by Dan Webster & Bonnie Anderson
Some were surprised this explicitly religious film did so well (No. 2) at the box office its opening weekend. Forbes magazine attributed to a late summer opening with little new competition. Breitbart News quoted the film’s distributor saying ‘War Room’ had a high level group ticket sales suggesting pastors and congregations had attended in large groups.
Whatever the reason it would appear there is an appetite in the USA among some Christians for films that support their world view.
“And war broke out in heaven…” it says in Revelation 12:7. You can find lots of language in the bible pitting good and evil in warlike imagery. That’s what this movie does. It’s all about seeing the devil assaulting our world and the only way to defeat him is through prayer and believing in Jesus Christ.
There are no well-known actors in this film. But the production values are first rate. The music score and Christian music chosen helps set the tone the director is trying to communicate. And just what is that message? You need look no further than the film’s final sequence closing with this on the screen: “…if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” 2 Chronicles 7:14
This is clearly a story from the perspective of those Christians who take literally much of the bible. The Word of God for them is mainly in the book they can hold rather than in the radical Word of God that is the person of Jesus Christ.
Now there are some wonderful scenes in the film. There is repentance, reconciliation, restitution and redemption in the lives of the characters we see. But whenever prayer is posed as the answer to evil and hardship it begs questions like, why did God allow this or that calamity? Why does God spare this person and not your loved one? Does God send hurricanes to destroy “sinful” cities like New Orleans, as some pastors have preached? But whenever tornadoes rip through the “Bible belt” there’s no response from those same pastors.
Prayer is not a conversation to get God to do your will; to change the world into what you think it should be. Prayer should change you into learning the will of God for you and how to participate in building up the Beloved Community of God here and now.
If ‘War Room’ helps to make new disciples then thanks be to God. If the film raises questions in the minds of believers in churches that interpret the bible literally, it may inspire some to search for churches that claim to not have all the answers. Thank God there are those churches, too.
Given the applause from the audience at one screening, it’s a not huge leap to see this movie as cheering along those who seek after triumphalism. ‘War Room’ has nothing to do with denominationalism and everything to do with ‘dominationalism.’
Bonnie Anderson is a very active lay leader in her parish, diocese and in the wider Episcopal Church. She is an experienced community organizer and lives in suburban Detroit. Dan Webster is an Episcopal priest in Baltimore, Maryland and a former broadcast news executive. But don’t expect only east coast urban perspectives here. As it turns out, they both grew up in Southern California. They blog about films and faith at Faith Reels.