There he goes again: Ted Baehr slanders Christianity Today on the air.

Yesterday during the James D. Kennedy Coral Ridge Broadcast, Ted Baehr once again slandered Christianity Today and my colleagues in Christian film criticism. And in the meantime, he either got the facts wrong, or he lied… you decide.

From a friend who heard the broadcast:

Ted Baehr (who starts the broadcast by taking credit for The Passion, Chronicles of Narnia, Madagascar, and other films) notes that he gave The Passion a “movie of the year” award last year.

Then he says: Christianity Today gave it to a movie about an abortionist and didn’t even put Passion of the Christ in their top ten. So the problem is the Left dictates a lot of the views of the increasingly liberal evangelical community. So we’re losing the church to the emperor’s new clothes. …”

Kennedy replies: “I have been increasingly disappointed with Christianity Today in recent years because of that seemingly liberal trend that’s going on there. I don’t know what’s going on there, but somebody’s apparently sneaked into their departments and are making a big change.”

Here’s the link.

Hooo, boy… where to start?

1) I would like to hear the directors of The Passion, The Chronicles of Narnia, and Madagascar asked what they estimate the influence of Ted Baehr was on their finished films. I would like to hear what they think about the impact he claims to have made on them.

2.) I would like Baehr to show me some evidence… anything at all… showing that Christianity Today gave their “movie of the year” award to a film about an abortionist.

We gave our “movie of the year award” last year to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. It’s not about an abortionist.

Is he referring to Vera Drake? That film was #9 in our critics’ list of the Top Ten for 2004. Vera Drake is, indeed, about an abortionist… an abortionist who is so naive that she tells “troubled young women” that the solution to their problems is an abortion, which is laughable, because she also tells them that the solution to their other soul-crushing problems is a good serving of tea and biscuits.

It’s a film about the way we treat each other with naivete… the way that compassion sometimes isn’t enough, and discernment is called for. The film does not portray Vera Drake as some valorous champion. She’s really quite pathetic. Hers is the most dangerous kind of care… care unchecked by intellect. She would solve a headache by sweetly and gently beheading the sufferer.

Moreover, the film powerfully portrays the destructive potential of those who react to abortionists with irrational hatred and violence and rage.

It’s a fair and challenging film. It is, as Baehr says, “about an abortionist.” So what? It is not “recommending abortion.” It is Baehr’s opinion that a filmmaker cannot addres the subject of abortion in a film, or examine different characters in their opinions and choices?

As for The Passion of the Christ… it is indeed a powerful and important film, and Christianity Tody devoted more articles and attention to that film than any film in history. But the critics who voted on the films they thought were the best-made rated it just shy of ten other films. It was a true and powerful representation of the Gospel. But just because a movie portrays the Gospel doesn’t make it the Greatest Movie Ever Made, and the CT critics did not find great enough artistic achievement there to merit a Best Film award.

3.) Baehr says, “So the problem is the Left dictates a lot of the views of the increasingly liberal evangelical community.”

I challenge Mr. Baehr to show me one instance at Christianity Today in which “the Left dictated” a view to us and we embraced it.

I do not take dictation when I write reviews. I respond honestly, from my head and heart. Likewise, the critics at Christianity Today express their own opinions, quite thoughtfully in most cases. They assess art in all of its aspects, rather than subjecting works of art to a checklist judgement (the kind Baehr himself employs at Movieguide), judging it by how may cusses they count or glimpses of skin that occur.

4.) And Mr. Kennedy says: “I have been increasingly disappointed with Christianity Today in recent years because of that seemingly liberal trend that’s going on there. I don’t know what’s going on there, but somebody’s apparently sneaked into their departments and are making a big change.”

I encourage either Kennedy or Baehr to call out who it is that they think “sneaked” into CT. I’d like to know how exactly someone “sneaks” in there. I’d like them to point to the change that has caused what they see as a devastating change. And I’d like Kennedy to define what he means by “that seemingly liberal trend.” Does he mean that it is “liberal” to examine art, its level of excellence, and the meaning that it reflects? If so, count me as one who seeks to be “liberated”!

Let it be known that the head of the Christian Film and Television Commission is not speaking for the whole Christian film criticism community. And of the dozens of Christian film critics published online, I know of very few who would say that Baehr represents their idea of thoughtful, thorough film criticism.

In fact, his idea of film reviewing (don’t forget, he has come out and said very clearly in the past that, in spite of his views, he is “not a film reviewer”) is a very different thing than what I understand as the responsibility of the conscientious and discerning art critic. If you’re interested in just how clearly he contradicts himself on this point, check this out.

