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Plot Device

How to Portray a Christian Minister in a Film

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Rule #1 - Never allow him to be a man of either intelligence or education.

All Christian ministers are grossly lacking in both. This is an undeniable fact. If they had either, they would never have chosen this profession.

Rule #2 - He must not exhibit a coherent or contemporary command of the English language.

His conversational English needs to denote low inteligence and/or poor education (see Rule #1), or else needs to indicate a divergent personality disorder such as megalomania. The one exception to this rule is that a Christian minister CAN be a good public speaker with effective conversational skills ONLY if he is a smooth-talking, money-grubbing scheister.

Rule #3 - He cannot be logical.

He cannot have ever had formal training in logic or philosophy or the most basic principles of debate. So when he is engaged in a disagreement with someone, he will default to shouting, bullying, or patronzing.

Rule #4 - He cannot have a character arc that involves positive personal change.

Christian ministers are not about change. They are about static, stubborn, unbudgability. So either the character must remain flat and unchanging, or he must eventually be his own undoing. The only acceptable POSITIVE character arc that a minister can go through would be if he realizes his religion is a sham and chooses by film's end to abandon his faith and profession completely.

Rule #5 - He needs to have serious sexual problems.

Religious leaders are uptight about sex. And therefore suffer from severe sexual dysfunctions, and probably also harbor many closet fetishes, possibly even criminally deviant ones. His relationship with his wife needs to be problematic on many levels because of this, and his children will also show evidence of sexual maladjustment. The overriding rule of thumb is that it's impossible for a Christian minister to be cool about sex, to have a healthy sex life with his spouse, to have a sense of humor about sex, or in any way be comfortable with it, either in himself or those around him. Be forwarned that any movie script which has a Christian minister that exhibits any form of positive sexual health will be promptly rejected and an immediate rewrite demanded.

Rule #6 - He must be intolerant of personal individuality and cultural diversity.

The Christian religion mandates that their ministers push an agenda of assimilation and ethnocentricity. Their agenda is one of cultural monopolization and homogenization. They are the religious equivalent of the Borg. All actions and dialogue of any Christian minister must exemplify their disdain for freedom of expression, and a lack of openness to alternative cultures.

Rule #7 - His tastes and overall personality must be boring, limited, and unoriginal.

CLOTHING: His profesional wardrobe should be full of dark suits. His casual wardrobe should be flannel plaid shirts and cardigan sweaters. Think "Land's End" but out of date by 15 years. His wife always only ever wears dresses, she probably sews them herself, and they will always be nauseatingly flowery prints that look like they were made from old tablecloths or bedspreads. His sons will likewise wear flannel shirts, and they will wet-comb their hair down flat and part it on the side. His daughters also wear dresses, sport long hair and no makeup, and have a hollow, frightened look in their eyes. Sleep wear for the men/sons will always be classic button-shirted pajamas with pants. The wife/daughters will sleep in long-sleeved, high-necked, cotton, white, non-romantic night gowns.

READING: He reads almost nothing but the Bible and maybe Reader's Digest. If he bothers to read fiction, it's only Christian fiction. He has never touched a classic in his life. He refuses to read news magazines like Time or Newsweek because they all support "the Liberal agenda." Maybe he reads the local town newspaper, but only to grumble and disagree with it. And since he's neither intelligent nor educated, he has no clue about Greek, Latin, or Hebrew.

HOME DECOR: Always drab and lacking in life. Furniture should be cheap knock-offs of early-American and/or colonial with plenty of finials and dark wood. If there's any artwork on the walls, it'll be just pastoral stuff or flowers. Darkened or yellowing wall-paper is perfect. If the floors are wooden, they will lack shine. Carpets are worn and uninteresting. Books anywhere in the house are rare to non-existent.

MUSIC: Of course he listens to gospel music, and maybe the classics (but he won't actually understand the classics). Secular music is of the Devil, so neither he nor his wife and children listen to it. There is probably either a piano or an organ in his house, and his wife and daughters play it. If they ever play any non-religious piano music, it's old yellowed sheet music from the 1920's.

FILM AND TELEVISION: Hollywood is a stronghold of Satan, so movie-going is forbidden. There MIGHT be a TV in the house, but only to watch the news. VCR's and DVD players are invitations to porn, so they're not allowed. And no video games either.

COMPUTERS: If he has a computer in his house, he uses it to write his sermons. He is NOT internet savvy. Neither are his wife and kids.

