Faith like a Fox

Andy Rau

Fox is unveiling a new family-friendly film division aimed at Christian audiences, who were revealed by the Passion of the Christ phenomenon to be a powerful and largely untapped audience. The new film division is called FoxFaith:

"A segment of the market is starving for this type of content," said Simon Swart, general manager of Fox's U.S. home entertainment unit.

"We want to push the production value, not videotape sermons or proselytize."

Hollywood has made religious-themed movies for years including such memorable titles as "The Ten Commandments" and "The Greatest Story Ever Told." But FoxFaith will target evangelical Christians who often have shunned popular entertainment as offensive.

I've been mulling this one over since I saw the news a few days ago, and I can't really nail down my feelings about this. I've read several Christian bloggers criticizing the move for its apparent assumption that "Christian-friendly films" must be saccharine, inoffensive, feel-good stories that carefully tiptoe around the real challenges of life. I agree with a lot of that critique--just take a look at FoxFaith's list of upcoming films. But I'd like to put aside the (important) question of artistic merit for a moment and think about the cultural significance of something like FoxFaith.

When I was younger, my family actively participated in what we considered a push for a cleaner, less immoral entertainment industry. Today, my views on film, culture, and religion have changed quite a bit, but I still have a lot of respect for what concerned Christians did and what they hoped to accomplish. We boycotted certain movie studios, wrote letters challenging studios to be more respectful of Christian audiences, and looked forward to a day when Hollywood would finally note the financial incentives in not offending the religious market.

In a sense, that day has come. The establishment of FoxFaith (and its inevitable imitators, should it prove financially successful) is a victory for Christians who have for decades lobbied for a slice of Hollywood to call their own. So why does the announcement of FoxFaith not fill me with joy?

I'm not sure, but here are a few thoughts. First, a family-friendly division of a major movie studio is what a lot of Christians have been asking for... but is it what we really want? What these Christians want, in the end, is an entertainment industry that honors God. Is FoxFaith a step towards this ultimate goal? There is a big difference between honoring God and simply pandering to the evangelical market, feeding it what it wants to see to keep the money rolling in. I'm sure there are well-intentioned Christians involved in FoxFaith and I don't want to belittle their efforts. But FoxFaith is about capturing the evangelical market, and I'm nervous that instead of a step towards cultural change, this is just a pulling of the evangelical church into the wheels of the entertainment industry machine.

On a similar note, I think we'll see more marketing efforts targeted at Christians, pastors, and churches. During the buildup to The Passion and Narnia, I saw a lot of promotional material aimed at church leaders and pastors--some of it packaged neatly as Christian teaching and tools for spiritual growth. It made me really uncomfortable to see that happen, and I suspect that the film industry is only going to get better at dressing up their marketing campaigns in church clothes.

But all that said, I have no special insight into FoxFaith or what it says about evangelical culture. What's your take? Is this a long-awaited victory in the "culture wars"? Or is it a sign that we've already lost?

Topics: Movies