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Only three short years ago, religious films were met with resistance in Hollywood. In 2013, when producer Joe Roth was assembling “Heaven is Real,” he had difficulties even getting the ball rolling.
Roth recalls now the resistance he was up against. “At that time, if the casting agent says, ‘I want Brad Pitt,’ his agent says, ‘No, no. He’d never do a faith-based movie.’ There was definitely some of that,” says Roth.
Fast forward to 2016, and it seems that religion is very much back in fashion in Hollywood. With a new wave of inspirational, religiously-inspired films hitting theaters this Lent season, it appears that filmmakers who wouldn’t have normally given projects like Roth’s so much as a prayer are now giving them numerous blessings — and investments.
And if you look at the celebrity roster signing up to star in these films, it’s clear that this trend is hitting the mainstream.
Take “Miracles From Heaven,” for example. Starring Jennifer Garner and Queen Latifah, the film is imbued with heavily Christian themes. Based on a true story, the film follows the family of Anna Beam, a young girl who is cured of a rare lifelong digestive illness after falling headfirst into a hollowed out tree. Typically, when trees aren’t pruned yearly, their limbs become weak. But this mishap quickly turned into a miracle, as young Anna reports having met Jesus while unconscious.
Inspirational films with Christian themes are by no means new to the film world. Recall the days of Kirk Cameron and Kevin Sorbo. But now, these themes are no longer radioactive and are a viable choice for notable Hollywood directors and actors.
Perhaps this revival is a gentle reminder of the power of the self-identified Christian moviegoer.
“The Hollywood community has historically viewed faith films through a political lens,” said ‘Miracles From Heaven’ co-producer, DeVon Frankel. “So you wouldn’t get the Hollywood community to support this and put their clients in a film. But over the years, that stigma has diminished.”
In December of 2011, nine-year-old Annabel Beam was playing in a hollowed out tree in her family’s yard when she slipped and fell into the tree, face-first. While unconscious, the little girl reported that she spoke to Jesus first-hand, who told her that her plans on earth were not yet completed.
Meanwhile, Annabel had been suffering from pseudo-obstruction motility disorder, an incurable lifelong condition. Not only did Annabel emerge from the fall without a single scratch, but she was somehow entirely cured of her lifelong illness.
And now, Annabel’s miracle has been adapted into a film starring Jennifer Garner. The film is called “Miracles of Heaven” and is adapted from a book written by Christy Beam, Anabel’s mother.
“Miracles From Heaven” tells a fictionalized version of Annabel’s story. In the film, Anna, played by Kylie Rogers, awakens Garner’s character in the middle of the night with unbearable pain.
After countless tests, misdiagnoses, and doctor’s visits, Anna’s doctors ultimately diagnose her with pseudo-obstruction motility disorder. While 26% of Americans typically don’t pay their bills on time due to medical expenses, Anna’s family is depicted as well-off, with a pristine and privileged lifestyle.
Of course, Anna’s diagnosis sends the family into a world of hardship and confusion. But throughout the film, Anna’s mother’s strength and faith carries them through trying times.
According to The Daily Mail, Annabel Beam’s mother, Christy, thought Garner was a shoe-in for the role from day one.
“We met for the very first time and she had my book,” said Christy. “She had read the book from cover to cover, and she’d underlined and highlighted and dog-eared. She’s really sweet.”
Meanwhile, Garner’s dedication to the role is palpable, and she has nothing but praise for the Beam family.
“I was definitely inspired by who Christy is as a mom,” Garner said.
“Miracles From Heaven” is currently playing in theaters nationwide.
California has been in the midst of a drought for quite some time, which has put a strain on the state’s water supply. Now, a well-known Christian camp is being shut down following a bureaucratic decision that terminated its water supply.
According to The Daily Journal, Redwood Glen, a California Christian camp located in the Santa Cruz Mountains, had its water supply terminated on Feb. 29. The camp is now closed indefinitely until it can procure an alternative water supply.
For the past two decades, Renwood Glen has gotten its water from the San Mateo County Parks Department’s Memorial Park water system. Recently, the California state water board notified the county that it must terminate service to the camp by March 1.
Memorial Park is designated as a “transient non-community water system,” which limits the number of people who can access the water. If San Mateo County did not comply with the order, Memorial Park would have become a “community water system,” which requires a more stringent and expensive water treatment process.
Pastor Larry Rice, executive director of Redwood Glen, arranged for a well to be dug on the camp’s property last year after learning of the state water board’s impending decision. Rice ultimately decided that the water was “not good enough and not sustainable,” rendering the well useless.
