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The Falwell Code?

As promised, I went to see The Da Vinci Code on opening day. Lynnette and I took in a matinee showing, joined by a few hundred other people. There were news cameras outside of the theater, apparently interviewing people as they entered and exited the film, getting their thoughts and reactions. Once again, Nashville news stations deliver the hard-hitting news that we all stay up until 10 o’clock for.

Whether or not you read the book, it’s good to see Tom Hanks in a decent film, taking the lead and speaking English. It’s good to see Ron Howard also do what he’s good at, shooting at great angles and taking us through Europe at breakneck speed, and then slowing things down for us so we can catch up on two thousand years of history and theology in time for the next chase. Even though the flick is being panned by nearly everyone, anyone who enjoys history, religion, suspense, mystery or Audrey Tautou should go see it.

Reflecting back on what I saw on the big screen, I was puzzled as to why so many have been boycotting the film, why churches have felt the need to deliver sermon series against Dan Brown’s novel, and why there has been such an uproar. Initially, many Christians purported that the film and the book denied the divinity of Jesus, his crucifixion and the resurrection. But after watching it, it seemed as if another coverup was taking place, but not by Opus Dei or the Priory of Sion. Perhaps all these conservative Christians have rallied against Da Vinci because they didn’t want people to question the real themes at the heart of the movie.

The movie has more to say about the equality of women in the church than it does about the divinity of Christ, more about the body not being an evil temptation than about Jesus’ resurrection, and more about abusive male church leaders than about miracles and the canon. These shocking ideas – and not the notion that Jesus was a father – scare people like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson moreso than a bloodline beginning with Jesus.

While much of the quest for the grail involves ancient lost texts, third-hand accounts, and theoretical leaps, fewer things can be more certain than the equality of the genders or the need to have diversity among the highest levels of church leadership. A simple walk through the cliff notes of history will show how women saved the church and helped advance the gospel, but still have doors closed in their faces when it comes to having ‘pastor’ put in front of their name or ‘preaching sermons’ added to their job descriptions.

And this is why several conservative Christian leaders have asked their followers to abstain from watching the movie: If people were to see how Brown and Howard treat the role of women in the church, they may start asking questions. And this would be bad for the male-dominated structures that keep power in the few, the proud, the white, and the male.

Any theological hack with a Bible and an internet connection can explain away time and again the notion that Jesus and Mary Magdalane shacked up together. Theological gymnastics like that are easy. But, jumping through the hoops required to continue to justify female oppression and exclusion is a much harder task, only attempted by the narrow-minded and the threatened who have weapons like money and power at their disposal.

So, the easiest thing to do is to keep people away from the theater. Just as the Bible was kept out of the hands of the common folk until the printing press shocked the world, a true discussion of the importance of women in the church (both then and now) has also been kept out of the mouths of the common folk.

If you want to say that society is advancing, that liberals are screwing things up, or that women are pissed off and can’t take it any more, then you’re missing the point. It’s not that ‘traditional’ gender roles are changing; it’s that our definition of 'traditional' is changing. And the only ones this bothers are those trapped in the past, who have made their tradition their canon, and who are not open to the reality of a God bigger than who we want God to be.

Traditions are like underwear – they serve their purpose for a season, but the time inevitably comes when they can no longer serve their purpose well and the holes poked in them reveal the larger problem at hand. There will always be those who will hold these traditions with a clenched fist, trying to squeeze every ounce of meaning out of it, and when they do, they are left holding a skin of something that was once full of importance but has now separated them from relevance.

The challenge of the church, which no longer sets society’s agenda (though some think it is still pre-Renaissance and it does), is to engage and speak to those systems and people who do set the agenda. And in our world, one of these agenda-setters is Hollywood. Whether or not you like it, the truth is there for you to examine and then act upon. Like my sophomore English teacher said, “It’s not your job to like the book; it’s your job to read the book, take a position in an essay, and pass my class.”

So, as some of the church chooses to ignore the changing world around them, I, as a Christian, choose to enter the theater, sit down for two hours, and walk out entertained. I am now able to have the gender discussion that so badly needs to take place. I am able to write about the movie I saw, what I loved, what I hated, and what I would have done differently to bring Dan Brown’s novel to life. But I will not sit on my couch and listen to Falwell and crew pull the wool over my eyes and miss being a participant in one of the most thrilling discussions of this generation.