Hooray for Hollywood - Using Movies for Faith Formation
One of the things I love about the digital space is the access to unfathomable amounts of content. Renaissance paintings? Creative liturgies? Sunday school crafts? Church camp songs? Just a Google search away. And for a movie buff? Between the myriad streaming services and YouTube for clips – there is hardly any film footage from the past 100 years you can’t access!
How is this digital ministry? Pop culture viewed through a faith lens is always a fascinating exercise in mapping scripture, lessons, and theology onto broader society, and helps all of us interpret our role as Christians in the world.
God in the Movies
Elizabeth Van Nostrand, a fellow student in my Education for Ministry (EfM) class facilitated a fascinating opening exercise recently, analyzing how God was portrayed in the movies. She noted that while there are some religious traditions that eschew depictions of God, from the very earliest movies, Hollywood has attempted to portray God in a variety of ways. Silent movies avoided an image of God, choosing to represent God as a written caption – perhaps taking the opening lines of the Gospel of John to heart. Subsequent “talkies” continued the tradition of presenting God audibly but not visually, using a deep, masculine, authoritative voice – sometimes with a British accent for extra gravitas. But then things began to get a little more interesting. In 1936, The Green Pastures, a movie based on a book of the same name, featured an all-black cast, and God was portrayed as a black man. Both the book and movie, written and produced by white writers and directors, were criticized by black audiences and academics as being inauthentic depiction of black life; however the depiction of God as a black man was revolutionary for the era – and considered blasphemous by some.
Since that time, God has been embodied by a diversity of actors as well as a cantankerous animated character (Monty Python and the Holy Grail). Elizabeth listed just a few examples –
She also mentioned the show Joan of Arcadia in which each episode featured God embodied in a different person, capturing the Joan Osbornes’ theme song “One of Us” with God depicted as a “…stranger on the bus.”
Finally, Elizabeth posed a few questions that would make for a great youth group discussion (and certainly left our EfM class with much to ponder):
- Who would you cast as God if you were making a movie?
- How would you prepare to play God if you were an actor?
Site Licenses to Show Movies
A note of caution: if you are using movies in a church setting, remember you must have a site license in order to do so! Even though your church is a non-profit, even though you are not charging, even though the movie is being used for instructional purposes, you are not legally permitted to do so without a site license. That FBI warning at the start of every movie expresses that movies are for personal viewing. A license can be obtained simply and easily through Church Video License (www.cvli.com). You may choose to obtain a license that covers primarily religious, educational, and family-friendly movies; or you may wish to purchase a more comprehensive package that covers over a thousand production companies including most of the major studios. The renewable license runs for one year and the cost is based on congregation size. By purchasing a license, you allow for the possibility of using movies and film clips for church programming for children, teens, and adults throughout the year*.
With a site license – and some popcorn – you can find endless ways to use movies to explore your faith!
- Lisa Brown, Director of Digital Ministry
What can we create together?
Contact Membership Vision to learn more about our website platform and social media strategies!
Our goal at Membership Vision is to help churches and other faith communities to tell their stories in the digital space. Each church, irrespective of size, has a living and active story to tell, and technology provides an opportunity to share that story in a way that is welcoming and engaging. We ease the burden of keeping communications current, by leveraging content, and harnessing the many ways that members of our communities connect with each other, both inside and outside of the church walls. We aim to remove technological hurdles and allow churches to communicate online in an effective and sustainable way. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (805) 626-0143 to talk about the ways we can help your church build a digital presence.
* Lisa Brown. The Best VBS Workbook Ever! (New York: Church Publishing, 2017)