My inner cynic is impressed by the latest marketing campaign for the newest Superman movie. Various incarnations of the story have popped up all over the internet, but they all seem to come back to the CNN Belief blog which states:
As the new Superman movie takes flight this weekend, filmmakers are hoping the Man of Steel lands not only in theaters, but also in pulpits.
Warner Bros. Studios is aggressively marketing “Man of Steel” to Christian pastors, inviting them to early screenings, creating Father’s Day discussion guides and producing special film trailers that focus on the faith-friendly angles of the movie.
The movie studio even asked a theologian to provide sermon notes for pastors who want to preach about Superman on Sunday. Titled “Jesus: The Original Superhero,” the notes run nine pages.
“How might the story of Superman awaken our passion for the greatest hero who ever lived and died and rose again?” the sermon notes ask.
It goes on to talk about the “obvious” correlation between Jesus and the Man of Steel (they’re both aliens?) and how pastors are being actively encouraged to incorporate movie clips into their sermons.
Marketing ploys like this one almost make me grateful to have been brought up in Luddite church where new technology and innovation is looked upon as straying from what “Ms. Eddy meant” — unless it can be used to further the “cause of Christian Science” or keep costs down (like the “remote” TMC Annual Meeting).
CS Sunday lessons are the same in every church in every country across the globe. They are mind-numbingly dull, and pre-selected months in advance by an exclusive, secretive group that no one will tell me anything about. The upside (and downside) to this is that they don’t compare Superman to Jesus as part of a Warner Bros marketing campaign.
I understand including pop-culture references in sermons, using audio-visual aids in Sunday School, and trying to make the church relevant in the the 21st century, one of my favorite Sunday School teachers brought his laptop every Sunday so we could compare different translations of the Bible – he made it fun to compare the ten commandments in a Hebrew translation alongside the KJV and NIV.
I had another Sunday School teacher who worked in an outreach program for troubled teens who excitedly told us about how The Matrix was “just like Christian Science” and actively encouraged us to see the movie. She loaned me her VHS and convinced my mother to let me watch it (it was rated R after all). I saw it on my parents tiny TV/VCR while my younger sister was at out, I later got it on DVD. At the time I found it to be deep and insightful, after all, the parallels with CS – Neo being awaken into the “real” world and out of the computer dream were undeniable, but at the same time, as a “good” CS I knew the world he’d woken up into was no more “real” than the one he’d left. This led to some interesting discussions about the nature of reality. The best analogy I can come up with is that CS is like an onion, as you peel away the layers of “unreality” you end up in tears.
My Sunday School teachers sought to incorporate technology and pop-culture into our Sunday School lessons of their own accord. They did not get promotional materials from the NIV, or the marketers for The Matrix – besides, we watched at home on our VHS, no money in that! They were also not preaching to adults, trying to convert them, they were talking to the kids of the faithful trying to keep us interested for 30 minutes so we wouldn’t tie each other’s shoe laces to the table.
I find myself almost agreeing with P.J. Wenzel, a deacon and Sunday School teacher at Dublin Baptist Church in Ohio:
“Any pastor who thinks using `Man of Steel Ministry Resources’ is a good Sunday morning strategy must have no concept of how high the stakes are, or very little confidence in the power of God’s word and God’s spirit. As they entertain their congregants with material pumped out from Hollywood’s sewers, lives are kept in bondage, and people’s souls are neglected.”
I think the lives in bondage bit is a little extreme, but I feel more comfortable with Wenzel’s perspective than that of the other pastor interviewed:
Scott, the Baltimore pastor, said he knows that Warner Bros. Studios has a financial incentive in pushing the film to pastors.
But he said that’s fine with him. “They’re using us but in fact we’re using them,” he said.
“If you give me another opportunity to talk to someone about Jesus Christ, and I can do that because of your movie, that’s a win for me, because it is about spreading the Gospel.”
Um, no, it is not about spreading the Gospel, it is about spreading the marketing message of the new Superman movie.
Photo credit: Unvirtuous Abbey https://twitter.com/UnvirtuousAbbey
For Christian Science analyses of several pop-culture phenomenons I highly recommend checking out the following posts from The Ark of Truth- Mother’s Hood:
- The Hunger Games – Letters from the Rose Garden
- The Dr. Who T.A.R.D.I.S.
- The Wedding of River Song – Spiritual Interpretation
- The Wonderful World of Oz Book & Some of the Movie
The Matrix & Christian/Science analysis