Now that the camp has run out of options, Rice has hired another well driller to tap into a creek on the property. However, he believes that this process could take up to nine months to complete.
Water has been a subject of heated debate in the U.S. since news broke of the Flint, MI water crisis. Over 147 million people around the world do not have access to clean water, and many Americans were shocked to learn that these problems are pervasive in their own country.
According to the New York Daily News, Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton both called for the resignation of Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder during a recent debate in Flint, MI. An investigation into the matter is still ongoing.
While the termination of Redwood Glen’s water supply may not make national headlines like the Flint water crisis, perhaps it should. As a result of the state water board’s decision, 20 camp employees will lose their jobs.
Additionally, 23 people live at the camp on a full-time basis, including several young children. All of these people became temporarily homeless when the water supply was terminated.
If the county continued to provide water to Redwood Glen, the state could fine it $25,000 per day. Rice has considered bringing in truckloads of water to help the displaced residents, but he said this is also not sustainable.
“We are running out of options and running out of water,” Rice added.
Over the next few months, we can expect to see quite a few more movies that deal with faith. In an article from New York Daily News, Ethan Sacks writes that plenty of Christian-themed films are going to be reaching the theaters by Easter: “God’s Not Dead 2,” “Risen,” “Miracles From Heaven,” and “The Young Messiah” among them. These films are expected to do very well, and we should see them connect with some wholesome families.
These films aren’t exactly the same films we have been seeing for years. They are still Christianity-driven, yes, but are covering much more topics.
In an article from Patheos, Chris Williams notes that he’s very glad to see diversity in these films. He’s excited that the Christian film industry is seemingly expanding its scope and creating many different kinds of films — not just the same faith-based drama that has been repeated over and over.
The film industry has always reflected our culture and specifically has had a strong influence on children. We probably aren’t going to see too many families walking around the supermarket in full gear from “Mad Max: Fury Road,” but some subtle changes could happen.
Yet it’s understandable that parents will want to monitor what their children watch closely. Because kids are so impressionable, it’s important to have an open discussion about what they see on the big screen.
One topic families will discuss more, once these films come out, is tattoos. Actors aren’t really hiding them anymore, and they are taking pride in their originality. In the United States, more than 20% of adults now have at least one tattoo, and that number seems to be increasing.
Meanwhile, other families had to tell their children that the latest Marvel superhero film, “Deadpool,” wasn’t for them, due to the movie’s violence, nudity, and very strong language.
Families looking for more appropriate stories with a message may find some comfort in these upcoming titles for the Easter season:
- “Risen” — A Roman officer investigates the crucifixion.
- “Miracles From Heaven” — A mother searches for a way to save her daughter who has a rare disease.
- “God’s Not Dead 2” — A junior-high school teacher attends a court that could change her life.
- “The Young Messiah” — Follows a seven-year-old Jesus Christ returning to Bethlehem with Roman assassins after him.
We can expect many more Christian-themed films in the near future, and if the success continues, even more will follow.
The nation is losing many of its Christian schools, particularly in the realm of early education. Now, a respected Christian preschool in Iowa is preparing to close its doors after decades of service to the local community.
According to the Ames Tribune, Bethesda Christian Preschool will officially close at the end of this school year due to a number of factors. A gradual decline in enrollment, paired with several key staff retirements, each played a role in the school’s demise.
The program, which serves children ages three to five, opened in 1971 at Bethesda Lutheran Church. Since 1988, director Pat Johnson and assistant director Jackie Woodlin have paved the way for the school to become a pillar of Bethesda’s Christian community.
“We’ve always kind of considered this family,” Woodin said. “This is the Bethesda family and that includes the children and all their families that have been through here, all the boards, all the teachers. It’s a true family. There is a connection between everyone.”
Johnson and Woodlin both decided to retire at the end of this year, which contributed to the decision to close the preschool. Woodlin believes that the school’s decline in enrollment is partially due to the number of free public preschools that have been introduced to the area in recent years.
“When Ames started, we weathered that pretty well but then when Gilbert got the free preschool also, we had a lot of Gilbert kids,” Woodlin said.
“I have been amazed at the number of people that have stayed with us,” Johnson said. “[Free preschool] is hard for a lot of families to pass up, and it’s an excellent program.”
Preschoolers of employed mothers spend an average of 36 hours in childcare, and early education is a crucial part of a child’s development. This particular preschool was even more important to the local community because of the Christian values that it preached.
While Bethesda Christian Preschool is one of many that have closed in recent years, it should be noted that more Christian schools are opening all over the country.
