Niche Nice or Niche Nasty?

A collision of friends —

Jeff Overstreet recently posted an article about the recent Biola Media conference.

Favorite quote from the article comes from friend Dean Batali:

“When asked if it’s inappropriate to complain about the quality of films that present the gospel, Batali answered, “This is my frustration: The gospel written on toilet paper still saves lives. There’s power in the gospel.””

I didn’t make the conference this year, but am well aware of the “faith film” debate.

The most striking contradiction here to me is the notion that “Christian film” should be a niche market, potentially relegated to theatres in churches, and yet:

(Mark) Joseph points out that Christians represent the vast majority of the American public. “Ninety percent believe in God,” he says. “Eighty percent call themselves Christians, and 47 percent are evangelical. Those are not ‘niche numbers.’ FoxFaith should become FoxNormal. The rest should be called FoxSecular—they’re the niche audience.””

The problem, as I see it, is word definition. We are using one word for two different things, and that word is the adjective “Christian.”

I tried to explain this to some WB execs — Hollywood wants the audience of THE PASSION and CHRONICLES, a decidedly “Christian” audience. Therefore, many producers are setting up faith divisions, and immediately going to the evangelical subculture for material.

And that is where semantics are causing problems.

Many at the conference, as quoted within, are using “Christian” to mean “evangelical;” several would even define the word further as “right-wing, conservative, American, Republican evangelicals.”

That is the ghetto that is being spoken of.

And yet PASSION included in its definition of “Christian” audience”: Catholics, mainline Protestants, non-Americans, post-modernists, emergents, as well as moderate and (egads!) liberal Evangelicals and a whole lot of Jesus freaks that do not fall into any of those categories.

There are two markets out there — the ghetto (“let’s-only-show-this-to-people-in-churches”) market, and the Christian (“we-believe-in-Jesus”) market.

Hey, here’s an idea: Let’s not claim that Christ only has value to the converted niche while allowing ourselves to be content when the choir sees our movies.

Instead, let’s make movies that address the broader Christ, and invite the world to share in the good news.

Just my thoughts,

Sean

ps I am slowly working my way through Jeff Overstreet’s book, THROUGH A SCREEN DARKLY. Why slowly? Because (borrowing from Jeff’s BABETTE’S FEAST reference) this book is a rich meal that deserves attention to each delicious morsel.

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2 responses to “Niche Nice or Niche Nasty?”

  1. Alexa says :

    Very interesting questions this whole debate raises. Thanks for being so thoughtful!

  2. Linds says :

    I love and hate this discussion – because Dean is right. No matter how much I hate it, God works through Benny Hinn. God worked through pharaoh, Haman, and Judas, so that shouldn’t be surprising.But this debate almost never asks the question bugging me. I don’t think we should be asking ‘can God use crappy movies to spread His word?’ If He has used a scheming genocidal opportunist in one of the more brutal empires in world history, He can certainly use a poorly made film to draw people to Him. I think the more relevant question for Christian artists is “If the God of the universe is willing to colabor with us to bring people into His love, should we only give Him the option of using our crappy art because we’re too lazy to make great art?” That’s the one that keeps me up at night – mostly bewailing my own lack of motivation to become a great writer. 🙂

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