Friday, February 03, 2006

The Right Stuff: Randy Alcorn and Jason Janz on "End of the Spear"

In a long statement, Randy Alcorn has taken Pastor Jason Janz to task for how Janz faulted the producers of End of the Spear. The producers made an error in judgment in offering the role of martyred missionary Nate Saint to a gay activist. After discovering their error, they followed through and hired him anyway. The producers then encouraged pastors to promote the film without letting the pastors know there was a problem.

Alcorn’s main point of criticism was stated succinctly:

My main reason for writing this relates to the issue of slander and false witness, and the Christian community's participation in these matters, which I consider to be wrong, dishonoring to Christ and nonnegotiable.

Before getting to the substance of his criticism, Alcorn goes into a lengthy discussion on how difficult it was for the producers to find a good way to handle their mistake in hiring a homosexual activist.

There are three major problems with Alcorn's critique.

1. The first problem regards Alcorn's position on how to deal with a mistake.

My opinion, which I've shared with Mart, is that if ETE wants the evangelical community to be their core audience, they will need to do what they can to avoid this kind of controversy. I'm confident they know that. But this is much easier said than done, isn't it? They can't make absolute guarantees—even we in churches and ministries can hire staff and find out later it was a very poor choice, even though we thought we took reasonable steps. And when working with nonchristians in Hollywood...clearly many people will have moral problems. It comes with the territory!

Alcorn's discussion of hiring errors centers on the truism that most everybody makes them at one time or another. But he never drops the other shoe to say what should be done to correct a hiring error. What Alcorn imiplies is that if you make a mistake in hiring the wrong person (or an offer to hire, in this case), the proper way to proceed is to go ahead with it and ignore the consequences. Unfortunately, the Catholic Church is paying a huge price for following a pattern just like that in the past.

No sound counsel would recommend that churches (or anyone else) who make a mistake in hiring should just ignore that mistake and merely tighten up their procedures for the future. No. The way to handle a mistake is to fix it when you first learn about it. If you don’t, then there are usually negative consequences. The longer you let the mistake stand the worse the consequences are.

That's what happened to ETE. If they had reacted correctly to their mistake at the beginning, the damage would have been slight--maybe even non-existent. But waiting until the end of the project and, even worse, not admitting the mistake until forced to, they have wounded their final product and many who promoted the film without being told about the problems.

2. Alcorn's second problem involves how to treat those who find a mistake and point it out.

One of the consequences of making a mistake and not fixing it is that when people learn about your mistake and that you did nothing to correct it, they usually are upset. Randy Alcorn blames the people who are upset rather than the producers who did nothing to correct their mistake.

Perhaps if ETE had it to do over again they would find some way to release this information for the prior evaluation of the Christian community. I don't know. This is certainly a worthy notion in theory, though the way we Christians tend to respond to these situations suggests it would have gotten very ugly. On the other hand, it's hard to imagine it getting uglier than it has now.

The people Alcorn blames for the ugliness are the critics. This is like those who blame Right-to-Life people for ugliness in the abortion debate. But maybe, just maybe, it’s the failure to right a wrong that is the really ugly thing not the criticism of the wrong.

3. Alcorn's third problem is that he does some of the same things he rails at the critics of End of the Spear for doing.

Randy Alcorn's main charge is that the critics are guilty of slander and false witness.

His secondary charge is that Pastor Jason Janz, the primary critic, did not check sources by interviewing the primary people involved before he published.

But did Alcorn himself do something similar? A perhaps understandable lapse is Alcorn’s public judgment that Chad Allen is not a Christian.

I know that Steve and Mart were both very concerned for Chad Allen, who they desire to come to know Jesus. (Which would of course require repentance, as it does for all of us.) They feared the message that a public announcement would send to him, and how he would be treated by the Christian community, and how that would affect him and others.

. . .

And also pray for Chad Allen that he would be brought to the end of himself (as all of us need to be, regardless of which sins we happen to embrace and advocate). And that Chad may be drawn into a real relationship with Jesus Christ. How I would love to one day embrace him as my brother.