The White Mountain Independent recently reported that a new private Christian school is set to open this summer in Taylor, AZ, serving children from preschool to first grade. The school, funded by the Immanuel Evangelical Lutheran Church, will be staffed with experienced teachers who provide an education based on Christian values.
As for Bethesda Christian Preschool, its staff is already reminiscing on the great experiences that they’ve had during their time at the school.
“We have such a kind atmosphere, I think,” said teaching assistant Nettie Eichhorn. “It’s just very uplifting and supportive, and that’s why I love working here.”
“It’s going to be hard to find somewhere that would meet this level of environment,” teaching assistant Amber Wiertzema added. “Nowhere else can match this specialness.”
Johnson and Woodlin left the door open for a possible reopening of Bethesda Christian Preschool in the future. For now, staff and students can only cherish the memories they created during their time at the school.
As reported by The Denver Post and multiple media outlets earlier this week, the Supreme Court has still not decided on whether or not they will hear a case against the state of Colorado from two of their neighboring states. Nebraska and Oklahoma filed a lawsuit over a year ago claiming that Colorado’s open marijuana laws create a burden on their states, which restrict the sale and use of cannabis.
While the decision will have an impact on a multitude of different people, businesses, and the country as a whole, there are six Christian brothers who have an elevated interest in how this all plays out.
According to The Gazette, the Stanley brothers, all six of whom attended Colorado Springs Christian School, developed a cannabis oil extract four years ago for their sister, Charlotte, who suffers from Dravet syndrome. The average child will catch between six and 10 colds each year, but a condition like this can have serious implications for a lifetime.
The brothers appropriately named the therapeutic formula, which has been proven effective at treating conditions like epilepsy, Charlotte’s Web.
“That’s when it really sank in,” said Joel Stanley, the eldest of the brothers. “This is not a fluke. This is not going away. There is a purpose to everything under the sun, including the marijuana plant. It was a transformation for me, and I was angry that I had been told marijuana was evil and of no medical benefit. At that point, it was very easy for me to reconcile marijuana with my Christian faith.”
It’s easy to understand where Stanley might have been coming from. Films and TV shows often depict marijuana use as a criminal behavior, thus having a negative influence on the public’s perception of cannabis.
The brothers and their mother, Paige Figi, are looking to change that. They helped to establish Realm of Caring, a nonprofit that helps families with sick children pay for relocating to places like Colorado, where this treatment is legal and available.
“I’m not an activist,” said Figi. “I’m very introverted. I don’t like the spotlight. I’m just the mother of a sick kid who is looking for best treatment with the least side effects.”
The family has since been active in efforts to dispel some of the mythology behind medicinal marijuana and actively push for changes in legislation. There’s no question they will be watching perhaps the biggest Supreme Court case on marijuana with anticipation.
When most people hear the phrase “pro-life,” they automatically associate it with the very specific movement or ideology that life begins at conception and that unborn children need to be protected. However, a new group has started an initiative that could cloud this distinction, and traditional pro-life activists aren’t too pleased about it.
According to the Christian Post, the Evangelical Environmental Movement (EEN) recently launched what they’re calling the, “Pro-Life Clean Energy Campaign.” While the new group is concerned with the lives of children and the unborn, their priority seems to be more focused on the environmental factors that negatively impact the planet.
“Pollution harms the unborn, causing damage that lasts a lifetime,” a statement on the EEN’s website reads. “Dirty air and water has serious consequences for the health of our children and other vulnerable populations like the elderly. This is why pro-life Christians must lead the charge on clean energy, and why the Evangelical Environmental Network (EEN) will organize half a million pro-life Christians to participate in our Pro-Life Clean Energy Campaign.”
There is no doubt pollution is a widespread problem; in fact, approximately 70% of industrial waste is dumped into bodies of water, which in turn pollutes the usable supplies in many regions of the world. While it certainly sounds like a lofty and admirable goal, there are those in the traditional pro-life realm, such as the writers who co-wrote the piece for the Christian Post, who believe co-opting a term used to protest abortion could dilute and even cheapen the meaning of “pro-life.”
Opponents also argue that many of the problems the environmental group talks about are much more menial and indirect than the actual abortion process. They also believe that some of the group’s goals could actually have very contradictory side effects.
