What if I disagree with someone who professes to be a Christian?

Disagreement is a fact of life. There is no family, and certainly no church family, free of disagreements. The question should be, "How can I strongly disagree in Christian charity?"

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Written by G. Lee Ramsey, Jr.

Directed by Brian Dannelly
MGM, PG-13 rating

When Hilary Faye (played by Mandy Moore), the most perfect and self-righteous teenage Christian prom queen, gets her comeuppance in Saved!, you don’t know whether to applaud or feel a twinge of concern. This satire of religious fundamentalism is deliciously funny, even if overdrawn. At the same time, it cuts deeply enough into the thick skin of narrow-minded Christian believers to inflict real, though arguably deserved, pain upon its subjects.

Set within a private Christian high school, where the school principal leads the opening assembly/pep rally for God with the bouncy exhortation to “give it up for Jesus,” the movie exposes the religious hypocrisy of adult and teenage believers alike. These believers have pat religious answers for every situation, and they are zealous to “share” their own brand of faith with anyone within earshot. Their greatest challenge is a sardonic and rebellious Jewish student, Cassandra (Eva Amurri), who admits that faced with a choice between home schooling and the indoctrination of a Christian school, she figures she can handle the school more easily. Add to the mix an unwanted teen pregnancy brought about when Mary (Jena Malone) attempts to heterosexualize her homosexual boyfriend, toss in the help of brilliant wheelchair-bound cynic Roland (Macaulay Culkin), and you have all the ingredients to ignite fireworks in a school where social difference is anathema.

The movie drives home one central theme: those who repeatedly demand legalistic religious conformity cannot live up to their own impossible standards. To be biblical about it, such people are so busy removing the speck from others’ eyes that they do not see the log in their own. This road leads to humorless and destructive judgment of all whose beliefs differ from one’s own. It’s only a matter of time before such a misuse of faith turns back upon the zealous believer; the sin of hypocrisy comes home to roost.

The problem, of course, with all religious fundamentalism—in this case Christian fundamentalism—is that life is way too messy to be contained in such narrow channels. Most people discover that life is rarely a matter of black and white; instead it is shades of gray. Reinhold Neibuhr, one of the 20th centuries most influential ethicists, talked of life as being filled with “moral ambiguity.” Fundamentalists of all stripes can attempt to hide behind dogma, but the richness of human experience seeps through.

The movie begs us to see all manner of difference as part of the human condition, from sexual and racial difference to various kinds of physical distinctions. The most appealing characters of the movie are not the plastic and pious Hilary Faye and her god-squad friends. Rather, we are drawn to the patchwork friendships between a smart-mouthed yet tenderhearted Jewish adolescent, her wheelchair-bound boyfriend, their gay classmate, and the thoroughly realistic and pregnant Mary, whose “mistake” unites them in common concern.

By the end of this movie, if viewed through a Christian lens, you can’t help but consider this unlikely cohort of teenagers, and the adults who ultimately support them, as reminiscent of those who Jesus of the Gospels invites to feast at God’s table: the lame, the outcast, the sick, and the broken-hearted. When they all pose for a photograph following the birth of Mary’s baby, their smiles radiate the true picture of Christian faith—grace, compassion, and the joy of loving acceptance.

If the movie wants to save anyone, as the title indeed suggests, it is those believers who are so obnoxiously self-assured of their own status before God as to miss just how all-embracing God’s love truly is.

Copyright ©2004 Dr. Lee Ramsey