Chad Allen has said he is a Christian. Christianity Today quotes Allen:

Allen, who says he's a Christian and attends Pasadena's gay-friendly All Saints Church, says he doesn't know what those plans might be. "But," he says, "I know God does have great plans for me. And I ask him every single morning to reveal those plans to me."

Allen may not be a Christian, but is it wise (not to mention maybe a "false witness") to say he is not a Christian without putting forth very real proof of that? Did Alcorn talk with Allen before making the judgment about Allen’s spiritual condition? Did he talk to Allen about repenting of his homosexual lifestyle before implying that Allen needs to repent?

This is the same issue that Alcorn takes Pastor Janz and others to task for:

Unfortunately—and I do not question his motives, as I've told him personally—Jason Janz believed and repeated, in his online publication, charges against these men without going to them personally. They were given no opportunity to respond to the accusations before they were published and widely circulated.

This is a violation of Scripture. Matthew 18 says, "If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over." The passage goes on to make clear that the next step is to come with a few brothers, making two or three total, so it is still private. Then we are to take nothing public unless our brothers are clearly, as determined by more than just ourselves, both guilty and unrepentant.

Mart Green and Steve Saint, and a few others, have been accused of sinning against the Christian community. Over 100 pastors joined with the article's writer to call on them to repent. Yet none of those pastors, as far as I know—and certainly not the one who wrote the article—went to those men to "go and show him his fault, just between the two of you."

Alcorn may very well be right in his judgment as to Chad Allen’s lack of relationship with Christ. There are lots of people who make spiritual judgments based on another’s actions. Views about President Clinton’s Christianity come to mind. But, I don’t think that is a wise course of action in any context, and especially not in the context of calling Jason Janz to account for supposedly doing something similar.

Even more to the point is the view Alcorn presents of Jason Janz both directly and by implication. One would think from Alcorn’s intense response that Janz was inflammatory and vicious in his criticism of the producers for going ahead and hiring Allen and for wooing pastors to promote the film without telling them relevant details about Allen's public role in challenging the Christian view of homosexuality.

But, Janz's response seems balanced--even mild. Here is Janz's conclusion to his original post:

5. What Christians should do

1. Communicate with Every Tribe Entertainment and let them know of your disappointment with their decision. Whatever you say, do it with meekness (Galatians 6:1).

2. Explain to your congregation the dangers of this choice so that they are aware of the issue regardless of whether or not they attend the movie or rent it later on.

3. Forward this article to as many people as possible so that they are made aware of the issue.

4. Have your pastor email me at to sign his name to the following letter I am sending to Mart Green and Every Tribe Entertainment. If your church has assistant pastors, I will add them to the list as well.

Dear Mart Green and Every Tribe Entertainment,

We are writing to you to express our deep disappointment in your selection of a gay activist to play the role of Nate Saint in the movie, The End of the Spear. We believe it is our biblical responsibility to confront a fellow believer when he makes a mistake.

We have been asked over the last several months to aggressively promote this film to our congregations, however, we cannot do so because of this issue.

We look forward to hearing how you plan to rectify this unfortunate situation.

In Him,

Sound radical? Defamatory? Over the limit? Actually, it sounds like Janz was doing the best he could to follow Matthew 18 and encourage pastors to do the same.

Though Janz got some of his facts wrong (which he later corrected) his call to action was fair and does not seem either unreasonable or unchristian even in the light of the factual corrections. Look at his word choice: "disappointment", "meekness", "mistake", "unfortunate situation".

Janz clearly pointed out that:

- the producers made a big mistake that they did not choose to correct

- that mistake ended up being hurtful to their product and to those who were asked to promote their product without being told relevant facts about it

Nothing wrong with that critique.

Janz has shown himself to be a man of maturity both in his presentation of the case and in admitting his few errors. I hope that Randy Alcorn shows himself as being made of that same kind of right stuff.

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