WaPo Film Critic Comes Out of the (Christian) Closet

A film critic I’ve long admired, The Washington Post’s Ann Hornaday, just gave me another reason to respect her. On Friday, she published an essay called Confessions of a Christian Film Critic, in which she reveals to her readers that she is a practicing Christian. That may not sound like a big deal, but in the skeptical world of journalism, it’s a vulnerable and difficult decision to discuss one’s personal faith.

Hornaday was inspired to leave the Christian closet by critics of her negative Noah review: readers who chastised her for an “evil” anti-Christian bias. In point of fact, she just didn’t like the movie. But the feedback caused her to examine the relationship between her faith and the content of her film reviews. The whole thing is worth reading, but I particularly liked this passage:

If it’s a challenge to write about Christian films as a Christian, it can be just as problematic to review nonreligious films, especially the bad ones: The humility and loving kindness I try so hard to cultivate in my daily life doesn’t hew to the snark and downright cruelty that can be the occupational hazard of the reviewer’s job. Where I’ve become much more unforgiving, however, is in depictions of violence. As a student of film history, I know that violence is a long-standing, even essential element of cinematic grammar and audience catharsis; as a Christian, I find it increasingly difficult to accept portrayals of brutality that are glib, meaningless, played for laughs or cynically nihilistic… Conversely, I’m constantly on the lookout for films that lift up our capacities for connection and mutual understanding — not as sentimental, schoolmarmish morality plays, but as an artist’s genuine healing response to a broken and confused world.

One of the reasons I write is to reconcile similar contradictions to the one Ann Hornaday discusses in her essay. Writing about pop culture can be a strange experience from a Christian perspective. Even though I really, truly believe that God works through art, I sometimes question the value of writing about fleeting cultural signposts like TV shows and film trends. How do I know whether I’ve struck the right balance of “in the world, not of it?”

And, like Hornaday, I’ve gotten some strange reactions to my faith from people in my field. I’m not an evangelist in the slightest, but several times, passages that were vaguely suggestive of my personal religious beliefs have been chopped by editors for being “too personal” or “tangential.” And maybe they were. But also I think that any hint of Christianity just makes most of my colleagues uncomfortable. Like the publicist who called me earlier this year and blurted out, “What the hell? How do you go from Breaking Bad articles to Religion Dispatches?” This guy didn’t know a thing about me beyond my work, but he was stunned (and frankly, appalled) by the idea that, apart from RD being a secular publication, religion could be part of that work.

I don’t think I’m being persecuted or any nonsense like that. But it would be nice if personal faith wasn’t such a massive boogeyman in my corner of the journalistic world. So thank you, Ann, for sharing your story. I hope it gets a lot of people talking.