I love the illustration of “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” I just think it applies to this situation in a very different way than Baehr thinks it does. The truest statement in that excerpt comes from Kennedy, when he says: “I don’t know what’s going on there.” That shows how, as Christian engagement with the arts continues to deepen and grow, he is being, to borrow a phrase popular among evangelicals, “left behind.”

No Responses to “There he goes again: Ted Baehr slanders Christianity Today on the air.”

  1. Michael Knepher Says:

    While I’m not a reader of CT, I wonder if one example of the “creeping liberalism” bewailed by the Rev. Kennedy might be its recent cover story rejecting the use of torture in any situation? There are some signs of fissures in the evangelical community over a number of issues that have been successfully labeled in the evangelical community as liberal (shorthand amongst the end-times crowd for “demonic”) do-goodism (shorthand amongst the corporate conservatism crowd for “pathetic naive idealism”), such as the environment, programs for the poor, and the like. With the success of Bono’s One campaign in bringing on board a number of high-profile evangelicals, and the recent declaration on global warming led by Rick Warren and company, more and more evangelicals are starting to take note of the fact that they have surrendered issues of justice to the “liberal” church in exchange for an increasingly nationalist, and in some cases even nativist, “orthodoxy.”

  2. Nate Says:

    I like how Dr. Baehr mispronounced two of his favorite Hollywood films, “Mr. Smith Went to Washington” and “It Was a Wonderful Life.” I think his improper use of the past tense is irresistibly ironic!

    It’s easy to feel superior to guys like Baehr (notwithstanding his allusions to Aristotle and Aquinas), but I think there’s still a place in society for his kind of overly cautious, overly literal filmgoing. I only wish he weren’t so vindictive. (You have every right to be annoyed with him, Jeffrey, but you’ve got to give him some credit for plugging Sophie Scholl. At least you have that much in common, right?)

  3. Jeffrey Overstreet Says:

    If I thought he was “plugging ‘SOphie Scholl’” because it’s great art, I’d be overjoyed.

    But from many years of reading his reviews (but wait, he says they’re not “reviews”), I can only conclude that he’s recommending the film because:

    1) it’s low on profanity
    2) it is devoid of any sexually explicit material
    3) it’s low on violence
    4) there’s nothing in there that could possibly be interpreted as lending any merit to views of America’s Democratic party
    4) Jesus’ name is openly praised.

    That’s not how you assess the value of a work of art. I’m happy he’s recommending it, but I don’t see much integrity in the method by which he arrives at that recommendation.

  4. Nate Says:

    Well, obviously. :)

    Tell me something, though. Do you think his disparaging remarks about the “liberalization” of CT will diminish your readership, or merely expand it? I would argue for the latter (but maybe that’s just wishful thinking). I believe CT’s true fans—the ones who take film seriously as an art form—will continue to read the movies column regardless of what Dr. Baehr says.

  5. Gaffney Says:

    Wow, Jeff, where to begin.

    I had the interesting experience of writing freelance reviews for Movie Guide years ago (way too far down the food chain to every meet the founder). On one hand, I feel for you, brother. On the other – congratulations! If Mr. Baehr thinks you deserve attack, it probably means you are doing quality work.

    And my heart goes out to all the reviewers working under Mr. Baehr – it is very hard to love movies and work within the guidelines of the Guide. When I wrote for them, there were a few people there (my immediate editor, for one) that did indeed love movies, thought quality was important, and wanted to shift the conversation to a deeper look at movies and the language of art.

    Instead, the pressure is to focus on content, and skew the review towards the number of swear words. I remember being forced to justify how I could say a movie was excellent in quality when my review clearly listed foul language and immoral content. In other words, how could the cinematography be any good if an actor says the f-word?

    Jeff, please do not take it to heart when someone with that mentality criticizes the reviews written by real critics such as yourself. Ted Baehr long ago let go of any actual care about cinema, or about art criticism (and admits it every time he claims that his “reviews” are about advocacy, and not “movie reviews in a journalistic sense”). You will note in Mr. Baehr’s “review” of Sophie Scholl, he was only able to come up with two sentences that addressed something other than the subject matter of the film: “The reason that the movie has gotten so many awards and great reviews is that it is so well produced. Every element rings true.” That is the sum total of Mr. Baehr’s ability and desire to look at quality.

    So when he criticizes CT’s list of best movies, he doesn’t have “best” in mind; that word means something completely different to him than it does to Webster.

    Same with the label “liberal.” Folks get upset when megaphone crazy people like Mr. Baehr spit that word at them – especially if, like CT, they are not liberal. But don’t bother looking the word up to understand what Mr. Baehr means; it is a wasteful exercise. What Mr. Baehr means by “liberal” is “not my personal brand of conservative.”

