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.
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, sharperiron.org. He 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. Allen.
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 intricately related.”
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 calculated strategy.”
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 comment.
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 movie.
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 Spear.”
“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!’ “