Posted by: raddestnerd | September 7, 2008

Sean Penn Is Harvey Milk

Unlike Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain this film actually looks good.

The cast is tremendous: Sean Penn. James Franco. Emile Hirsch. (Hirsch sucked in Speed Racer, but that was the script’s fault. Check out his tour de force performance in director Sean Penn’s Into The Wild.)

The genre of the film is intriguing: that of the Modern Epic of “man v. the state,” in the vein of Gladiator and Braveheart.

From the trailer I can see excellent cinematography, music, finely nuanced performances, and a great script with rousing inspirational drama with a dash of humor to open our ears to first hear the film’s argument/message before making judgments on it.

Now, I’m a follower of Jesus. The question, then, becomes how can I, and why am I, looking forward to a biopic about a gay rights activist?

Because there’s such a thing as demarcation.

First of all, I get excited about any well-made film. Of course every film has an underlying message to it. So, if I’m going to be excited about a film — in other words, if a film appeals to me, there must be something about its underlying message or story that appeals to me, that agrees with me, that inspires me.

I already addressed the artistic merits of Milk. What about its message and story appeals to me as a Christian? (Or despite the fact that I’m a Christian?)

This film, at the most basic level is about upholding human rights. By all means gay people are no less human than straight people. (Or should I say, “By all means straight people are no less human than gay people.”) You might ask, Doesn’t Christianity condemn homosexuality as a sin, and therefore do not recognize human rights for gay people? No, that is a false assumption. Wrong question to be asking.

As a follower of Jesus the question for me becomes, What does Jesus say about this?

Did Jesus ever speak about upholding human rights and championing the cause of the down-and-out? Yes. Read the Beatitudes. Is this biopic about a man championing the cause of the down-and-out? Yes.

But, what about the fact that Harvey Milk was a gay rights activist? Aren’t Christians against some one like that, since he was gay?

Let’s go back to Genesis. We are all human. We are one race. We are all descendents of Adam. Made in the image of God. Male and female.

This sentiment is echoed in the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident…all men are created equal.” This is a line in the film’s trailer.

Back to Genesis. But Adam, the first human being, messed up. He decided to believe Satan instead of God and acted on that belief, which led him to violate the love-covenant he had with God. All of his descendants (that’s you and me) have been messed up ever since.

We all know we shouldn’t lie, but we do it anyway. We all know that love should be deeper, but we find ourselves shallow, breaking trust — never measuring up. So we make excuses instead. Why? We are descendants of that first human, Adam. So the conclusion of the human condition is this: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Whether we lie, steal, cheat, fornicate, practice homosexuality, abuse our selves with drugs, it is all evidence of one and the same conclusion: We no longer bearer the image of God to our fullest capacity. We bear a deeply distorted, even twisted image of our Creator. We are flawed, marred, and morally bankrupt. We are human. We can’t help, but sin.

But, you see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (Romans 5:6-8; 2 Corinthians 5:21). Literally!

So now we have a new choice to make. We can continue to believe other voices besides that of our Creator, and continue living in error. Or we can believe God when he says he came to trade places with us on that cross. Since Jesus who didn’t do anything wrong was punished as if he did do wrong, we who did do wrong get to be treated as if we didn’t do anything wrong. So that we can make a clean break with our past and start living differently. We can now start living right, powered by God’s Spirit of inspiration and wonder, without wasting energy trying to correct our past. We can look to the future and start living the right way – by the Spirit’s power.

You see, Jesus came to Earth about two-thousand years ago. His offer still stands, and will stand until he returns. (Or until your life on earth expires, whichever happens first.) And if you’ve already heard what Jesus offers you, and you still choose to believe other voices besides God’s, and you choose to continue to ______ (fill in whatever your vice here). Then you’re saying, “I choose to remain unrighteous along with many of my fellow human beings.” But, if you’ve taken Jesus’ offer of freedom from living in error, then you’re saying, “I choose to trade in my identity as an unrighteous person and instead take on Jesus’ identity so that I can be made righteous and live right by his Spirit’s power.”

So it follows that anyone (regardless of sexual orientation) who rejects Jesus’ offer would remain as an “unrighteous person” — the default category for all of humanity.

Now, here is where the rubber meets the road. Why would I, a Christian (who has become a “righteous person,” not by my own merits but by what Jesus did for me on the cross – click here ), support a film such as Milk that glorifies an “unrighteous person” and in its message and story, lends itself to encouraging people to refrain from taking Jesus’ offer of being set free from sin?

Because Jesus said this: “…Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you… He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? … And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew, chapter 5).

Meaning, gay or straight, as members of the human race, we all have the right to enjoy God’s common blessings. We all deserve to breathe clean air. We all deserve to live with dignity. We all deserve to run for public office. Gay or straight. Male or female. Black or White. Yellow or Brown. We all deserve to live in peace without the constant threat of death or harassment. Gay or straight. Male or female. Young or old. No matter your ethnicity.

I know the issues of public policy regarding the gay community go beyond these things. Today public debate rages about gay marriage and parenting. This is where I, as a follower of Jesus, draw the line. We can rewrite the dictionary and the law books to say that two people of the same sex can get married. Fine. But, that still does not change the fact that the domestic partnership formed between two people of the same sex is not a marriage. We can redefine “paper” to mean “the act of running,” but that is just a semantics game. The object that is Paper can never become a verb that means “to run.” Self-evident truths do not change by fiat. If the people of the future were to rewrite their history books to say that the martial arts movie star Jet Li was Caucasian, that still would not make it so.

However, hot button issues aside, it still remains that gay people deserve to be treated with dignity. They deserve to live in peace. They deserve to be able to walk freely in the public square without fear of people. The public square was made to exclude no one who loves peace. Because “[God] causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” and “all men are created equal.”


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