Now, Religion in the News, a report and comment on religious trends and events being covered by the media. This week’s item is from the Philadelphia Inquirer, December 4, 2005, with the headline: “Hyping Narnia to Christians. Attention, pastors, you have just four weeks remaining to work a lion, a witch, or a wardrobe into your next sermon. Walt Disney Pictures is so eager for churches to turn out audiences for The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, which opens Friday, that it’s offering a free trip to London and $1,000 cash to the winner of its big promotional sermon contest. The only catch is that the sermons must mention Narnia, based on the hugely popular children’s books about four British children who walk through an uncle’s magic armoire into an enchanted kingdom.
‘Sermomercials’ are just one of the ways promoters hired by Disney and its production partner, Walden Media, are peddling Lion as a kind of Christian-themed Harry Potter. Hollywood has been doing this sort of thing since The Ten Commandments in 1956, when Cecil B. DeMille had study guides sent to schools. With Narnia, producers have an epic that works both as religious allegory and secular fantasy.
The question is whether Narnia can capture both audiences, combining the box office power of The Lord of the Rings with The Passion of the Christ.
Tacky or not, Disney’s goal is to create the kind of buzz among Christians, especially evangelicals, that made Mel Gibson’s Passion such a box office smash in 2004, with more than $600 million in world wide ticket sales.
The $150 million dollar epic is being pitched to the skateboard and mall rat crowd, with ads featuring scary-looking battle scenes, and a scowling lion who looks as if he might eat a 10-year-old for breakfast.
For the Christian devout, however, the approach is down right lamb like. ‘Invite your community to explore the inspirational truths found in Narnia,’ reads a promotional magazine sent recently to tens of thousands of Christian congregations. Through hired agencies, Disney is encouraging churches to paint lion faces on their preschoolers, show preview trailers to their congregations, discuss Narnia in Sunday school, and develop Narnia-themed Christmas pageants.
‘Connect your church’s Christmas celebration and outreach with the movie,’ urges a promotional kit from Outreach Media Inc. of San Diego, host of the sermon contest. Dennis Rice, senior vice president for marketing at Disney, said by phone Friday that the company regularly promoted its films to Christian groups. ‘We’ve also marketed to the Hispanic community, boys clubs, school reading programs,’ said Rice. ‘We even did a comic book convention this summer. McDonald’s restaurants will be offering Happy Meal Narnia action figures in a week or so,’ he said.”
Tom: Dave, you know, it’s our usual way of going about something that’s impacted the church. If it’s a movie, we try to see it. We went to see Passion of the Christ before we started addressing it, and so on, and Narnia’s not out yet, we haven’t seen the movie yet. Secular…
Dave: Tom, I don’t think I’ll go to Narnia, but anyway, you can go if you want.
Tom: Well, we know the book. We know C.S. Lewis, and so on…
Dave: I never read the book, actually.
Tom: You haven’t?
Dave: But I know vaguely what it’s about.
Tom: Well, that’s ok, because what I want to talk about today is marketing and the church. The secular world using devices…certainly The Passion of the Christ, $600 million in ticket sales worldwide, and primarily to the evangelical church. I think it was 56 percent of the audience for The Passion of the Christ were evangelicals.
Now, Dave, what about sermons? A pastor can earn himself $1,000 and a flight to London if he’ll orient his sermon… We have Narnia action figures, we’re going to have kids in Sunday School paint their faces—what about this?
Dave: Well, Tom, let’s just take a simple view of this. We don’t have to get complicated. Number one, we know Disney is not interested in bringing truth to children—not God’s truth, not Biblical truth. Okay? We know that for sure. What are they interested in? Money, that’s all. They want to make money, and now some pastors are going to prostitute themselves to this process. We’re going to corrupt God’s word, we’re going to corrupt sermons, we’re going to corrupt the church, and we’re going to turn the focus from Jesus Christ, and from His word, and from salvation, and from God’s judgment—if you do not tremble before Him, repent of your sins, and turn to Him through faith in Christ as the One Who paid the penalty for your sins, you are going to be in the Lake of Fire forever. Okay? Now, that’s the message of the Bible: “Flee from the wrath to come.” God loves you, but He is a Holy God.
Now, this is going to be turned into some kind of a Narnia story, and I don’t like Narnia. I don’t like animals. Tom, you could wax eloquent about Veggie Tales, and it gets even worse. I don’t like a lion playing the part of Jesus Christ. I don’t like animals being representations of biblical characters, and so forth. Why don’t we just stick with the real thing? But that’s not interesting enough, and it doesn’t appeal to children.
Tom: Dave, over and over again, I heard, when I was addressing The Passion of the Christ, not only from—I believe from a biblical, Christian perspective, but also my background as a filmmaker, as a screenwriter in Hollywood, knowing the medium, how it affects people, and so on. Now we have, once again, and we’re going to hear this, the common complaint that was lodged against me for the book Showtime for the Sheep: “Yes, but God can really use this! We’re going to get the message out to millions and millions.” What about that?
Dave: But what message?
Tom: I wonder.
Dave: That’s the problem, see? We won’t get back on that. That wasn’t even biblical. Most of what happened in that film was not biblical, and it was a false gospel. It gave a false impression that the Roman soldiers, you know, they’re the ones that are executing God’s judgment upon Jesus for the sins of the whole world, and that’s just simply ridiculous. But it gives people a false hope.
Tom: But, Dave, what about—sorry to interrupt you—but what about allegory? People say, “Well, you go into it, you’re going to get out of it whatever you put into it.” And they’re making this for an audience that’s interested in Harry Potter as well as devout Christians who are going to understand the deeper things here. They’re going to see this lion as a Christ-like figure.
Dave: Yeah. Tom, I know that many people won’t like what I say, but I don’t find any of this in the Bible. Paul wrote to Timothy—2 Timothy 4: “Preach the word. Be instant in season, out of season. Reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine, for the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine.”
Now we’re in that time. They don’t want sound doctrine. But we’re born again by the Word of God, we’re saved by the Word of God, and to get away from it and to do this sort of thing—Tom, I just think it’s part of a whole trend. We’re raising a generation on spiritual junk food, videos, and one day this will be the only “Bible” they know, and woe be to that generation, and I hope the Lord comes before that happens.
Tom: Dave, a further concern here is that for the allegory, for those things that seem to imply Christianity and the gospel, you also are promoting witchcraft, mythology, all of these things—creatures, half-man, half-animal. You know, that kind of stuff. So it goes with the package.