That Christmas I Walked Out On A Megachurch Propaganda Film

By Brianna Meeks

Wikimedia Commons

This story is part of The Establishment’s Sadlarious Holiday Series. In lieu of sentimental platitudes and Hallmark-approved happy endings, these short essays focus on the messy, tragicomic spirit of the season.

Turn up your Pandora holiday playlist, spike some eggnog, and enjoy.

It was 2012. I was still an undergraduate in the frigid tundra of the Midwest United States, and had narrowly escaped a blizzard to fly to sunny Los Angeles for a warm and bright Christmas in the sand. My then-fiancé tagged along, probably nervously anticipating his first Christmas with my family.

I am a southern black woman from Atlanta, Georgia — where the entirety of my family also hails from — but my brother was living in Marina Del Rey at the time, and none of us could resist the temptation to fly west for the winter.

One stereotype about Southerners of every color that holds true is that we tend to be exceedingly religious and Christian to the point of nausea — #WarOnChristmas and all of that, amirite? And despite my parents’ general social progressivism, they still are quite Christian, which in the South very often means that things done in the name of Jesus can never be wrong, regardless of how completely off the mark they are (can I get an Amen?).

Nevertheless, on Christmas Day of 2012, my parents excitedly gathered me, my fiancé, my brother, his girlfriend, and my younger sister into the living room. They’d decided to screen a non-nativity Christian film called “Courageous” — a weird Christian propaganda film written, produced, and (I’m pretty sure) starring the pastor of a megachurch in Georgia named Alex Kendrick.

The film is centered around a few different people who are being tested in their Christian faith: a Mexican American family that has to not steal despite needing the money, a black family with a teen daughter who is showcasing too much individuality (i.e., wanting to have friends rather than spend her time at home), and a white couple whose marriage is on the brink. The plot — such that one existed — had many ridiculously simplistic views: the protagonist teen characters wanting to hang with stereotypically troublesome teens (that is, ones who listen to rap music and backtalk to adults), for instance. And yes, if you had not guessed it already, the answer to every difficult problem was to “let go and let God,” aka pray and not much else.

I myself am a standard Millennial stereotype: I am not anti-religion, but I am pretty unreligious — I guess you could call me agnostic. I am also a Hermione-Granger-style know-it-all and a Louise Belcher-esque authority-loathing smart ass. So, throughout the entire movie (which my parents, my brother, and his girlfriend — it was her first Christmas with the family too — were SUPER into), I tried my damnedest not to crack up laughing at every basic explanation and uncritical analysis it offered up. I kept looking around at everyone in my family (plus significant others), who seemed to be watching intently — with smiles and scowls at appropriate times in the film. Eventually, I started live-texting the awfulness to my younger sister and my fiancé from across the room.

“I’m definitely taking notes and writing a sociology paper about this later,” my fiancé said while laughing out loud via text message.

“Why is dad so into this?” My sister asked.

“I’m not sure I can take much more of this,” I sent to them both.

And then, at a peak moment in the movie — when my dad all but applauded the dad in the film for refusing to let his daughter be angry at him essentially for not letting her have friends — it all felt a little too close to home. I stood up without a word and walked out of the apartment, never to return (. . . at least for the duration of the movie). My husband-to-be followed after me without a word, and as we stood in the elevator and rode it down from the Penthouse floor, my fiancé looked over at me and asked simply, “What on earth was that?”

He might have been asking what that movie was, or he might have been inquiring about why I left — I have no idea, but I laughed as I recalled the absurdity of the film. Too late to turn back, I decided the best way to keep the peace when we returned was to make it seem like our departure was planned, so we walked to the nearby grocery store and picked up cookie-decorating supplies.

Upon our return, my dad seemed perturbed that I was uninterested in his movie, but I just feigned ignorance whenever he brought it up. From that day forward, though, he didn’t try and show me any more of those movies.

I consider that a Christmas win.

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