    By his definition, anyone who is moderate qualifies (including moderate Republicans). Or anyone that has an open mind on issues, who doesn’t rush in throwing stones, but rather waits to hear what the Rabbi writing on the ground has to say. Thinking, rather than being told what to think; asking questions; considering the text of the Bible directly rather than the text of Mr. Baehr; thinking that Jesus taught about caring for the poor, sharing with one another and finding what can be loved in our enemies; — all acts of “not my personal brand of conservative.”

    The prophets have never been the favorites of the established church – especially of those that are comfortable with their established power and prestige, those that “love to sit at the head of the table at banquets and in the seats of honor in the synagogues.” And can you blame them?

    If you were Ted Baehr, would you want someone running around telling people that “any who have ears to hear should listen and understand!”

    I know I wouldn’t.

    -Sean Gaffney

  6. -B Says:

    So Baehr frowns upon a movie about abortion, but other than qualifying the REAL movie about abortion you seem to be on the defensive when you say, ” It is not “recommending abortion.” which seems to put you in the same camp that would pretty much reserve abortion for “cases” where the mother’s life is in danger (if Baehr even holds to that).

    But as I’m sure you are aware of, evangelical Christians are not altogether in agreement on this i.e. http://www.thursdaypm.org/blog/rachelle/20050313/remembering-stan-grenz-3/

    Abortion, like divorce, ought to be seen as an unfortunate fact of our sinful world, grievously so. Which is to say that those moderates might be labelled in the same way as Baehr has done of CT. Which is to say that “recommending an abortion” may be the most loving thing to portray in a movie given the human situation.

  7. Jeffrey Overstreet Says:

    >>but other than qualifying the REAL movie about abortion you seem to be on the defensive when you say, ” It is not “recommending abortion.”< <

    Whoa, there… this is NOT going to become a thread debating the issue of abortion. And please do not jump to conclusions about my statement. My statement was about the film’s presentation of the matter contrary to Baehr’s interpretation condemnation of the film. It was not an invitation to speculate about my opinions on abortion, or to turn this thread into a debate about it.

    Anybody can see that abortion takes place, and thus, yes it is a “reality.” As to whether it is ever a moral thing to do, that’s another debate for another thread at another time.

    THAT subject is closed in this comment thread, and I’ll delete any posts that try to start it up. Let’s stay on-topic.

    And let’s not dehumanize each other by springing to “put” people in “camps.”

  8. Joel Buursma Says:

    Hey, Michael, I just got an idea for a B-grade horror film. It’s called “Creeping liberalism.” Anyone interested in making it?

    But seriously, it seems that Baehr “reviews” movies using different criteria than CT. Can’t they just get along? I think Baehr’s method is decent for parents of little kids, and CT’s method is very good for thoughtful Christian adults. This is not rocket science.

  9. Jeffrey Overstreet Says:

    >>But seriously, it seems that Baehr “reviews” movies using different criteria than CT. Can’t they just get along? I think Baehr’s method is decent for parents of little kids, and CT’s method is very good for thoughtful Christian adults. This is not rocket science.< <

    Except that CT provides “The Family Corner” that addresses the issues that Baehr addresses at MovieGuide, but it doesn’t cast it in strong, divisive, political terms. Moreover, CT doesn’t lace their reviews with condemning judgmental language. And parents that look to Movie Guide for guidance are going to also pick up Baehr’s perspective that anyone who disagrees with him is a homosexual, a liberal, a Marxist, a Communist, or whatever.

  10. Trent Says:

    I find it Baehr’s use of the word liberal interesting; it’s something in the American psyche that I still can’t get my Canadian brain around, how people toss around words like “liberal” and “left” (political terms) in an effort to imply that something is not “Christian” (a spiritual designation).

    Besides, what’s wrong with having a politically left of centre (sorry, center) Christian? The left has some great principals of putting people first, which to my mind are much more biblical than the individualistic, God Helps those who Help themselves principals that often guide the right.

    Which is not to get into a political debate. Because that’s exactly what’s wrong with what Ted’s doing: using politics as a screen through which to filter faith, and not vica versa.

    It puts my teeth on edge when it is implied that policially liberal people can’t be christian. That’s like saying that anyone who lives in Washington state (or Canada) can’t be a Christian, because of their geopolitical situation, not the state of their heart.

    Or like saying a movie lacked any artistic value because you counted 7 eff words.

