This Is Not For You

2 Jun

When you’re married to a religious studies professor, you come across some weird stuff. So when we watch this film made by evangelical Christians, I had to ask myself, “Am I their audience? Better yet, do they even KNOW their audience?”

The film is called Awakened, and its about the revival spirit that has flourished on Indian reservations; the growth of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of the first nations. At least, that’s what they said in the description. This should be fifteen minutes, right? Interview some pastors, show some revivals, edit it some catchy music, done. Nope. This is ninety minutes long! What else did they cram in there?

It starts off with a description of Native history and how the way missionaries approached the tribes, crushing their culture in favor of WASP Christianity… that was interesting. With the civil rights movement, many natives rejected Christianity, because that faith rejected their culture. Missionaries realized their mistake The film shows clips of Billy Graham in 1975 addressing a conference of Indian pastors saying we need to match their culture with Christ.

Okay – this captured my interest. But then I started noticing something. The native Christians were not showing worship in their culture; the services were indistinguishable from any white protestant service I’ve attended. They sang two songs in… I’m guessing Navajo, but it was How Great Thou Art and Amazing Grace – 19th century Protestant hymns. There’s no adapting Christ to culture here! Who is this for?

It was also short on revivals… In fact they deliberately avoided the word. They preferred “awakening.” There were interviews with folks (mostly white) about the power of the Spirit moving, but little on specifics. Then they interview some Messianic Jews and their visions they’ve had.

Wait… what?! What happened to the Native Americans? Well, there was a play on the phrase, “gathering of the tribes” throughout the film, a deliberate author to tie American tribes with the tribes of Israel. So since Messianics are Christians who follow (their interpretation of) Jewish practice, it makes (some sort of) sense. Then we follow this Native missionary who works in Los Angeles preaching to… USC college students? That’s when I stopped watching – in my opinion, the filmmaker completely dropped the point of the film!

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I missed the point of the film. Awakened is not about Native Christians; it’s a piece about how there is a spiritual awakening in America – a sign of Christ’s return. They showed acculturated natives because that’s what the evangelical Christian audience could relate to. If you saw Native dances at a service (the Catholics got this), the real audience would have been confused. This film was not for me. It wasn’t even about Native Christianity. It was about the second coming of Christ… and everyone better look busy.

I do not recommend this film, but watch the trailer, and you get the idea. It’s heavy on (what I call) “the hard sell” and low on content. Great production value, good music, but it’s preaching to the converted. I just wish it had been more honest about that before I watched it.

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