Sunday, August 30, 2015

The 3 - August 30, 2015

This week on The 3, my week-in-review feature, with three stories of relevance to the Christian community, I spotlight a faith-based film that was competitive in the race for first place in the movie box office race over the weekend.  Also, freshmen students at Duke are voice complaints about a gay-themed, pornographic novel that was on their summer reading list.  And, in Syria, two churches suffered damage and death last weekend.

3  - "War Room" close to top of movie box office

The opening lines of the report on the website spoke loudly:

The box office underwent a religious conversion this weekend as Christian crowds flocked to “War Room,” lifting the low-budget salute to prayer above the Zac Efron drama “We Are You’re Friends” and the Owen Wilson thriller “No Escape.”

Filmed for a mere $3 million and distributed by Sony’s Affirm division, “War Room” more than tripled its production budget in a single weekend, picking up $11 million from 1,135 locations. That also easily topped projections that had it debuting in the $4 million to $5 million range, although in retrospect those estimates were overly conservative given that advance ticket sales were unusually strong.

Friday night, according to Box Office Mojo, the ticket sales for War Room actually edged out the current box-office champ, Straight Outta Compton, which won the weekend, with War Room in second place.  The website reports that War Room had a $9692 per-screen average in the weekend estimates, while Compton had $4201 per screen.

And, consider these quotes from industry insiders in the Variety piece:

“These are the kind of outlier events that happen and wake everyone up to the fact that faith-based audiences are passionate and looking for content,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Rentrak.

“There is so much love for this film,” said Rory Bruer, Sony’s distribution chief. “It starts with the Kendricks. They’re visionaries in this genre.”

Another Variety story - a great read, by the way - reported this:

Credit for “War Room’s” ticket sales surge goes to its cast of African-Americans. That allowed the film to draw from pools of black and white moviegoers, an essential ingredient in its success given that polling shows that African-Americans are more religious than the U.S. population as a whole. Nearly 90% of African-Americans describe themselves as belonging to a religious group, with six out of ten coming from historically black protestant churches and 15% hailing from evangelical churches, according to a survey by the Pew Research Center. For “War Room,” that translated to a racially diverse opening weekend crowd that was 36% African-American and 42% Caucasian, according to exit data.

The article goes on to quote from director Alex Kendrick:

Dramatic necessity, not commercial considerations, was at the root of the decision, Kendrick claims.

“When we were working on the plot it just seemed more powerful and passionate when told through the perspective of African-Americans,” said Kendrick. “I’m not sure it would have been as heart-grabbing if we hadn’t done that.”

Based on stats from the Mojo website, the opening weekend for War Room exceeded that of God's Not Dead (780 screens) and Courageous (1,161).   It looks to be a little less than half of the opening weekend for Heaven is For Real at about double the number of theaters.   A movie that covers similar ground to that one, 90 Minutes in Heaven, based on the book by Don Piper, opens on September 11.

2 - Duke students speaking out against LGBT novel

Here is some encouragement for students and their parents who are offended by agenda-driven and morally objectionable material being passed off as literature.  A group of freshman students at Duke University are speaking out publicly about their refusal to read a novel that was selected as the freshman summer reading book because the book's pornographic content violates their Christian beliefs and moral principles, according to The Christian Post, which reports that in April, Duke announced that the book, Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, an autobiographical novel written by Alison Bechdel about her relationship with her father, was the one book selected from a list of six titles to be the class of 2019's "Common Experience" summer reading book.

The autobiographical book was written by a lesbian and carries LGBT undertones, and some Duke freshman were stunned to learn that they were being asked to read such a book. The offended students took to the university's Class of 2019 Facebook page to voice their disapproval. One student, Brian Grasso, one of the students who posted to the Facebook page and wrote that reading the book would compromise his Christian beliefs, wrote an op-ed for The Washington Post explaining why he and his fellow classmates refused to read the book.   Grasso wrote, " the Bible, Jesus forbids his followers from exposing themselves to anything pornographic." Freshman Jeffrey Wubbenhorst told the Duke Chronicle that he also refrained from reading the book because of the novel's graphic nature.

In a statement, Duke's Vice President for Public Affairs Michael Schoenfeld said, "The summer reading is entirely voluntary — it is not a requirement, nor is there a grade or record of any student's participation. With a class of 1,750 new students from around the world, it would be impossible to find a single book that that did not challenge someone's way of thinking."

The Post points out the university's summer reading program "furthers the trend of pornographic material becoming more acceptable in today's society."

Grasso wrote: "I'm well aware that my ethics make me an anomaly on campus, in contemporary culture and even among many professing Christians," adding, "However, my principles come primarily from my understanding of the Bible, which I have read multiple times, studied weekly in community for the last seven years, and consider to be the Word of God."

1 - Two churches bombed in Syria - some dead, scores injured

The death and destruction that has marked the brutal civil war in Syria continues, and on Sunday, August 23, mortar fire hit two churches in Damascus.  Christian Today reported that the death toll was nine people have died, with at least 50 wounded.

The shells fell on a neighborhood on the edges of Damascus, hitting a Maronite church and nearby Catholic church.

After the attack, Maronite Archbishop, Samir Nassar Nassar told Fides News Agency: "Part of the war in Syria is to live under indiscriminate bombing, a kind of Russian roulette which is always unpredictable," adding, "The survivors bury the dead without having been able to treat the wounded since they lack means and competence."  He also said: "They sink into silent prayer before the relics of martyrs, the seeds of faith."

The Christian Today article reports that airstrikes by President al-Assad's government have killed 247 people to the east of Damascus in the last 10 days, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The story points out that, "Syrian Christians are frequently caught in the crossfire between the Assad government and the rebels in addition to suffering persecution at the hands of ISIS, who have captured significant areas of the country."  The death toll from the four-year conflict has reache almost a quarter of a million people and over 11 million have fled their homes.

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