SPORTS: Wholesome outdoor activities are walking, fishing, and playing golf. Boys can play baseball and football. Girls can play basketball, but only if they wear skirts. All sports must be separated by gender (no co-ed sports allowed).

FOOD: Dinner is served up by his wife every night at 5:30 sharp. And it'll be some variation on meat 'n potatoes. Maybe we can allow for a pasta dish that remotely resembles Italian cuisine. But no Christian minister would ever eat Mexian, Thai, or sushi.

Rule #8 - The bulk of his time is spent writing and rehearsing sermons.

He never ministers to people on an individual, one-on-one level. Never interacts with members of his congregation outside of the obligatory round of hand shaking outside the church after a Sunday service. He never does counseling sessions. He never makes house calls. He never visits the sick. He never visits those in prison. He never meets with local community leaders--unless he's a "bad guy" minister who is covertly scheming on some political level with/against those other leaders. Aside from weddings, funerals, and the ocassional baptism (which is always an INFANT baptism) he's very self-absorbed and leads a totally insular life.

Rule #9 - His sermons are always of the "fire and brimstone" variety.

He must employ a pulpit pounding, rafter-rattling, fist-waving style of preaching, even though less than 20% of all American pastors/preachers fall into this category. And the congregation always responds with loud affirmations of "AMEN!" and "PREACH IT!" even though the vast majority of American congregations observe polite and attentive silence during a sermon. And during the worship music portion of a service, the congregation will worship in outrageous strains of Pentecostalism, including dancing, jumping, arm-waving, speaking in tongues, and getting slain in the spirit, even though less than 20% of American church-goers engage in such displays of Charismata.

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Offhand, I somehow don't see this description as being applicable to most Episcopalians, Anglicans, Lutherans, Catholics, Orthodox et. al. :P

I think Anglicans who go to cocktail hours would agree with me. ;) (As might Denny Wayman and Darrel Manson, for that matter...!)

Rats! I forgot to make a rule about his attitudes toward alcohol consumption!

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Note to Alan: We need some icons to indicate dry humor.

That would be kind of self-defeating.

It's in the Humor section, after all.

Caption from a John Callahan cartoon: "This is a feminist bookstore! There is no humor section!"

Edited by mrmando

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Note to Alan: We need some icons to indicate dry humor.

That would be kind of self-defeating.

It's in the Humor section, after all.

Caption from a John Callahan cartoon: "This is a feminist bookstore! There is no humor section!"

Just read in a Christian blog today called Confessions of a Bad Christian:

A lack of humor in the church apparently this has been a problem for a while now. Teresa of Avila prayed this simple prayer in 1582, "From somber, serious, sullen saints, save us Oh Lord."
and from the same blog:

Dave Barry:"No matter what happens ... somebody will find a way to take it too seriously."

And as for YOU, Darrel:

Obviously, I'll never be a model minister.

Not a model HOLLYWOOD minister.

Edited by Plot Device

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Just read in a Christian blog today called Confessions of a Bad Christian:

A lack of humor in the church apparently this has been a problem for a while now. Teresa of Avila prayed this simple prayer in 1582, "From somber, serious, sullen saints, save us Oh Lord."

I'm not surprised - she's also famous for eating with gusto (can't find a link to the famous story about her eating chicken, though) and was, in general, very down to earth - important for a mystic. :)

Never heard of ehrbefore this week. But if she liked to eat she musta been cool.

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I've been thinking about this ... and I'd like to suggest that ministers fare a teensy bit better on the small screen.

But only a teensy bit. It's still loaded with cardboard ministers.

But there's one shining example, one notable exception, one completely 3-dimensional, fully human, believable, strong-at-times, weak-at-times, full-of-faith-yet-had-appropriate-doubts man of the cloth on TV. Three cheers for you know who.

Edited by mrmando

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I've been thinking about this ... and I'd like to suggest that ministers fare a teensy bit better on the small screen.

But only a teensy bit. It's still loaded with cardboard ministers.

But there's one shining example, one notable exception, one completely 3-dimensional, fully human, believable, strong-at-times, weak-at-times, full-of-faith-yet-had-appropriate-doubts man of the cloth on TV. Three cheers for you know who.

I saw an interview with the producers of that show who very gingerly explained that they were obligated (ordered?) to be very VERY careful with the character. And while they didn't SAY it, I kinda SUSPECT they would have liked to have ditched the character's altruism and dirtied him up a bit and given him a dark side.

