What Happened When Christians Clapped in the Movie Theater
Updated: Jul 20, 2020
A few years ago I saw the movie ‘Unbroken.’
I liked it. I really did. It was like ’12 Years a Slave’ with a white dude.
But this story isn’t about ‘Unbroken.’
I’m writing about what happened before the movie. About my favorite part of the theater. The trailers, of course.
The first film previewed was the Christian film ‘Do You Believe?’
The trailer followed the successful formula. Bold statements. Rhetorical questions. And traditional, quick cuts. It opened with a man carrying a cross down a dark street. He sees another man in a car. ‘Do you believe in Jesus,’ asks the cross-carrier.
‘Of course I do,’ the man replies. ‘I’m a pastor.’ He emits a half-hearted smile.
The pastor is, of course, having a crisis of faith. What else could the movie be about. And it will, by the end, will solve solve said crisis, I’m sure.
The trailer proceeds to tell the stories of different people in Chicago as they are confronted by reasons to not believe. Some are medical. Some are theological. All are dramatic.
Most of the dialogue was spent on attacks on Christianity, characters not believing and characters wanting to not believe. But despite how spiritually dark the trailer got, no one in the theater was confused. We knew how the film would end: conversions. People accepting Christ. A sermon.
We dont need a trailer to see that coming.
‘Do You Believe’ is a sermon for people who won’t enter the church building. It’s for people who attend the theater more than the local parish.
It’s a sermon in disguise.
As the tense music gave way to the Newsboys’ song ‘We Believe,’ the trailer seemed to give hope to the viewer. Maybe the pastor would keep his faith after all.
And as the yelling and music and tension reached their height, the words, ‘Do You Believe?’ shot onto the screen in a heavenly white. The words lit up the faces of my family next to me. Then…black.
And the audience broke out in applause.
Well, sort of.
Four people, sitting together in the front row, clapped. By themselves.
And no one else joined in.
So they clapped louder. All four of them.
Some people groaned. A few chuckled. My wife elbowed me because she knew I was shaking my head. She didn’t even have to move her eyes to know that.
I’ve clapped at the end of movies before—I applauded at the end of ‘The Return of the King.’ I’ve stayed silent, too— I remember being stunned at the end of ‘No Country for Old Men.’ I’ve also clapped at the end of films because I was so grateful that they wereover— I’m thinking about you, ‘2012.’
But I’ve never clapped at the end of a trailer.
My opinions on faith-based film making aside, I applaud (pun intended) my four brothers for their decision to identify themselves as Christians in a pitch black theater. It takes guts to say ‘I’m a Christian!’ and make a bunch of noise.
Well done, front-row Christians!
But this post isn’t about the Christians in the front, and it isn’t about the merits of faith-based filmmaking. I resist the low-hanging fruit.
It’s about what happened next. It’s about the next trailer.
‘WHAT HAPPENS WHEN A MAN STANDS UP AND SAYS ENOUGH IS ENOUGH?’
The trailer for Ava DuVernay’s ‘Selma’ immediately followed the silence that immediate followed the four-person ovation. And if there was ever a trailer to cut through the silence that followed the four person ovation, this was it.
The trailer that dramatizes Dr. Martin Luther King’s march from Selma to Montgomery is, well, heavy.
It opens with music by Public Enemy.
Then it cuts to MLK confronting the President of the United States.
And can you get that image of the barbed wire baseball bat out of your head? I can’t.
If you haven’t seen the trailer yet, it’s really good.
David Oyelowo, who plays King in the film, complained in an interview that MLK has been turned into a sound bite. King is The Dream, and nothing else.
So Selma shows the man behind the bite.The meat behind the movement. The engine behind the dream.
And it shows it all with a generous helping of blood.
After clips of men beating women, Oprah crying and that freaking barbed wire bat, Oyelowo speaks up. He asks a rhetorical question, of course. This is a trailer, after all. ‘What happens when a man stands up and says enough is enough?’
