Don’t fill out your Oscars ballot based on my movie reviews. My taste in movies is not reflective of the Hollywood voters. Still, I enjoy movies and I try to watch as many of the nominated movies each year so I can compare my aesthetic values to those of whose lives are devoted to the art. The movie that made me think the most; the one that I had to sit up for an extra hour digesting, was “Spotlight.”
If I was president of a seminary I would make “Spotlight” mandatory viewing for all of the students. I would encourage anyone who serves a church in any capacity, as a layperson or a professional, to watch the film and consider the message. The message I saw played out on the screen is this: I trust that Jesus knew what he was doing when he left the church to be run by human beings, but I wonder if there was another option if he would have taken it. People who are called to serve the church, to be representatives of the Church (that is, of Christ; of God) must be constantly aware of the fact that their failure to be faithful to God can fatally harm the faith of the very people they are entrusted to serve. When the servants of the Church fail they bring judgment on themselves because they bring judgment on God. In my mind this is why James wrote, “Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.” (James 3:1)
I do not stand in judgment of the Roman Catholic Church or the priests whose behavior is revealed in “Spotlight.” God does. But the real lesson of the movie for the rest of us is that God sometimes needs to use people who are “lapsed” in their faith to reveal the horrible things done in the name of protecting “religion” or “church.” Does God forgive the priests who abused children? Yes. Does God forgive those who covered up the abuse because “the church does many good things for this town”? Yes. But, that does not mean that they do not suffer the consequences of a more strict judgment. God sometimes give the spotlight to those “outside” the church to reform the inside.
Everyone who seeks to serve the Church of Jesus Christ will fail in some way because we are all human. But the judgment will be harsh when the spotlight shines. We have been warned. And for that reason, my “Oscar” for the best religious film of 2015 goes to “Spotlight.”