Footloose and Christianity

Last Friday on my way to work, I heard the “family friendly” review of the Footloose remake that opened this weekend on my way to work via Augusta’s WAFJ, and the reviewer was adamantly opposed to the movie because of the way he felt it portrayed Christians.

I actually had the chance to see the remake at The Big Mo, a drive in theater out on the rural edge of Aiken County, SC, not far from where I currently live. After looking for the original on Netflix and all the movie because channels I pay for and not finding it, it turned out I already OWNED the original thanks to my wife, so we also watched it Sunday, barely 12 hrs after seeing the remake.

In both movies, Rev Shaw Moore is the local preacher on the City Council of Bomont, and the father of the female lead character Ariel.

But the performances differ fairly dramatically. In John Lithgow’s portrayal in the original version, Rev Moore preaches quite a bit of Hellfire and brimstone regarding dancing, rock music, sex, and drugs, but he is also the voice of reason when his parishioners want to burn Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five at the local library. In the remake, Randy Quaid’s Rev Shaw Moore is the same Hellfire and brimstone preacher, without the reasonableness of the book burning scene, which has been completely removed from the remake.

The reviewer for WAFJ thinks that this is somehow portraying Christianity in a negative light. I posit that the two portrayals of Rev Moore were in line with public perception of Christianity at the time – and we Christians have ourselves to blame for the fairly strictly negative way our Savior is portrayed in the new movie.

So what has changed since the 1984 release of the original movie and the nearly 30 year later release of the new one?

Christians will probably point to less God in our schools or some other perceived assault on Christianity, but I believe that a more objective look at the situation will reveal two major changes in America over the last 30 years that led to this shift in public perception:

1) The rise of the so-called “Moral Majority” and Christian leaders’ involvement in State and National politics and

2) the rise of the Christian counterculture

In the mid and later 80s, after a “successful” purge of “liberals” from the Southern Baptist Convention in the late 70s, SBC leaders such as Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, James Dobson, and some US Senator named Al Gore began rising to prominence in the national political arena pushing for Congress to regulate rap, rock, and other musics and entertainments. In 1994, this rise – and subsequent marriage to the Republican Party – of evangelical Christian leaders became cemented in the public perception with the out-of-the-blue Republican takeover of Congress, led in part by then-Congressman and now Presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich. The marriage was thus consummated when these religious and political leaders began crucifying sitting President Bill Clinton for having the audacity to cheat on his wife (current Secretary of State Hillary Clinton) by getting a blowjob from an intern in the Oval Office – which was and is simply the President’s formal office in the house he currently lives in. And then, of course, you have the entire Presidency of George W Bush and his (not so) “compassionate conservatism”.

What did the public see in these Christian leaders? Not very much Christ, that’s for dang sure. They saw a whole lot of “morality” being crammed down their throats via legislation such as the Federal “Defense of Marriage Act”, a whole lot of end-of-the-world doomsaying any time a judge allowed gays to get married (which at least a few mainstream Protestant denominations, such as the Episcopalians, allow in their churches)… and not very much love.

At the same time that all of this (and much more) was going down politically, a “Christian” counter culture began to rise. I don’t recall which came first, but I do know that by the late 80s, artists such as Michael W Smith, Steven Curtis Chapman, Jars of Clay, Audio Adrenaline, Newsboys, and DC Talk were getting a lot of attention in church circles. These acts have only gone on to sell in the neighborhood of 100 MILLION albums combined. But a true “counter culture” can’t be just music. At the same time these artists were beginning to rise, “family friendly” (code for “Christian plus a few secular songs OCCASSIONALLY”) radio began to rise, as well as “family friendly” movies and Christian books of every possible stripe. Yes, you can even find “Christian” supernatural romances in 2011. In addition to these entertainment options, more and more businesses and (obviously) private schools began advertising themselves as “Christian”, and indeed, some megachurches or prominent members thereof run very successful businesses in virtually every town and industry.

By 2011, it has become entirely possible to raise a child from conception through death at old age and never once leave the comforting cocoon of the “Christian” counter culture – and apparently was getting this way even in the late 90s, when Steven Curtis Chapman penned “The Change”. What should have been a wake up call was simply devoured in the latest consumer entertainment feast.

It is a matter of the chicken and the egg, but with the existence of this counter culture and its many adherents, more and more Christians began to remove themselves more and more from “the world” – even while proclaiming their desire to “reach” it.

And as these Christians began to remove themselves from what they saw as bad influences, the so-called “cycle of failure” began to revolve faster and faster. Christians saw “evil”, fled from it, the evil doesn’t have any light to counteract it, so grows darker. Christians see the increasing darkness, and flee further, and the cycle repeats ad nauseum.

Thus, while Christianity – and much more importantly, Christianity’s Savior – was seen as fairly benign or even a good thing, if not THE good thing, at my birth in the early 80s, before my 30th birthday Christianity has become seen as a joke, at best, and an outright menace to the very people Christ commanded us to love.

Thus, the rise of both the Christian counterculture and its marriage to the GOP has led us from John Lithgow’s Rev Shaw Moore to Randy Quaid’s.

And it is entirely our fault as Christians.

What should we do about this? I have some ideas, but I’d like to hear yours. Sound off in the comments or via one of my social media feeds. Let’s have a dialogue. Maybe later I’ll write a follow up post with some of the better ideas I see and hear.