GOD’S NOT DEAD 2, US, 2016. Starring Melissa Joan Hart, Jesse Metcalfe, Pat Boone, David A.R. White, Benjamin A. Onyang, Ray Wise, Hayley Orrontia, Robin Givens, Trish Lafarche, Paul Kwo, Fred Dalton Thompson. Directed by Harold Cronk. 120 minutes. Rated PG (Mild themes).
In 2014, the Faith-film, God is Not Dead, received a worldwide release. In more recent years, Faith-films, produced in the United States, have shown expertise in craft and have become big box office there. Beyond the United States (or, within different states in the US) these films play to their target audiences, those with Bible-based Christianity, relying on literal interpretation, and at least to that extent fundamentalist.
These communities have come to the fore during 2016, especially with the campaigning for the US presidency. There has often been quite some conflict between these religious groups and “secular” groups in terms of moral issues, especially abortion, homosexuality, same-sex unions. In fact, these issues are not brought up in this film which presents the Christians as committed, fervent, prepared to protest and campaign for their faith.
The original film centred on a university course and intellectual and philosophical debates about God and the proofs for the existence of God as well as of faith. Audiences, fundamentalist or not, who are interested in such proofs found the film of interest. But, it is the type of film, with its proof-dialogue, which is quickly dismissed by those of a more atheistic disposition. The conclusion was that God was not dead. It was a subplot involving a journalist who lacked faith but who discovered she had cancer and who prayed and was healed. A Christian music group, the Newsboys, also featured.
The journalist healed from cancer and The Newsboys are back in the sequel. This time it is not an intellectual debate – although a great deal of time is given to the proof of the existence of the historical Jesus. This time the centre of the film is a court case.
Television star, Melissa Joan Hart (Sabrina) is a faith-committed teacher at a local school. She is supported by her grandfather whom she cares for – Pat Boone, at 82, still proving himself evangelical (with some good one-liners: for instance, atheists destroy but they don’t destroy the pain). At school, she answers a question about the teaching of Martin Luther King and that of Gandhi and quotes the Gospel sermon on the Mount on nonviolence. She is reported to the principal (Robin Givens) and called before the school board who tells her that she has broken the law, proselytising in the classroom.
The parents of the girl who raised the issue are secular and take the teacher to court. She is allotted a lawyer, Jesse Metcalfe, who wanted to apologise so that everything is over and done with. She is committed to her cause, suffers a great deal during the case, especially with the always sinister -looking prosecutor, Ray Wise and even a final ordeal from her own lawyer. The judge, Ernie Hudson, is not particularly sympathetic.
To non-American eyes, the case seems somewhat silly, it being evident that this was a history class, a history question was answered with history reference irrespective of the faith commitment of the teacher. However, those against the teacher, protesting outside aggressively, media person0alities critical, are portrayed as self-righteous and intolerant. Young people support the teacher. She is shown to be willing to be a martyr for her faith and commitment to Jesus as her personal saviour.
With the issue, the possibility for featured to refer to religion, to religious teaching, in a school is something that most people would happily tolerate taught The other issues in the moral area have led to what could be labelled as viciousness on both sides. This is not part of the screenplay is. hostile critics of this film are quick to point out that Christians can be vicious and intolerant in their protests of bringing the literal Bible passages to bear on moral issues.
The film was quite emotional – on both sides, but involving its audience in the Christian cause and for religious freedom. As with the first film, there is an emotional rally climax with a song by The Newsboys.
The setting is Arkansas. At one stage the Christian pastors are ordered by law to submit the texts of all their sermons for the previous three months. One pastor who has featured in each film, with his
own name, David A. R. White, has refused and an epilogue to the film has his arrest – and the potential for God’s Not Dead 3.
Pure Flix Released April 28th
Peter Malone MSC is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.