I’ve lived for four years. For fourteen years prior to that, I lived in former Soviet Central Asia. Are you familiar with the struggles facing the Chinese church? Did you know that in former Soviet Central Asia protestant Christianity has been the focus of intense government pressure for years, and believers have been subjected to actual persecution?

      https://www.mnnonline.org/news/please-pray-for-the-persecuted-church-in-central-asia/

      Trust me, even though I’m a somewhat sheltered expat, the reality of persecution has been as far as the outside of my window for almost twenty years.

      Second, you said that the case mentioned in the film could happen today in America. Sure, what happened to Grace Wesley in GND2 COULD happen. Also, a young CSI investigator COULD be struck by lightning and given super speed as a result.

      The point isn’t that it could or couldn’t happen, the point is that it hasn’t happened, especially not the way the film portrayed it.

      In GND2, Grace did absolutely nothing wrong. She wasn’t proselytising in the classroom, she was answering a student’s historical question in a history class. Nobody in the United States is getting sued and threatened for this, or even in trouble. No matter what “could” happen, it hasn’t happened, and it won’t happen any time soon – at least as the movie portrayed it.

      Now, that being said, can a teacher get in trouble for mentioning Jesus? Yes, if they are using their position to try and talk students into becoming Christians, or some variety on this. For example, there was a case (in ARKANSAS of all places) where a teacher got suspended in part for showing The Passion of the Christ, and giving the students worksheets that looked like they were developed for a church youth group. I think you can agree that this was inappropriate, and certainly should have led to discipline for the teacher. But in this case, even with the teacher having said some racially inappropriate things on top of showing the movie, it only led to the teacher being suspended. Not fired, not sued, not threatened like Grace was threatened. And this teacher actually did something entirely inappropriate for a public school teacher. You can read about it here:

      http://www.patheos.com/blogs/godlessindixie/2016/03/31/teacher-in-arkansas-suspended/

      And if the point of the film was to encourage Christians to stand up for their faith, why didn’t the filmmakers choose a situation that has actually happened, or could happen?Why not make GND2 a story that actually was like one of the cases mentioned in that long list? Why not, as I said before, have a teacher asked a question about homosexuality or abortion, and answer with a religious-based answer? That would have been a bold choice, and could have really spoken to people struggling with how to deal with these real life situations.

      But let’s say that the filmmakers were married to the concept the way it was portrayed in the film. They really wanted to set up this exploration of the historical Jesus. So then, why not set the film in a not-so-distant future, where things in America have gotten that bad? The Martian did this exceptionally well, and people will buy this sort of hypothesizing, when it is done openly.

      But no, Pure Flix made the claim that this was a picture of contemporary America. Time after time, I heard people schilling for the film saying that this story was “ripped from the front pages.” But it wasn’t. Not at all.

      Finally, about the teaser. Yes, I am familiar with the situation in Houston, and there are a few facts about that case that might surprise you. First, did you know that the subpoenas came down because the pastors had filed a lawsuit against the city of Houston, not because someone was suing the pastors.

      Second, did you know that when the pastors raised a holy ruckus about the subpoenas, that the city quickly bowed to the pressure and rescinded the subpoenas? They were wrong, and they admitted it.

      Third, did you know that many liberal groups – including (gasp!) the ACLU – came down on the side of the pastors? They said:

      “The government should never engage in fishing expeditions into the inner workings of a church, and any request for information must be carefully tailored to seek only what is relevant to the dispute,” said the ACLU in their statement on the situation.

      https://www.aclutx.org/2014/10/17/city-of-houston-subpoenas-of-sermons-statement-from-the-aclu-of-texas/

      Do you think God’s Not Dead 3 will be based on any of that? Do you think they’ll have the ACLU come riding in on white horses in to support Pastor Dave? Or, will they just take two more hours to demonize people who don’t share the target audience’s beliefs, as they did with the ACLU in GND2?

      In conclusion, if I could go back to your first question about what’s going on in the world, I would rise up and call Pure Flix blessed if they took the opportunity in GND3 to move away from promoting this American Christian persecution narrative and focused on what is ACTUALLY going on in the world. As I’ve said before, if they made GND3 about Martin trying to be a pastor in China, there’s a good chance I’d be on board, especially if they did their homework on the ground first and made the film the right way.

      I would support taking the franchise international because it would be unquestionable, (hopefully) be based in reality, and an incredibly brave thing for a film company to do.

      But I’m not holding my breath.

      Cheers,
      Nate

  4. Pingback: Unpacking that God’s Not Dead 3 Teaser | Thimblerig's Ark

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