While the intentions of this film and the problems it intends to bring to America’s attention are admirable, Persecuted doesn’t stack up. While it begins with serious promise, the film doesn’t follow-through on the very topic it purports to address.
John Luther, a prominent Christian pastor and evangelist is asked by the President of the United States to endorse a bill, the Faith and Fairness Act. The bill, if passed, would bring religious tolerance and acceptance to the States. John Luther though believes that the Christian God is the One True God and will not endorse legislation which would render all religions equal. The President doesn’t take lightly to Luther’s rebuff, and he decides Luther is a threat that must be removed. John Luther finds himself the target of an ongoing investigation after he is framed in a compromising situation involving drugs, sex, and scandal. The plot is similar to John Grisham’s The Pelican Brief in the sense that (SPOILER ALERT) the government ultimately turns out to be involved in the scandal.
In the opening scenes of the film, the moral questions for the audience are presented. How will we as a Christian audience in the United States react to the possibility that the God of the Christian Bible is no longer the reigning authority, that He has been replaced by unabated, categorical religious acceptance?
Persecuted is at its core, trying to be the story of a man who must decide who exactly it is he obeys– it’s the story of a religious leader who is forced to decide between listening to man and listening to God.
Quotes from prominent political and religious figures flash onto the screen as the film begins. Quotes from Martin Luther King lead one to believe that the film will take some kind of revolutionary, counter-cultural stand against the current religious and political climate of the United States. While the opening ten minutes of the film certainly bring to light the questions facing Americans as to their religious orientation, and the imminent collapse and destruction of religion in society, the following eighty minutes are consumed with little more than the typical action-thriller.
I find that the film does a terrific job in setting itself up to discuss the state of Christianity in America, but it ultimately fails to adequately discuss and/or take a stance on the subject. The film asserts, or at least, intimates, that there exist problems in our construction of religion via laws and rulings before devolving into a film whose focus becomes dramatic gun fights and high-speed car chases.
Persecuted very much sets itself up to take a stand on any number of subjects related to the ever-growing confusion of what constitutes a country wherein religion is supposedly excised from public policy. Yet, it doesn’t really bring the subject to fruition. Writer/director Daniel Lusko could have easily given examples, real examples, besides the Faith and Fairness Act, which are currently being debated in our political arenas. Current legislation, even if referred to by a slightly altered title, might further convince the audience that the situation John Luther is confronted by is not one found solely in fictional films, but facing Christians in politics today. An example might be the court case Engel v. Vitale (1961) in which the court ruled even nondenominational prayer led by school officials to be unconstitutional even if the students are not required to participate.
Furthermore, it isn’t simply that prayer in schools is being continually diminished, but that the two provisions afforded in the first amendment concerning religion, the Establishment and Free Exercise Clause, are being interpreted in ever-broadening and burgeoning terms, so much so that Supreme Court justices have noted the two as being on a crash course with one another. The exact statement is found in the 1970 case Walz v. Tax Commission: Chief Justice Berger says these two clauses were to be cast in “absolute terms,” and expanded to their “logical extremes” would “tend to clash one another.” So, with that being said, the movie is hitting on a relative, timely, provocative, pressing issue–yet it isn’t made clear enough to the audience the seriousness of the problem at hand.
But maybe I’m missing the point? Maybe the point of the movie isn’t to fully flesh out a topic that is so polarizing and problematic. Maybe Lusko’s goal is to embed a hot political topic into an action-thriller type film so that he can broaden his audience and therefore reach a greater number of people with his message. If that were the case, however, would a mainstream audience really go to the film?
At any rate, Lusko does get one thing right. Jesus tells us that there will come a time when we as Christians are called upon to spread the good news, to spread the Message, the Gospel, His word. There will come a time when it will be dangerous to take such a stance–and this situation proves to be true for John Luther. Luther, in his refusal to succumb to pressure from the most revered of public figures–the President of the United States–causes himself unimaginable suffering–his reputation is marred, his body is beaten, and his ministry is shattered.
So, while the topic is in fact one relative to us today, the director doesn’t do the topic justice, there is too much material not explored for this subject to get a more than passing grade. With an issue as interesting, intriguing, as the political nature of religion more is expected.
Claudia Mundy is a Campbell University graduate. She is a writer, a reader, and a runner. You can follow her on Twitter at @ClaudiaMundy.