Edited by Plot Device

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And, Rule #10 ...

He must not be physically fit. He must exhibit that love of "spiritual" things which rules out proper care of the body. He should preferably be short with a pot belly. He must not run, lift weights, or engage in any other strenuous exercise. His motto must be: Bodily exercise availeth nothing.

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Isn't one of the rules that the minister/priest have vestments of some sort -- an obvious ID as to his profession? That's why so many men of the cloth in films are Catholics, or High Church Protestants. We don't see many Bible Church pastors in suits in the movies, do we?

Per Rule #9: My favorite portrayal of a crazed minister is Ian McKellan in "Cold Comfort Farm." Riotous!

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A lack of humor in the church apparently this has been a problem for a while now.

Methinks the time has come for a little blatant self-promotion.

And now, back to our regularly scheduled program...

This is funny, Nick! Thank you! And congrats on the album! B)

And, Rule #10 ...

He must not be physically fit. He must exhibit that love of "spiritual" things which rules out proper care of the body. He should preferably be short with a pot belly. He must not run, lift weights, or engage in any other strenuous exercise. His motto must be: Bodily exercise availeth nothing.

Yeah, that's a good one. I need to add this to the "missed opportunities rewrite" along with the alcohol thing.

As a side note, I was watching the news a few months ago and they did a story on .. something (I don't recall what -- some social issue about the internet I think) ... and one of the experts they interviewed to discuss it was an Anglican priest. And he was FAT!! And I noticed with my film-trained eyes that they chose to shoot him in lighting and at angles that drew atention to his obesity. It was nothing short of deliberate in my esyimation.

Isn't one of the rules that the minister/priest have vestments of some sort -- an obvious ID as to his profession? That's why so many men of the cloth in films are Catholics, or High Church Protestants. We don't see many Bible Church pastors in suits in the movies, do we?

Per Rule #9: My favorite portrayal of a crazed minister is Ian McKellan in "Cold Comfort Farm." Riotous!

Yes! Totally yes!

And what really kills me is whe non-Catholic characters bless themselves with the sign of the cross!

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I saw an interview with the producers of that show who very gingerly explained that they were obligated (ordered?) to be very VERY careful with the character. And while they didn't SAY it, I kinda SUSPECT they would have liked to have ditched the character's altruism and dirtied him up a bit and given him a dark side.

Apparently in the film (which I've never seen) and the novel it's based on, he's more of a caricature. I think he acquired more dimensions as the TV show went along.

And what really kills me is whe non-Catholic characters bless themselves with the sign of the cross!

I dunno ... I see some people do this when receiving communion in my Presbyterian church. I wish it were more instinctual with me when I'm hangin' with my Catholic buddies.

Edited by mrmando

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And what really kills me is whe non-Catholic characters bless themselves with the sign of the cross!

I dunno ... I see some people do this when receiving communion in my Presbyterian church. I wish it were more instinctual with me when I'm hangin' with my Catholic buddies.

Huh?

This raises a broader question than whether a Presbyterian should ever do this? The broader question is: When should a Catholic do this? Secondarily, is it appropriate for anyone else to do it?

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When I share a prayer before a meal with Catholics, which I do once in a while, or on other occasions when I'm at a Catholic church or function, I still don't know when to cross myself. Not to mention what to do with the font, the brief genuflection when sitting down in the pew, etc.

I feel awkward.

Sure, I can't take Holy Communion as long as I remain a Protestant, but AFAIK there is nothing else that happens during a normal Catholic Mass or social gathering that I can't or shouldn't participate in when I'm there. Correct me if I'm wrong. I don't think of the sign of the cross as a mark of allegiance to Rome primarily, but to Christ.

Edited by mrmando

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When I a prayer before a meal with Catholics, which I do once in a while, or on other occasions when I'm at a Catholic church or function, I still don't know when to cross myself. Not to mention what to do with the font, the brief genuflection when sitting down in the pew, etc.

I feel awkward.

Sure, I can't take Holy Communion as long as I remain a Protestant, but AFAIK there is nothing else that happens during a normal Catholic Mass or social gathering that I can't or shouldn't participate in when I'm there. Correct me if I'm wrong. I don't think of the sign of the cross as a mark of allegiance to Rome primarily, but to Christ.