The screen goes dark.
Then it explodes.
And then it happened:
The entire audience erupted in applause.
This is the reason I’m writing.
And it wasn’t a four person applause. Oh, no. It started as soon as the screen went black. And everyone joined in.
I looked at my wife and clapped as loud as I could. She thought I was clapping out of spite, out of humor. But I didn’t care. Nothing could stop me from clapping. Because I knew something the audience didn’t.
The audience, clapping ironically to mock the front-row Christians, applauded ‘Selma.’ But you know what else they were applauding?
A movie about a preacher.
“NOTHING COULD STOP ME FROM CLAPPING. BECAUSE I KNEW SOMETHING THE AUDIENCE DIDN’T.”
Let’s put this in perspective for a second. At the end of a trailer for a Christian film for a Christian audience made by Christians starring Christians who used to be famous (sorry!), four people clapped.
At the end of a trailer paid for by Oprah starring a bunch of famous black people about the century’s most famous preacher living out his Christ-given convictions, the entire audience applauded.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: they were just clapping to get back at the front-row Christians. Well, you know what no one clapped for? ‘Fifty Shades of Gray.’
I talked about this with my dad afterwards. ‘If you want to see Jesus,’ he said, ‘there’s going to be more Jesus in ‘Selma.’’ I couldn’t agree more.
There is going to be more Jesus in ‘Selma’ than one-line paragraphs in this blog post.
There’s going to be more Jesus in ‘Selma’ than people who go to see ‘Do You Believe?’
And that’s because Jesus was, to quote my favorite philosopher, all about that action, boss. And ‘Selma’ is about someone acting on their faith.
“YOU KNOW WHAT NO ONE CLAPPED FOR? ‘FIFTY SHADES OF GRAY.’”
I love that an audience applauded a movie about living the way Christ lived. ‘Selma’ is about someone taking Christ’s teachings and following them— even when it meant taking steps towards a barbed wire baseball bat.
Let’s be honest. ‘Do You Believe’ is a movie for Christians. And ‘Selma’ is not trying to promote Jesus. They are different films meant to accomplish different things.
But in a Christmas season where every store I went to was Christ-less, nothing made me happier than hearing a theater applaud a preacher doing what Jesus did. King did what Jesus commanded.
In John 15 Jesus essentially prepares his disciples (and us) for Roman persecution, the march on Selma, ‘Selma’ and the Christ-less Christmas.
Jesus, speaking at the last supper: “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.
King knew that persecution followed Jesus around. And when violence followed King’s ministry, he wasn’t surprised. Because he knew why the world hated him. He knew why nothing but barbed wire and baseball bats waited for him in Selma. Because the world hated Jesus first.
“IT’S EASY TO PREACH ABOUT JESUS. IT’S HARD TO LIVE LIKE HIM.”
In a culture that has waged a war on Christ, I witnessed a crowd willing to applaud someone for following Christ. A crowd willing to make noise for someone standing up for what Jesus stood up for. A crowd cheering for what Christians believe!
The audience was ready for Jesus’ message, but they didn’t want to listen to a sermon. It’s easy to preach about Jesus. It’s hard to live like Him.
Our country is ready for Jesus’ message. In a time of doubt, insecurity and hopelessness, Jesus really is the solid rock. But our friends don’t need to hear it anymore.
They need to see it.
You know what? People aren’t listening to our sermons anymore. And they aren’t going to pay to see our sermons that are pretending to be Hollywood films. Fine.
So let’s be a sermon.
Instead of telling people stories, lets live a life worthy of a story.
King did. And he was unashamedly Christian about it. And when a theater full of Americans sees a trailer about him, they applaud.
Oyelowo asked ‘‘What happens when a man stands up and says enough is enough?’
Let’s stand up with our lives, with our actions. Let’s say ‘enough is enough’ with our love and passion.
That is something that I can applaud.