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Stealing Jesus

Mel Gibson’s movie “The Passion of the Christ” continues to set box office records. Hyped as one of the most powerful evangelistic tools ever made, a big chunk of Gibson’s earnings are the direct result of church activity. Congregations across the country have bought thousands of tickets and literally bussed people to theaters to see the film.

Of course, that is a good bit better than another approach that came my way recently. A gentleman offered to sell me a “bootleg” copy of “The Passion.” With the film still in theaters I knew he could not have pirated the movie from the Internet or from a DVD original. But somehow he had managed to get his hands on a full copy of the film.

“I can make you a copy cheap,” he told me

“Isn’t that illegal?” I asked him.

“Oh, don’t worry about that,” he said. “I won’t tell anyone. Besides, just imagine the blessing it will be for your folks to see the story of Jesus right here in church.”

I declined his offer without commenting on the irony. I knew it was a lost cause when I told him I preferred the book over the movie. He just stared at me for a moment as if to say, “There’s a book?” I do wonder, however, what he thinks we do here Sunday after Sunday if not celebrate the story of Jesus.

With this incident fresh on my mind I was surprised to read about the results of a survey commissioned recently by the Gospel Music Association. It turns out that Christian teens are as likely to steal songs electronically as any other music fan. According to the survey 77 percent of born-again Christian teenagers admitted that they had illegally downloaded Christian music.

These things trouble me. Whether in film or song, the idea of stealing Jesus seems awash in contradictions. What sort of moral gymnastics does it take to reach the place where you believe that as a Christian obeying the law is optional?

Of course, it may be a case of the apple not falling far from the tree. Next month Alabama Baptists will hold their annual deacon’s retreat in Talladega. One of the featured speakers is former Chief Justice Roy Moore.

Baptists deacons are supposed to be cream of the Christian crop. The New Testament insists that deacons be “above reproach.” If that is so, why would they invite as a featured speaker a judge who was removed from office for breaking the law? Doesn’t this legitimate law breaking?

Of course we are all familiar with the mind-numbing arguments concerning Judge Moore’s case. Judge Moore is not a real lawbreaker, we are told, because the law he broke is not a real law. The federal court he defied is not a real court. And while we are at it, the panel of judges that removed him from office had no legal authority.

We can play this game if we want to–deciding on our own what laws and which courts will have jurisdiction over us. But don’t be surprised when our children and our neighbors decide to ignore the laws they don’t like.

First it was federal courts with their meddling in race and religion. Now it’s the pesky property rights of artists, musicians and filmmakers that get in our way. God help us if some group with a sense of spiritual privilege and holy elitism ever decides the Constitution is in the way. God help us all.

James L. Evans is pastor of Crosscreek Baptist Church in Pelham, Ala.