We’ve all seen people of faith depicted in popular culture. Some of them re-enact the worst actions that have been taken in the name of God. However, some of them represent the best that faith can bring out in us. The writers of LTN have compiled a list of some of their favorite (and least favorite) examples of people of faith in media.
Segregation and Reconciliation
In “X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills” Rev. William Stryker is the wealthy pastor of a giant church that worships a small god. In “Kingdom Come” Rev. Norman McKay is the humble pastor of a small church that worships a Big God. When both have their pastoral vocations troubled by the superpowered in their world, they react in opposite ways. Stryker attempts to remove mutants from humanity: a theology of segregation, violence, and death – a belief for a distant god. McKay does his best to keep superheroes connected to humanity: a theology of incarnation – the belief that divinity is better when expressed with humanity, a belief for an intimate God. Stryker’s crusade comes with him at the top of a tower alone, twisting scripture to suit his hatred—isolated and distant from his flock—a reminder that there’s no such thing as a lone wolf Christian and that God’s calls are always best expressed in community. His work founds a terrorist organization that murders mutants—mutants being a consistent four-color stand-in for those on the margins. This is the opposite of the calls of Christ. Norman’s call to action comes in his pews as he ministers to a dying, but superpowered, sheep of his fold who passes his God-given visions forward—blessings always come to you on their way to someone else. His work helps prevent an apocalypse through reconciliation, the ministry Christians are called to. Both Stryker’s ‘ministry’ and McKay’s have real-world analogs in both historical and present Christianity, and in this they both serve as fair demonstrations of how Christianity has been practiced. Held in contrast, we can see how McKay’s faith meets both the calls of Christ and the needs of the world, and Stryker’s furthers the suffering violence and bigotry Christ came to have victory over.
Grace and Contemplation
Madeleine L’Engle’s families, the Austin’s and Murray/O’Keefe families exude strong Christian values that I feel are timeless, and welcoming to all. They’re flawed, like all people are, but they just feel so real. I’m reading The Moon at Night, the second of the Austin Family books right now, and I’m just so sad that they aren’t a family I can visit in the real world. The Murrays are scientists by nature and approach problems with a more logical viewpoint, but their love for each other and the grace of God drives them in their discoveries and in helping to heal others. In the books A Wrinkle in Time and A Wind in the Door, both Dr. Murrays intertwine their scientific expertise with the unconditional love they have for their children to help guide and teach them as best as they can. In contrast, the Austin’s are much more artistic and reflective: they adore singing and reading together, and often discuss the spiritual contemplations that cause them to struggle. Examples of these comes in Vicky Austin’s own personal journey through the books as she grows from a child that tends to act first, to a contemplative adolescent who is trying to figure out God’s plan and hand in her life and in her loved ones. I feel refreshed when reading these books, and they often encourage me in my own journey of faith when I read them.
Wisdom and Mercy
I’m often skeptical of film or television media dealing fairly with people of faith, but the writers of SyFy’s The Expanse have made me a believer. In Season 3 Anna Volovodov, a Methodist pastor, (played by Elizabeth Mitchell) is introduced to us as a voice of reason and peace. She thinks deeply about how her faith intersects with science and politics. When she is mocked for her faith, she responds with grace and thoughtfulness. She sees the universe as a place of awe and wonder, and has a thirst for knowledge. She responds to hate with love. She speaks words of hope to broken people and she wins their loyalty and affection as a result. When she tells Amos, “Hate is a burden. You don’t have to carry it with you,” something in all of us breaks. Someone has finally seen Amos’s pain and shown him a way out. In intense situations, she doles out wisdom and mercy. In a sci fi television show filled with intensity and survival, The Reverend Doctor Anna becomes an unlikely hero who represents precisely what we all hope to be as Christians: a Christ-follower who is known for her love and who you’d really love to have on your team when an alien species is threatening to end life as we know it.
Bigotry and Hatred
Columbia is a Christian paradise in BioShock Infinite. Everyone greets you with open arms and a cheerful smile in this idyllic city in the clouds, but there’s something off about everyone’s demeanor, the religious veneration of American forefathers, and even the music.
It’s a staple of horror to use religion to ease characters into a group of believers cut from honorable and genuine cloth with their manners and high ideals. However, in unraveling subtle oddities in what they say and do, they are revealed as hypocritical, terrifying villains. Such are BioShock Infinite’s so-called Christians.
At the time of the game’s release, I found the game’s depiction of Christians exaggerated because Columbia’s people filter a crusader-like zealotry for the faith through the lens of American jingoism; white nationalism and hatred of nonbelievers are the foundations of their beliefs, not the other way around, because if that were so, they’d have no place in Columbia. But it’s safe to say that time has shown how the satire isn’t so far from the truth, and how unbelievers can be more genuine and loving than those who set themselves up as upholding the prime source of love.
BioShock Infinite reminds me of why so many people are repulsed by American Christianity. Beneath the veneer of tolerance and love, bigotry and hatred fester in their true, selfish desires to preserve the American dream on their terms for their own prosperity. Human-made heaven on (or technically, above) Earth is never heaven at all, which is why theocracies in a sinful world will often devolve into hells. In this, many Christians have been revealed for who they really are, as seen throughout history with the Thirty Years’ War, Spanish Inquisition, and, increasingly, in America today. C. S. Lewis wrote in Reflections on The Psalms, “If the Divine call does not make us better, it will make us very much worse. Of all bad men religious bad men are the worst.”
Conviction and Integrity
“Ford County was a peaceful place, filled with people who were either Christians or claimed to be” (Grisham, The Last Juror). John Grisham visits Mississippi’s Ford County in many of his novels, inviting us into the history and culture of the communities within—the locales informed by his own upbringing in northern Mississippi. His early life also familiarized him with Christianity, when—at 8 years old—he accepted Christ in what he described as “the most important event” in his life. So it should come as no surprise when Grisham manifests a striking example of a Godly role in The Last Juror.
“Miss Callie” Ruffin is the lone African-American juror in a shocking rape-murder trial. Though she isn’t introduced until one-sixth of the pages have passed, she captivates us and entreats us to enter her home and dine at her table—one always spread with the fruit of her meticulously maintained garden. The new editor of The Ford County Times experiences the hospitality of her table, but not without a lengthy prayer of blessing. As Miss Callie holds Willie Traynor’s hand in hers, he muses to himself: “In the clutches of this very holy woman, I had never felt closer to God.” Their friendship would last a lifetime.
Hers is a story of deep conviction, of impenetrable integrity, and of a life well-lived. She has experienced the upheaval of the Civil Rights Era as it ignited everywhere across America; everywhere that is, except in Ford County. The hatred for her race never breaks her will to act righteously; yet, the fight for her right to exist as a human with brown skin would serve as a microcosm of the very real and terrifying events unfolding in her town. Selected as the last juror, she serves well and sways the room amidst crude racism. Later, when fellow former jurors are executed by an unknown assailant, she shows up to their funerals—though she would be a target as well. The kindness and grace with which she handles the white editor from “up north” (i.e. Memphis) highlights her finest qualities. But her willingness to take back the estranged son who dishonored her family is the final proof of the goodness within.
I have cried at the end of books before, but no conclusion has drawn tears from my eyes like The Last Juror. And I owe it to a bold, iron-willed woman named Miss Callie, drawn into my mind by the words of a Baptist-turned-Presbyterian author from Mississippi.