“EEN’s demand for ‘100% clean electricity from renewable resources by 2030’ would, if implemented, likely reduce the health of or even kill more people than the pollution it prevented,” E. Calvin Beisner, Janice Shaw Crouse, and Austin Ruse wrote. “By raising the cost of electricity, even just the mercury regulations (which EPA eventually did implement, though the Supreme Court struck down the regulation), are calculated to cost about 2,500 to 4,250 deaths per year. Getting 100% of our electricity from ‘renewable sources’ (basically wind and solar) would cost multiples more.”
Historically speaking, 2015 was not a great year for Christians worldwide. According to a new report by Open Doors USA, it was actually the bloodiest year for the denomination in modern times. Approximately 7,000 Christians were murdered around the globe last year because of their faith.
While things might seem bleak, there is reason for optimism in some of these brutal countries. Coming in at number nine on the report’s ranking of the countries where Christians were most persecuted for their faith was the Middle East nation of Iran. According to Fox News, the number of Iranians secretly converting to and practicing the Christian religion has been exploding recently.
Experts hope that the rise in the Christian population will soon allow Iranians to practice the religion of their choosing freely and openly. Christianity has been openly condemned in the traditional Muslim country for centuries. In 2010, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei even said that the secret churches in the country, “threaten the Islamic faith and deceive young Muslims.”
One of the main factors of this rise in secret or “underground” makeshift worship meetings has been the work of the London-based Pars Theological Center. According to the Christian Post, they have trained at least 200 Iranian Christians to be the country’s next generation of leaders in the faith.
“Pars sees this as a real chance to train agents of change who would transform the Iranian society from the bottom up by fostering a grassroots development of the values of Jesus in an Iranian style,” a source close to the center told the Christian Post. “It is not anti-Iranian. It’s an Iranian movement. It’s a great, great number of Muslims turning to Christ.”
Sources say that currently most of these secret church groups meet in small number of four or five people in order to preserve anonymity and security. In the U.S., citizens have to worry about criminals breaking in through their front doors, which is how 33% of intruders enter, and stealing their possessions. In Iran, however, the nation’s people may see lashings, torture, or even a death sentence if the government’s police force busts through the front door and finds them practicing their Christian faith.
“If they want to sing, they have to sing very quietly or not sing at all,” is how the anonymous source put it.
As the fight against ISIS continues, The Gospel Herald reports that a new military unit composed of Iraqi Christians has formed an alliance with Iraq’s own forces to battle the terrorist group.
Known as the Nineveh Plain Forces (NPF), the Christian military group is currently operating in the northern Iraq city of Mosul, with members stationed 72 kilometers away in the Nineveh Plains under the command of the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government.
Before ISIS took control of the city in June 2014, it was mostly inhabited by various minority groups, including Christians, Turks, Yazidis and Shabaks.
The terrorist organization is intent on eliminating the Christian and non-Muslim populations in the city through both conversion or summary killings.
As of now, the ISIS militants in the city have destroyed the oldest Christian structure in Iraq, the St. Elijah Monastery, as well as 20 homes belonging to Christian families in an attempt to prevent Christians from returning to Mosul.
Despite the current state of the city, Commander Sefa Ilyas Checo of the NPF remains confident that the joint offer of Iraqi and Kurdish forces will retake Mosul and even hope to become the main security force of the Nineveh Plains.
“The initial goal of the [NPF] is to liberate Christian areas from IS,” said Romeo Hakari Bet-Nahrain Democratic Party. “However, this force will become the core force of the Nineveh Plains people after IS… We want autonomy for the people of Nineveh Plains after the liberation of the area.”
There are currently 600 active members in the NPF, with many more Christians preparing to join.
These brutal attacks against religious freedom in both Iraq and Syria have fueled lawmakers and activists in the United States to urge the Obama administration to deem the situation as genocide by ISIS.
According to CNN, advocates of religious freedom put forth a petition and made a cable news commercial demanding the U.S. to make a legal determination that these atrocities are indeed acts of genocide.
But even with the genocide label, U.S. officials have stated that it wouldn’t alter the administration’s response, which has been described as an aggressive campaign to push back ISIS forces and protect minorities.
While this designation would likely bolster efforts to house refugees in asylum countries, it would also raise questions about America’s obligation to refugees and asylum seekers and potentially increase U.S. military engagement in the regions.
With only about 2% ($12 billion) U.S. military spending going to international security assistance, the costs of increased engagement overseas have long been a debated issue.
At least 70% of Americans can expect to experience dizziness at some point in their lives, and for the producers of the new movie “Risen,” starring Joseph Fiennes, it’s because of the $11.8 million the film earned at the box office opening weekend. In fact, the film did so well, that it’s taken its place among the top 20 best box office performance among Christian movies.