  11. -B Says:

    Jeffrey, I think you misunderstood my intention here (due to the fact that I was writing on the fly at that moment and was not being clear). I was not trying to start a thread on abortion, but comment on YOUR COMMENTS about Baehr’s thoughts concerning CT giving a “two thumbs up” to a movie on abortion.

    I’m simply asking why be defensive about it? So far, it seems everything has taken a defensive posture. You have to defend film with profanity, sexual content, violence, etc. Now you have to defend THIS movie on abortion by saying, “Well the movie was not RECOMMENDING it.”

    If you’re going to defend these other issues in film, why not defend this as well?

    This is not about abortion (though that was a major example in Baehr’s angst toward CT, which is why I used it), but about slight inconsistencies I percieved in the WAY you were reviewing Baehr’s comments.

  12. Peter T Chattaway Says:

    CT might not have called Vera Drake the movie of the year, but I sure as heck did! Hmmm, maybe “Dr.” Ted Baehr had me in mind. :)

  13. Scott Says:

    Besides, what’s wrong with having a politically left of centre (sorry, center) Christian? The left has some great principals of putting people first, which to my mind are much more biblical than the individualistic, God Helps those who Help themselves principals that often guide the right.
    Part of the problem, as I see it, is that America became more Christian, American Christianity became the only Christianity. As the conservatives are by definition the group who resist change, then they are also the group who have the closest ties to Christianity as has been in America.

    This can be seen in the way that something that is “unchristian” may be tagged as “un-American” and how criticism of the government (esp. this administration) is frowned upon by much of the church today.

  14. Peter T Chattaway Says:

    Without meaning to derail this thread, my understanding is that evangelicals and fundamentalists were largely “progressive” or “liberal” in the 19th and early 20th centuries, in the sense that they believed the state could solve social problems — hence they used the power of the state to prohibit slavery, to give the vote to women, and to prohibit the consumption of alcohol. But, oops, that last prohibition turned out to be a big failure — as with many the-state-knows-best policies, it produced more problems than it solved — and their opposition to Darwinian science during the Scopes trial further marginalized them in the eyes of the public. So, after the 1920s, evangelicals and fundamentalists largely shrank back from engagement with public life — until various factors in the 1970s drew them back in. And for various reasons, when they returned, they now positioned themselves on the “conservative” side.

  15. Jeremy L. Says:

    It was painful to listen to that “interview” which seemed so well planned, but it was at times amusing. I enjoyed Ted saying the Academy was being taken over by independent directors from Sundance. He actually said “bushwhacked by a group of independents” :)

  16. Magnus Says:

    “…many years of reading his reviews (but wait, he says they’re not “reviews”), I can only conclude that he’s recommending the film because:

    1) it’s low on profanity
    2) it is devoid of any sexually explicit material
    3) it’s low on violence
    4) there’s nothing in there that could possibly be interpreted as lending any merit to views of America’s Democratic party
    4) Jesus’ name is openly praised.

    That’s not how you assess the value of a work of art. I’m happy he’s recommending it, but I don’t see much integrity in the method by which he arrives at that recommendation.”

    Man, that sort of mentallity has really helped to drive me a way from going to church. (not the Faith, mind you) With such a utilitarian outlook on life, how can a person like Baehr actually get any enjoyment out of life?
    As for Trent’s comments, one has to wonder what someone like Baehr thinks about Christian Socialist Parties or the Christian Democratic Socialist leader of Moldavia?

  17. Peter T Chattaway Says:

    Well, obvously, the Moldavian’s policies must be “un-American”! I mean, look, he’s Moldavian!

  18. Magnus Says:

    Funny though, I believe I had read somewhere that the Moldavians were eager to establish good relations with the USA, unlike an old hardline state like Belarus.

  19. Dave Rattigan Says:

    How bizarrely that Baehr condemns the Academy for not having a consistent philosophy of art, and then decries them for not rewarding the films that made the most at the box office. It seems box-office success is Baehr’s criterion for good art – at least when it suits him.

  20. Christina Says:

    Obviously, everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but I think it’s exactly this kind of “in-the-family” fighting that make Christianity less and less appealing to non-Christians.

  21. RC Says:

    how cool is that…

    potential…definitly potential.

    –RC of strangeculture.blogspot.com

  22. jasdye Says:

    and potential is spelled ‘zhang ziyi.’ (i think. i have the hardest time with names.)

    this would be, if it’s as cool as it sounds/looks, a much better adaptation to show in my lit classes than, say, gibson’s version. although i wonder if any version would be better than the simpsons’ eight-minute version (partly because it’s eight minutes long; partly because everybody dies; partly because ralph wiggums is so adorably stupid in it.)

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