I can't correct you, because I don't know if you're wrong. The communion example occurred to me as well, but like you said, I doubt there's a parallel.

The Protestant tradition that throws me -- I think it's Episcopalian, but it might have its origins in Catholicism -- is when someone cries out "Peace be with you," and everyone else responds, "And also with you," or something like that.

Sorry to sound so ignorant. I had never experienced this until my aunt was up for my wedding, when I was 29 years old, and she suddenly announced to gathered relatives, "Peace be with you!" and some of the gathered responded appropriately.

Sorry for this digression. This discussion should be in the "Religion" section.

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I've been thinking about this ... and I'd like to suggest that ministers fare a teensy bit better on the small screen.

But only a teensy bit. It's still loaded with cardboard ministers.

But there's one shining example, one notable exception, one completely 3-dimensional, fully human, believable, strong-at-times, weak-at-times, full-of-faith-yet-had-appropriate-doubts man of the cloth on TV. Three cheers for you know who.

I saw an interview with the producers of that show who very gingerly explained that they were obligated (ordered?) to be very VERY careful with the character. And while they didn't SAY it, I kinda SUSPECT they would have liked to have ditched the character's altruism and dirtied him up a bit and given him a dark side.

Despite making the father periodically fluffy, they did do well with him in the end...

Here's another great example of an interestingly sensitively portrayed minister on TV.

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mrmando wrote:

: When I share a prayer before a meal with Catholics, which I do once in a

: while, or on other occasions when I'm at a Catholic church or function, I

: still don't know when to cross myself. Not to mention what to do with the

: font, the brief genuflection when sitting down in the pew, etc.

FWIW, I consciously avoided doing any of that stuff for the first couple years that I attended St. Herman's, basically because I didn't want to send out any signals to the effect that I was becoming Orthodox until I was, in fact, becoming Orthodox. I think the first time I ever crossed myself was at my wedding, because I wanted to "fit in" with my bride and the priest who was uniting us in marriage -- and I've been doing it ever since, at home, at least. (I might not have done it in church again until I became a catechumen; I can't recall exactly.)

: I don't think of the sign of the cross as a mark of allegiance to Rome . . .

That depends on how you MAKE the sign of the cross. ;)

(Actually, I jest. I think this might be one of those things which reflects an Eastern/Western split rather than a Catholic/Orthodox split; i.e., just as there are Catholic churches that follow the Byzantine rite, so too there may be Catholics who cross themselves the Eastern way rather than the Western way.)

Christian wrote:

: The Protestant tradition that throws me -- I think it's Episcopalian, but it

: might have its origins in Catholicism -- is when someone cries out "Peace

: be with you," and everyone else responds, "And also with you," or

: something like that.

Heck, that sounds like it has its origins in Judaism! ("Shalom aleichem!" "Aleichem shalom!" Okay, the response isn't quite the same, but still...) Of course, Orthodoxy has its own variants of that sort of thing. At this time of year, if someone says "Christ is risen!", you reply, "Indeed he is risen!"

I remember attending an Anglican service when I was 23, in a small parish on the outskirts of Coventry in England, and being surprised by how often the congregation began singing or speaking in response to things that the minister said, and all without a script. The only place I'd seen anything like that before was in Beneath the Planet of the Apes, when the mutants worship the nuclear bomb. I haven't seen that film since, but I suspect that if I did, the scene in question would feel a bit more sacreligious to me.

Getting back to the thread's topic...

Yeah, that scene in Space Cowboys where James Garner, a Baptist minister, says "Hail Mary full of grace" (and crosses himself?) is a classic example of how Hollywood conflates the denominations. I think A Walk to Remember and Leap of Faith also included very Catholic-looking crucifixes in the set designs for the homes and worship spaces of Baptist or Pentecostal characters; it's more visual and all that ...

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I remember attending an Anglican service when I was 23, in a small parish on the outskirts of Coventry in England, and being surprised by how often the congregation began singing or speaking in response to things that the minister said, and all without a script. The only place I'd seen anything like that before was in Beneath the Planet of the Apes, when the mutants worship the nuclear bomb. I haven't seen that film since, but I suspect that if I did, the scene in question would feel a bit more sacreligious to me.

I think I recall that scene also.

I really don't like any sort of responsive participation in a church service. It kinda creeps me out (like that scene in that film is supposed to). And yet I have met other people who think it's the coolest thing. "Refreshing," one person said.

