In his 1996 novel In the Beauty of the Lilies, John Updike depicts several characters who struggle with the tension between religious faith and a love for movies. American culture, Updike suggests, now seeks from film the things it used to find in religion: transcendence, moral instruction, comfort and a sense of order—not to mention the simple act of coming together in a large room to witness a light shining in the darkness.
If he's even partially right about that, then Christians who want to engage culture can scarcely afford to ignore the movies. Indeed, during the decade since Updike's book was published, the number of voices offering a "Christian perspective on film" has grown dramatically.
But culture extends beyond popular culture, and the world of movies extends beyond the multiplex. The frontiers of a Christian response to the movies can be found in places like Seattle, where an unusual documentary-film festival seeks to focus viewers' attention on human rights and social-justice issues while addressing those issues with a Christian voice.
Founded in 2006, the Film, Faith, and Justice festival recently concluded its second annual event. Last year's screenings took place in a somewhat cramped space above the cafeteria at Seattle Pacific University, a liberal-arts school associated with the Free Methodist denomination. At this year's venue—a spacious, theatre-style lecture hall at the University of Washington—FF&J nearly doubled its attendance. Students and professors rubbed shoulders with pastors, professionals, activists, cinephiles and international aid workers—and gave their attention in equal measure to films, lectures and panel presentations.
And there wasn't even a whiff of popcorn.1