By Joel Davidson
Of all the wonderful sights on Asbury’s campus, the Miller Center for Communication Arts is possibly the most spectacular. Inside, you’ll find props and posters from a huge number of films, TV shows, and stage productions made with the involvement of Asbury students. It goes without saying that many of the films referenced on the hallowed walls of Miller are secular in nature, and several of them feature content that would not be considered “Asbury Appropriate.”
Although some have voiced concern about the display of R-rated film posters in a Christian institution, I wonder if these people have really thought about why these objects are here in the first place. Are they decoration? Are they trophies of graduate achievements? Are they there to impress visitors? I believe they’re all of the above, but when I was a doubtful prospective student touring Asbury for the very first time, they meant something far more to me. They showed that God’s people were out there, in Hollywood and other places, honoring His name by helping to make great cinema.
Though Asbury’s commitment to community and God’s guiding principles was apparent from the start, I was nervous about its Media Communications program. I wanted to become a filmmaker, to tell stories that pushed the boundaries of imagination and challenged people’s intellect. Needless to say, I was troubled by the thought of taking film courses at a Christian college when so many “Christian” films I had seen up to that point lacked the qualities of excellence I wanted to emulate as an artist.
Then, I walked into Miller. Walking over to a display case, I almost lost it. Sitting there, behind the glass, was a prototype version of the Nautilus, Captain Nemo’s submarine from Disney’s “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea”, a groundbreaking classic and one of my favorite movies. Bounding down the building’s stairs, I was greeted by a partial set from Citizen Kane. As a film lover, I was in heaven. Walking past prop after prop, it became apparent to me that Asbury’s staff respected films that were both popular and original movies of various genres, eras and worldviews. Yes, ratings were given equal places of honor, because they all factored into film history somehow. What’s more, Asbury students helped to shape that history, glorifying God through excellence in their craft.
These posters and props aren’t just there for amusement, but as a solemn declaration of the important work we’ve set in our hearts to do. The Harry Potter, Star Wars and Lord of the Rings franchises helped define our society, and props from them remind me every time I go to class that students who went before me had a hand in shaping today’s culture through their work on those films. In other words, every poster is a testament to the transforming power of cinema and a look ahead to the battlefields we will find ourselves in beyond graduation. The film industry is a dark and dangerous place, and R-rated, non-AA movies are a part of the very system Communications Arts students will be working in.
We could claim that it’s wrong for Christians to work in an industry that exalts non- Christian themes, but it’s that very reluctance that’s keeping Christianity out of mainstream cinema to begin with. Jesus went out of his way to eat with tax collectors, sinners, prostitutes, and other undesirables because they were the ones who needed to be saved. The film industry is full of sin, corruption, desperation and hatred. Films made today are often drenched in hopelessness. We have an unparalleled opportunity to bring hope to that place, to be Jesus to the people in that industry. To some, the displays in Miller might represent a violation of Asbury’s foundational principle of holiness. In reality, though, they are a powerful symbol of where God’s children are taking His light in the world.