When actors or directors are asked what attracted them to a particular project, the answer is nearly always the same: the story. Whether or not it’s true, it’s the right answer. Love of stories is in our very nature as humans. The problem is that nearly all films leave out an important part of many good stories: the role of faith. A welcome exception to that rule is the film called Gods and Generals. It is written and directed by Ronald Maxwell and produced by Ted Turner. Yes, Ted Turner, the man who called Christianity a ‘religion for losers,’ has now produced a film that highlights strong and credible Christian faith.
The film is a prequel to the 1993 film Gettysburg and tells the story of the first two years of the Civil War. The first hint that the film deviates from Hollywood’s usual treatment of faith can be found in the trailer that tells us, ‘They read the same Bible,’ and ‘They believed in the same God.’
These believers were the men who fought the Civil War, and in particular, the central characters of the film: Confederate legends Robert E Lee and ‘Stonewall’ Jackson, and Union hero Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. While these men were on opposite sides of the war, one important thing they had in common was their Christian faith.
To their credit, the actors who portrayed these characters understood the centrality of their faith. Jeff Daniels, who plays Chamberlain, told writers that Chamberlain’s faith was the most important thing in his life. Stephen Lang, who portrays Jackson, went even further to say that his character’s relationship with Christ was the lens through which he viewed the world – or as I’d put it, his worldview. In Lang’s words, Jackson was ‘an Old Testament warrior with a New Testament theology.
The film shows the vital role that Christianity played in the lives of these men, and the audience can see how their decisions and their character were shaped by their beliefs.
Thus, when Jackson tells a minister that they will see each other again in heaven, it feels natural. It is what the audience comes to expect from Jackson. Similarly, when he and Lee speak of something as being God’s will, there is not the slightest hint of irony or cynicism. We know and accept that this is what they believed.
The film accomplishes this without being preachy or leaving audiences with the feeling that they are being proselytized. Instead, they are entertained and left with something to think about.
I don’t hesitate to criticize Hollywood for the garbage they often release. It is only fair, then, to thank them for movies that Christians can and should support. So thanks to Warner Brothers and – I never though I would say it – to Ted Turner for Gods and Generals, a film that in telling a good story remembers to include the most important part.
From section 4:5 of Lies that Go Unchallenged in Popular Culture, published by Tyndale 2005