A few weeks ago, I reviewed the Christian film, Miracles from Heaven, based on the true story of a little girl whose deadly incurable condition was miraculously reversed through the power of prayer (and a concussion). It wasn’t technically a very good movie, but Jennifer Garner delivered a very nice performance, and it was sweet and earnest enough to work as a harmless, feel-good crowd pleaser. The film did not seek to alienate. There was no ill-intent. It was not intolerant. It merely sought to reaffirm and celebrate one’s Christian faith, a message with which I have zero problem, in spite of being an atheistic heathen.
God’s Not Dead 2, on the other hand, is not only a terrible film on the merits, but its message is misleading and exclusionary. Basically, it frames Christians as a persecuted minority who are merely trying to keep their dying faith alive by occasionally proselytizing in schools. There’s nothing wrong with expressing one’s faith in the public school system, right? Unless you’re a Muslim. Or a Jew. Or an atheist.
Of course, God’s Not Dead 2 frames the infraction as a very minor one, so as to create sympathy for the teacher, Grace (Melissa Joan Hart), who is being sued by a Satanic institution called the ACLU (yes, their lawyer is even played by Ray Wise, who has made a career out of playing Devilish characters). The ACLU is depicted as an all-powerful Goliath fiendishly attempting to stamp out religious thought, never mind the fact that the ACLU advocates for Christians as much as it does for non-Christians, even if those Christians are hatemongering bigots like the Westboro Baptist Church. The ACLU is not trying to rid the world of Christianity — it’s trying to protect religious freedom and free speech, where it is appropriate.
Schools are not that venue, but even still, the ACLU likely would not have taken up this case. The teacher in question, Grace, simply answered a Christian student’s question equating the beliefs of Martin Luther King, Jr. to the teachings of Jesus (accurate), something I very much doubt would result in a teacher’s termination in Arkansas, where this movie is set. I went to public schools in Arkansas, where 90 percent of the teachers are Christian and the Bible is taught as “literature,” and all the books we read were related back to the Bible. Nobody ever got shit-canned for that, or for suggesting that homosexuality is a sin and that someone should invent a pill to cure it (ah, Mrs. Villines and your French-speaking with a deeply Southern accent. “Paul-Lay Veeew Fraun-Saaaay.”).
Here, however, the ACLU brings its full might down on this poor teacher who was only expressing her honest Christian beliefs to a student who asked a question. Grace hires Tom (Jesse Metcalfe) to defend her against both the ACLU and the school district. A full 45-minutes of the trial is devoted to whether it’s OK to teach about the historical Jesus (which is actually an interesting Constitutional question) and a series of experts are brought in to prove the existence of secular Jesus. That argument, however, is eventually scuttled when it’s discovered that the teacher had also encouraged her student to look to a higher power after the death of her brother. Oops.
Throughout it all, the Christians are depicted as underdogs fighting against the big bully, the ACLU, and the United States government. There’s also a subplot in which a pastor’s sermons are subpoenaed by the government, though it is not explained why. Apparently, that subplot was inspired by a similar action by the lesbian mayor of Houston, who ordered area pastors to provide her with copies of their sermons so that she could shame them for their bigotry. The request, of course, was unlawful, and the pastors in Houston fought back, saying that the mayor was breaching the wall of separation between church and state, ironically the very same argument the ACLU lodged against the teacher in this movie.
Here, however, the teacher argues that there is nothing explicitly in the Constitution that establishes a wall between church and state, and that the phrase came from Thomas Jefferson in a letter to a Baptist church minister. The movie is right on that count; and in that letter, Jefferson was assuring the Baptist minister that the federal government would never interfere in the church’s right to free religious expression. Implicit in that assurance, however, was that the church would also not interfere in the rights of the state, and that is exactly what the teacher in question was doing in this movie: She was injecting her faith into a school lesson.
In other words, Christians — or at least the ones represented in this film — want a wall between church and state when it suits them, but not when it prevents them from expressing their beliefs in a governmental capacity. However, you can bet your ass that the very same Christians who are fighting for the rights of teachers to express their Christian faith in a school setting would also argue against Muslim teachers, or Jewish teachers, or Satan-worshiping teachers from doing the same.
In other words, the Christians depicted in this film are like Donald Trump: They will bully others for their beliefs when it suits them, but if they believe their religious beliefs are being infringed upon, then they are the victims fighting against that big, bad bully, the United States Constitution. In the end, the teacher comes out the victor, a Christian band plays to a crowded stadium of joyful believers, and the Satanic cult known as the ACLU slinks back to its offices, where they’ll probably go on to defend a Christian pastor for expressing his bigoted views in a private church.
The problem with a film like this is that it may encourage other Christian teachers to “fight the power,” like a school teacher in Arkansas who was suspended just this week for showing his students the Christian snuff film, The Passion of the Christ, and then railing against political correctness while yelling at his students about “liberals and Democrats who were trying to violate his First Amendment Rights.”
Apparently, this school teacher was trying to inspire a storyline for God’s Not Dead 3.