The New York Times
Evangelical Filmmakers Criticized
for Hiring Gay Actor
By NEELA BANERJEE
Published: February 2, 2006
WASHINGTON, Feb. 1 — Christian
ministers were enthusiastic at the early private screenings of "End of
the Spear," made by Every Tribe Entertainment, an evangelical film
company. But days before the film's premiere, a controversy erupted
over the casting of a gay actor that has all but eclipsed the movie
and revealed fault lines among evangelicals.
Every Tribe Entertainment
above, an openly gay actor, in the movie "End of the Spear."
Carmel Zucker for The New York
Jason Janz, who took the filmmakers to task for casting Mr.
Allen, who is also an activist for gay issues, in the lead
role of a slain missionary.
The film relates the true story of
five American missionaries who were killed in 1956 by an indigenous
tribe in Ecuador. The missionaries' families ultimately converted the
tribe to Christianity, and forgave and befriended the killers. The
tale inspired evangelicals 40 years ago with its message of redemption
and grace, and the film company expected a similar reception.
On Jan. 12, though, the Rev. Jason
Janz took the filmmakers to task for casting Chad Allen, an openly gay
man and an activist, in the movie's lead role as one of the slain
missionaries, and later, his grown son.
An assistant pastor at the
independent Red Rocks Baptist Church in Denver, Mr. Janz posted his
comments on his fundamentalist Christian Web site,
also asked the filmmakers to apologize for their choice.
The executives at Every Tribe stood
by Mr. Allen. Jim Hanon, the director, said he was by far the best
actor for the role. "If we make films according to what the Bible says
is true, it's incumbent upon us to live that," he said. "We disagree
with Chad about homosexuality, but we love him and worked with him,
and we feel that's a Biblical position."
More than 100 pastors of churches
across the country signed a letter drafted by Mr. Janz and addressed
to Every Tribe expressing their disappointment in the casting of Mr.
Some evangelicals have boycotted the
film, and Every Tribe's executives said that they had also turned over
to the authorities material that they considered threatening.
"Does anyone really believe that Chad
Allen was the best possible actor for Nate Saint?" Mr. Janz asked in
his Jan. 12 Web log entry, referring to one of the characters in the
movie. "That would be like
Madonna playing the Virgin Mary."
After discussions with executives at
Every Tribe, Mr. Janz wrote in an e-mail message that he had recently
corrected a few assertions in his original posting and sent the
corrections to his audience and members.
But Mr. Janz, who said he rarely
weighed in on the culture wars, stood by his previous statement that
"we must realize that the Christian message and the messenger are
He wrote that Mr. Allen's
homosexuality was not so much the problem as was his open activism for
gay causes, and that if a drunk who "promoted drunkenness" had acted
in the movie, "I'd be just as mad."
One Web log, nossobrii.blogspot .com,
written by Kevin T. Bauder, president of Central Baptist Seminary in
Minneapolis, stated in a Jan. 13 entry: "Granted, we must not
overreact. And it would probably be an overreaction to firebomb these
men's houses. But what they have done is no mistake. It is a
Greg Clifford, chief operating
officer of Every Tribe, said the company, based in Oklahoma, had
alerted the F.B.I. there about the Web log. The F.B.I. did not return
phone calls yesterday about the matter.
Mr. Janz said he had not been
contacted by the F.B.I., and Mr. Bauder could not be reached for
Many evangelicals are concerned that
young people inspired by the movie will look up Mr. Allen on the Web
and "get exposed to his views on homosexuality, and that would cause
some of them to question Biblical views of homosexuality and every
other sin," said Will Hall, executive director of
BPNews.net, the news
service of the Southern Baptist Convention, which has published
articles critical of Every Tribe's decisions.
Other evangelicals said they felt
that the message of the film should override such considerations.
Bob Waliszewski, head of the media
review department at Focus on the Family, said that he was saddened by
e-mail messages from angry Christians who said they would not see the
A generation of young people were
inspired to become missionaries by the true story, and Mr. Waliszewski
said he had hoped a new generation would be moved by "End of the
"Has Focus on the Family made a
strong statement against homosexuality? Absolutely," he said. "But
what is the message of the product? And do we at Focus feel compelled
to check on the sexual history of everyone in a movie? Did they have a
D.U.I.? Did they pay their taxes?"
Mr. Hanon echoed: "If we start
measuring the sin of everyone in a movie, we would never be able to
make a picture because none of us would be left."
Mr. Allen, 31, who assists troubled
young gay men and lesbians and speaks on behalf of same-sex marriage,
said the response stemmed from fear that he could influence young
people to become gay, a notion he dismissed.
Every Tribe, he said, did not see him
as a threat. "When they offered me the part, my first thought was, Do
they know who they're talking to?" he said in a phone interview.
He said that Mr. Hanon had told him
there would be people on both sides who would be unhappy with the
decision but suggested that they talk through the matter and show that
they could respect one another's differences and work together.
Mr. Allen said: "When he said that,
my hair stood on end, and I got up, and said: 'Absolutely! Yes!' "