FIRST-PERSON: 'Saved!' the movie vs. real salvation

by J. Alan Branch, posted Tuesday, June 15, 2004 (15 years ago)

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (BP)--Director Brian Dannelly's claims his film "Saved!" is only intended as satire. Perhaps a more accurate assessment comes from the film's producer, Michael Stipe of R.E.M., who says this is a movie in which the "monsters are Jesus freaks."

The movie's plot revolves around a group of students at a Christian high school in the Midwest. The film begins with a young girl named Mary and her boyfriend Dean telling secrets to each other under water.

When Dean bubbles out that he is homosexual, Mary rushes to the surface only to bump her head. When a pool assistant helps her, Mary thinks he is Jesus telling her to help Dean by having sexual relations with him. As a result, Mary becomes pregnant and Dean is sent away to an evangelical ministry for "de-gayification."

The film goes downhill from there.

Among many offensive elements, sexual purity is denigrated; Christian opposition to homosexuality is ridiculed; and the exclusive truth claims of Christian theism are lampooned. In the most vulgar scene, students in a school play pervert the crucifixion of Christ by including heavy sexual overtones.

No evangelical Christians are presented in a positive light. As Todd Hetz of Christianity Today states, "The movie almost exclusively shows two kinds of people -- hypocritical, judgmental Christians who cause problems and loving, accepting non-Christians who make things right." In fact, the most offensive character in the film is Hillary Faye, the lead singer in the school's Christian rock band.

Director Dannelly told one interviewer, "I grew up attending a Catholic elementary school, a Jewish summer camp and a Baptist high school, so I came to terms with, perhaps, a more universal kind of God." Thus, Saved! concludes with a nod toward "faith" in general, but it is faith in a non-condemning, all-inclusive deity. In fact, the only real "salvation" this film advocates is salvation from the exclusive truth claims of Christianity.

Brian Dannelly's politically correct "god" is not the God of the Bible. He has broken the Second Commandment by creating a God in his own image. He prefers a God who tolerates everyone's sexuality and never utters a discouraging word.

Dannelly's greatest objection to Christianity seems to be that Christians have the temerity to suggest someone's beliefs might be wrong and, more pointedly, their sexual ethics might be offensive to God. For example, at the end of Saved!, Dean arrives at the school prom with his boyfriend. They are told they cannot come in because homosexuality is an issue about right and wrong, to which Dean retorts, "It's all a gray area." I'm reminded of Jesus' words, "[The world] does hate Me because I testify about it -- that its deeds are evil" (John 7:7).

In contrast to the distorted view of reality presented in Saved!, the Bible describes people who do not believe in Christ as inventing ways of doing evil (Romans 1:30), being dead in their trespasses (Colossians 2:13), unrighteous (Romans 3:10) and sinners who fall short of God's glory (Romans 3:23). In a word, they are lost.

The ethical worldview advocated in Saved! actually leads to spiritual bondage, for Jesus also said, "Everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin" (John 8:34). The Good News is that true salvation comes when one surrenders to Jesus Christ: "Therefore if the Son sets you free, you really will be free" (John 8:36).

Christians helped end slavery, oppose exploitation of the poor and argue for the protection of the weakest and most defenseless. Most importantly, Christians have taken the life-changing and culture-transforming message of Christ to the darkest corners of the world. Unlike the plastic hypocrites presented in Dannelly's film, genuine Christians join conviction and compassion.


J. Alan Branch is vice president for student development at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo.

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