To each his own.

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Yeah, that scene in Space Cowboys where James Garner, a Baptist minister, says "Hail Mary full of grace" (and crosses himself?) is a classic example of how Hollywood conflates the denominations. I think A Walk to Remember and Leap of Faith also included very Catholic-looking crucifixes in the set designs for the homes and worship spaces of Baptist or Pentecostal characters; it's more visual and all that ...

The thing that totally kills me about stuff like that is NO ONE in the entire production process--from script revisions to cast meetings to the actual day of shooting such scenes--NO ONE raises a hand and says "A Baptist minister would never say a Hail Mary." Or, if anyone DOES object, the powers that be ignore the objections.

Do not Christians write letters and say "That was incorrect"?? And what becomes of these letters? What about Hollywood consultants? What about the Cardinal in Los Angeles?

My feeling is, if it bugs ME, then surely it must bug other people too. How can this kind of inaccuracy go on in Hollywood films for YEARS at a time, and not cause letters and e-mails?

And crucifixes really get me going! I grew up Catholic and so crucifixes were a regular part of my life. Catholic crucifixes always had the semi-naked, boney looking, swooned and languishing Jesus hanging on them by his palms and anles. Then when I went Protestant I was adamantly told that Protestant crosses (either as jewelry or hanging on a wall) will NEVER have Jesus on them. "He's no longer on the cross. The cross is empty and so is the tomb. He is risen. We Protestants are proud to display empty crosses. Empty crosses are a celebration of his miracle." And that became the point of separation in my mind between Catholic crosses and Protestant ones.

Seeing Protestants in film and television with Catholic-looking crosses just makes me shake my head and ponder how these elements of the Christian sub-culture can be so CONSISTENTLY lost on Hollywood.

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The Protestant tradition that throws me -- I think it's Episcopalian, but it might have its origins in Catholicism -- is when someone cries out "Peace be with you," and everyone else responds, "And also with you," or something like that.

This is "new", part of the revision of the BCP in '79. Many high church conservative parishes, as well as continuing churches who left over disputes over the revision use, "The Lord be with you." abswered by, "And with thy Spirit." This is indeed from Catholicism and one of the objections to the change. English from the Latin.

I cannot bring myself to cross myself at all. That's OK in my church. I have taken to bowing slightly when others cross, particularly at the end of the sermon and always at the describing of the Trinity.

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I cannot bring myself to cross myself at all. That's OK in my church.

Not acceptable, Rich ...

I am reporting you to The Church Police. ;)

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Well, all I can say is, to each his/her own. I've run into the attitudes you've mentioned, but they're not common to all Protestants. In some denominations (like the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod), crucifixes are fairly common. and jsut part of the church furnishings.

This I didn't realize about Lutherans. I had a Lutheran roommate for a while there. She was a blonde-haired, blue-eyes German girl from the Mid-West too. We never discussed the subject, so I missed this one.

One thing I have found to be part of Hollywood's "shorthand" is: the bigger and more grotesquely rendered a Jesus-bearing crucifix is (either on a wall or around a neck), the more crazy the Christian character will turn out to be. Small and discreet crosses (like what Scully wears on the X-Files) indicate a more level-headed individual.

So much of this is about cultural tradition and - often - aesthetics, rather than specific beliefs. (Applies to all concerned, including Catholics.) We humans are creatures of habit, after all.

I know that in Pennsylvania, a lot of churches (when I say "a lot" I mean a sizeable number) don't have ANY crosses at all. This is spill-over influence from the Amish/Mennonite/Quaker legacy of the area which has the tradition that no iconic imagery is allowed at all in a church, not even crosses.

As for H'wood getting details wrong, boy! That happens constantly, in all kinds of plots/scenarios. (Not just concerning the portrayal of Christians and clergy.) For my part, i pretty much expect it., and though it's occasionally annoying, it's also amusing. One of my personal favorite "Oops!" moments: guitarists using plastic thumb picks in a movie based on the life of blues singer Leadbelly. Nobody had yellow plastic picks in the 1920s. ;)

Missed that film. ;)

But I'm not saying ONLY films portraying Christians get it wrong. I just feel that TOO MANY films get it wrong. And it's always the same stuff again and again that they get wrong. I feel it's fair to compare this to the endless parade of films back in the 30's that portrayed Blacks as eating watermelon and using bad grammer. When are they gonna smarten up?

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