Baptists Gone Wild

The first Christian movie I ever saw was called A Stranger in My Forest. I don’t know when it was made but I watched it in the 1970’s. I was attending a Baptist church that wouldn’t let its members go to the movies. But films like this one, along with Moody Science Films, were considered a righteous alternative. It was New Year’s Eve. I guess they were trying to keep us off the streets and out of the bars. The thought of watching a movie in the church felt like living on the edge. This was our vision of Baptists gone wild: sing a few hymns to organ accompaniment, watch the movie, then end the evening holding hands and singing “Blest be the Tie that Binds.” We were home by 9 pm.

The plot of Stranger in My Forest was your basic reworking of Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son. I had never heard of any of the actors and the production quality of the movie was a little lower than cheap television. If I am remembering correctly, the turning point in the story’s plot was a car accident, which was also the occasion for the film’s only moment of graphic violence. It was a zooming shot of the shattered paws of the little dog who was killed in the wreck. There was an invitation to believe in Jesus at the end of the film.

The most famous Christian film of that era was A Thief in the Night, a movie about the rapture of the Church. This was before Left Behind became a cultural phenomenon. For those who don’t know, the rapture is a term that some Christians use to speak of the church’s being caught up to be with Jesus Christ in the end times. The word puzzled me in my early days as a follower of Jesus. It sounded too much like the title of a Christian romance novel. Not Baptist’s Gone Wild exactly but maybe something like Rapture in the Pews. They could have made a movie based on the book and showed it in church on New Year’s Eve.

I soon learned that most of my Baptist friends were ignoring the church’s rule about not going to the movies. I eventually broke the rule too, when the first Star Wars film came out. I can still remember hearing gasps during the opening scene when the star destroyer first comes into view. I think I actually ducked. I had never seen anything like it before. Certainly not in any Christian movie. The film’s underlying pagan philosophy didn’t bother me too much. I was mostly interested in the explosions.

Now those original Star Wars look a little like A Stranger in My Forest to me. Sort of quaint and outdated. Low production quality. Or at least, lower production quality than we usually see today. Meanwhile, the Baptists are making films for the movie theater. They often star actors whose names you actually know. I think Billy Graham started it all with The Prodigal, a film that was loosely based on Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son. Graham actually appeared in the film somewhere toward the end and gave an invitation to believe in Jesus.

The other night I rented a Christian movie from the video store. You might have seen ads for it when it was first released in theaters a few months ago. The movie had at least one major star in it. If I told you his name, you’d recognize it. The acting was pretty good. The soundtrack was full of popular songs. You really couldn’t tell a difference from any other Hollywood film, except that there was no swearing or sex in it.  Also, Iron Man, Thor, and Wonder Woman did not appear in any of the scenes.

There wasn’t any graphic violence either, except for the one scene where someone breaks a plate over someone’s head. There was some implied domestic abuse. The plot was a basic reworking of the parable of the prodigal son, only Jesus was hardly mentioned in the film at all. The movie was really more about the Christian music industry and the importance of following your dreams. There was an invitation at the end to call a phone number, if you had any problems with domestic violence.

Baptists gone wild.