In what is becoming the latest clash between fundamentalist Christianity and the rest of the world, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) recently assigned a PG rating to an explicitly Christian film. The movie, “Facing the Giants,” is the story of a football team with a losing record that suddenly gets turned around and starts winning when the coach finds God.

Even though it’s a low budget movie, produced for a mere $100,000, the film may find its way to a national audience. The producer needed to secure permission from Sony to use a Christian song as part of the theme music for the film. Sony indicated they wanted to see the movie first. After viewing the film, Sony agreed to distribute the film in 400 theatres.

That’s when the MPAA got involved, and that’s when the fight broke out.

Don Wildmon, founder of the American Family Association, attacked the rating as a direct assault on the faith. Wildmon’s group distributed an e-message under the headline, “MPAA places Christianity in same category as sex, violence, profanity.” In the message Wildmon accuses the MPAA of telling parents that the film is “objectionable.”

Unfortunately, that’s not the truth. The PG rating is designed to alert parents that certain themes or ideas may not be appropriate for children. It says nothing about teenagers over the age of 13 (presumably a target audience for a film about high school football). All the PG rating does is say to parents, “You might want to look at this before allowing your child to view it.”

Isn’t that what Christian groups are always telling parents to do? In fact, isn’t that precisely what the American Family Association does every week with their bulletins about what’s objectionable on television? The PG rating is not an indictment on Christianity. It is merely a flag for parents of children to be sure they know what’s going on.

Of course, maybe Wildmon and his ilk expect us to accept anything with the label Christian on it without question. But if that’s what they think, they are living on Fantasy Island. I would not let my children attend a Bible school at a neighboring church without first finding out something about the church. My guess is most conscientious parents are the same way. Just because the package says Christian on the outside, does not mean Jesus is on the inside.

This is not to say that “Facing the Giants” is not a faithful rendering of a Christian story. But alerting parents that a movie has a strong religious theme, of whatever religion, is not an attack on faith.

We are left but with two conclusions about this matter. First it would appear that certain segments of Christianity in America seem to have a big chip on its shoulder. Any sort of slight, any questioning of the faith, or in this case, any suggestion that parents should guide their children in matters of faith, and the fight is on.

The other conclusion is more disturbing. It would seem that watchdog groups like Wildmon’s American Family Association are capable of twisting even the most inconsequential issue into a national emergency. If they are doing this just to keep their base agitated for the purpose of raising money, then it reflects a level of cynicism that even the most hard-boiled politician does not practice. Makes me want to give the AFA a PG rating, or more.

James L. Evans is pastor of Auburn First Baptist Church in Auburn, Ala.

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