Recent posts on Ms. Kitty's and MamaG's blogs about the movie Jesus Camp sparked my memory of this much less serious movie. I haven't seen Jesus Camp yet, but I'm going to put it on my list of videos to view this summer.
A while back, when M* was home for a bit, we watched the movie Saved! starring Mandy Moore and Macauley Culkin. M* had watched it with a friend at college, and said she thought I’d like it.
Please note that I use the term Christian in my discussion of this movie to indicate a particular kind of superficial religious person who is more concerned with image than substance – outwardly pious but inwardly empty. This is not to be confused with the many fine people I know who follow the example of Jesus. I don't consider myself a Christian, though I respect and accept my Unitarian and Universalist Christian heritage.
If you haven’t seen Saved!, here’s the scoop: The movie is set at a Christian high school - very WASP-y looking students, very clean-cut "all-American" boys and girls, obviously most of these people have money. Main character Mary is in with the "cool" kids, a clique led by super-Christian Hilary Faye - who is also the vocalist for a musical group called the Christian Jewels. The new school year begins fairly normally, but is complicated quickly with Mary discovering she's pregnant; her boyfriend Dean being sent to a program to be cured of his homosexuality; Mary's mother develops a major crush on the school principal; and Patrick, the principal's son, has a crush on Mary. Hilary Faye has a crush on Patrick. Hilary Faye's brother Roland starts skipping school and dating Cassandra, the school outcast -- and eventually Hilary's machinations to remove Mary as her rival for Patrick's affections become known in a very public venue.
At one point while watching the movie I said to my daughters, “This is Mean Girls with religion.” Really, if you stripped away the Christian gloss and set the story in a public high school the result would be a generic teen film. And, in many ways it is; yet, there is more here. As the plot moves forward we get a peek beneath the veneer of happy religiosity broadcast by Hilary Faye and her band, revealing them as very real young women who are terrified that they’ll never be good enough for Jesus. Hilary has them convinced that she knows the right way to be, and they’d better fall into line if they want to continue to be Christian Jewels. The only way she can control them is through fear - although that's never explicitly stated. But, Hilary Faye is also afraid - afraid that if she isn't "just perfect" that she'll lose her status at the top of the high school pecking order.
The almost-romance between the high school principal and Mary’s mother also never gets off the ground because of fear – the principal is too wrapped up in his perception of his god’s expectations to divorce his wife (who left him and lives in another country), believing that this would condemn him. He is unable to believe that the god he worships might want him to be happy – and totally unable to believe what he teaches about grace and mercy. For a group of people who profess to be Christians, they are very Levitical in their thinking. It's the marginalized students of the school - the one Jewish student, and wheelchair-bound Roland, who display true compassion in the spirit of Jesus to Mary in her time of need. I don't want to spoil the ending of the movie - I'll just say there's a happy ending for some...
This whole idea of having to exercise control through fear is something I've never liked about some religious bodies. My hairdresser asked me just this afternoon if I thought I had to make people afraid, as a minister. I was surprised, because she's been cutting my hair for several years. I told her no, that I thought we were meant to be happy and not live our lives in fear - and she sighed with relief. I guess she thought me as a minister would be different than me as a regular person? I did give her my very quick elevator speech, too, and she told me about a great Episcopal priest she'd known growing up and how he also had the attitude that religion wasn't supposed to be about fear.
I recently had the opportunity to talk with a woman I knew back in high school. Back then, she supervised a Christian coffee house I went to on a regular basis during the time when I hung out with a lot of fundamentalist Christians. I even tried to be one, but I was raised to be too much of an individual to stay there. Anyway, this woman began witnessing to me in strident terms - saying that the Bible says that no person is good, that God will judge, that sinners will be cast into the lake of fire... Most of us have heard it before. This sort of talk used to scare me - and I admit I still felt the clenching in my stomach signaling the fear that was my constant companion at one time.
Later, I thought about what she was saying and I felt sad, and angry. Sad, because this woman really has done some good work - there are people who are alive because she sat with them through some rough times in their teens - but she still thinks she's not a good person, because the theology taught in the church she attends is so fear-filled. Sad, because this seems to be a theology that hits people right in the self-esteem; and angry because this sort of 'witness' testifies to a mean-spirited form of Christianity that I don't think Jesus of Nazareth would claim. At least, I don't think Jesus ever said we should follow him and think we're better than anyone else because of it.