The film is expected to play well through March and into early April, and in the rankings it scored 7th behind the likes of “The Passion of the Christ,” “Son of God,” and “Heaven Is for Real.”
The film has been applauded for featuring a 47-year-old New Zealand actor, Cliff Curtis, especially in the wake of heavy criticism for the Oscars lack of diversity this year.
Joseph Fiennes, the featured star of the movie, applauded the casting choice on Metro: “…yes this is a big step forward just in terms of getting casting right and moving away from the golden, blue-eyed boy… It’s brilliant. I’m really proud of that.”
The role was one that Curtis used to fantasize about playing, especially since he grew up a deeply religious man.
Fiennes plays a Roman solider serving under Pontius Pilate, Clavius, in the film, who has been ordered to disprove that Jesus Christ rose from the grave three days after dying.
“Risen” has already made $12.7 million at the box office and had a production budget of only $20 million, so it is expected to break even and make a profit at any time.
During its opening weekend, the film only ranked third behind “Deadpool” and “Kung Fu Panda 3.”
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has relentlessly pursued the support of Christian evangelicals throughout his campaign. Now, the controversial business mogul is speaking out against an antiquated rule that forbids Christian leaders from endorsing him.
According to The Washington Post, Trump recently told the Christian Broadcasting Network that more prominent faith leaders would publicly endorse him if their churches could not be penalized by losing their tax-exempt status.
“I know people who want to endorse me, but they’re afraid to endorse anybody because they don’t want to get political. So essentially, they’ve taken a lot of the power away from the church,” Trump told CBN’s “Brody File.”
Since churches in the U.S. are exempt from taxes, their leaders are forbidden from endorsing political candidates. Trump may be bluffing when he says that numerous Christian leaders are afraid to support him, but his brutal honesty has led many to reconsider the relationship between religion and politics.
“I see churches where they’re afraid to be outspoken because they don’t want to lose their tax-exempt status, and I realize that is one of the problems,” Trump added. “I want to give power back to the church because the church has to have more power. Christianity is really being chopped; little by little it’s being taken away.”
Donald Trump is no stranger to taxes, which does qualify him to speak out on this type of issue. In the past several decades, he has moved much of his business to Florida from New York, which can save someone in a high income tax bracket thousands or even millions of dollars.
However, many Christian Americans are still questioning Trump’s commitment to religion, with some claiming he is merely tugging at the heartstrings of evangelicals to bolster his poll numbers. It’s part of the reason that he finished second in the Iowa caucuses to Ted Cruz, who has a much better reputation among social conservatives.
According to Time, the uneasiness that many Christians feel towards Trump is likely warranted. Since 2002, the brash businessman has flip-flopped on several key issues, including abortion, a ban on assault weapons, and the invasion of Iraq.
Trump did clarify his views on abortion during a recent debate, stating that, “As long as they do the abortion, I am not for funding Planned Parenthood.”
Despite Trump’s arrogance and willingness to reverse his stance on important issues, he hasn’t suffered at all in the polls. If anything, his recent comments on churches losing their tax-exempt status will only add to his momentum.
A well landscaped yard may reduce allergens, such as ragweed, and a clean and decorated home can send a certain message to neighbors and visitors. But maintaining a perfect religious practice can be challenging — especially when subject to domestic abuse. Unfortunately, a “silent epidemic” of abuse of Christian women, including pastor’s and minister’s wives, is occurring every day.
Since domestic violence is rarely discussed in the Christian community, awareness and prevention has not been easily accessible or offered.
In a study conducted by Sojourners, called “I Believe You: Sexual Violence and the Church,” it was found that 65% of pastors have only spoken one time or fewer about domestic or sexual violence.
The study showed that 22% of pastors had addressed the issue annually, and 33% mentioned it “rarely.” One in ten said they had never taught on it.
Despite the infrequency with which abuse is discussed, every nine seconds in the U.S., a woman is assaulted or beaten, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
Dr. Benjamin Keyes of Regent University’s Center for Trauma Studies commented that the reason for the high rate of abuse in Christian homes might be because of the traditional role structures, in which women are often subservient to men.
Yet the epidemic is not only limited to physical abuse. Many women suffer emotional, verbal and sexual abuse at the hands of their husbands or partners.
Keyes said that women are not speaking up for a variety of reasons. “It’ll bring on that shadow of shame and a lot of guilt and ‘I’m not going to do anything to rock the boat so I’ll keep the secret in the context of the family,'” he said.
He also said that women might stay in abusive relationships because of finances and for the sake of their children.