Since November 3, the previously overlooked issue of moral values has been brought to the forefront of political discourse. Does the term refer to values such as compassion, equality and love, or is it just code for same-sex marriage and abortion? With churchgoers— particulary conservative Christians—voting in impressive numbers this year, it is perhaps useful to look at the values represented in Christian culture. Lately, I’ve found myself thinking back to the Christian Film Festival.
As a child, I attended a middle school run by a Baptist church. I am not Baptist, but I tried to approach the experience with both respect and curiosity. Every year, we would take a field trip to the festival, which took place annually during the week before Easter. There were cartoons with cheerful sheep that quoted the Bible in castrato voices; stories about gang members and drug addicts finding redemption through the holy spirit; and, of course, Jesus himself, preaching a message of peace, love and understanding through a soft-focus lens and backed by a ’70s synthesizer score. I liked that movie—it was Jesus-as-Dude.
The film that stuck with me the most, however, was called The Appointment, though The Appointment WITH SATAN would have been more accurate. It had all the subtlety of a Jack Chick pamphlet. In it, a woman is approached by a stranger and informed that she has 36 hours to live. The stranger urges the woman to take the opportunity to reevaluate her life and commit her soul to God. The woman resists, but as the time approaches, she is nearly picked off by one freak accident after another, as in the movie Final Destination. Finally, when she thinks she has cheated fate, she is suddenly run over by a fire engine. The movie fades to black, a verse from Revelations appears in blood-red text, followed by this message:
“WHEN’S YOUR APPOINTMENT?”
I didn’t sleep that night.
There are many values at the center of Christianity that could help make the world a better, more tolerant place. But the goal of the film festival wasn’t tolerance, it was intimidation. After each screening, the audience was invited to come forward and be born again. We were told that we were free to leave, but only at risk of eternal damnation. Truth be told, I got saved on three or four occasions, a combination of peer pressure and the desire to cover my bases. The organizers of the festival and the creators of The Appointment hoped to persuade us to accept their version of the universe through fear and insecurity. Unfortunately, fear
and insecurity are popular tools in the battle over the future of America’s identity. And, more unfortunately, they’re very effective tools.
Since writing the article, I've found out that the Jesus movie I cited is the most-watched film of all time, and the Christian Film Festival, which began at the tiny Salem Tri-Cinema, can now be found in six cities.