New! Personal stories from fellow Christians to help you grow.
The movie Sound of Freedom was recently released in Australia after a hugely successful and controversial launch in the US. Contrary to what you might have read, this film is not a piece of Christian propaganda. There's perhaps two references to 'God' and one reference to a Bible verse (Mark 9:42). I also discovered that the main character whose story is told is told in the film, Tim Ballard, is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The film is about the $150 billion-dollar-a-year human trafficking business that is responsible for two million children a year being 'sucked into the recesses of hell.' Unbelievably, there are more slaves today than at any other time in history, including when slavery was legal.
When asked why this trade is booming, Ballard is told, 'You can sell a bag of cocaine once. A 5-year-old child, you can sell them 5-10 times a day, for 10 years straight.' It's sobering stuff and while the topic is unavoidably dark, the visuals are suggestive but thankfully not explicit. Even the image of a man closing closing the curtains of the room with a child inside is difficult enough to watch.
The most memorable quote in the film is when Ballard 'God's children are not for sale'. It's a powerful statement. But for Tim Ballard it was more than a truth claim. It was a conviction that led to action. Sacrificial action to rescue God's precious children from slavery to pedophile predators.
But unlike most films, this film stirred in me, a Christian, a desire for action. To change things. To right wrongs. To end injustices. Christians have always been involved in this work, but the emphasis seems to be waning.
Christians are propelled to do good works because of the gospel. We don't do good to earn good God's favour - we have God's favour and now we live in response to this. As Dallas Willard famously put it 'grace is not opposed to effort, it is opposed to earning'.
The gospel switches on the light of reality. We are now able to see who God is and who we are. What matters and what doesn't. What is good and we see what is evil. It was through these gospel glasses that William Wilberforce saw the wickedness of the slave trade and was compelled to work unceasingly to bring it to an end:
'So enormous, so dreadful, so irremediable did the slave trade's wickedness appear that my own mind was completely made up for abolition. Let the consequences be what they would: I from this time determined that I would never rest until I had effected its abolition.'
It's an inspiring ambition. See evil. Abolish evil. However, this kind of 'because-of-the-gospel' ambition isn't encouraged in my Christian tribe and tradition. In fact, not only is it rarely promoted, it's often actively discouraged. Why? Because anything that isn't sharing the gospel is seen as a distraction from the primary implication from the gospel which is...sharing the gospel.
At a time of declining church attendance and a shrinking pool of willing volunteers, pastors are (it appears) reluctant to promote to extra-church involvement to their congregations. This is driven by a fear that if people get busy with other things they won't be available for church things. Which is why the focus of most exhortation and application is either on gospel proclamation, personal piety or deeper involvement in church life. It's why putting your god-given gifts to use is often limited to the bounds of the church - playing music in the band, leading a Bible study, serving coffee, etc.
This is part of what's broken when it comes to men and the church. Men want a project, a mission, a goal. We want to find solutions, make progress, achieve things. We want to take risks, help others, advocate for others, protect others. It is in doing these things together that we are most likely to build stronger relationships (and we need these more than ever). But is church the place where these desires are stirred or celebrated? Not in my experience.
This is part of the reason why so many men are absent, uninvolved and disengaged. And while it might be an increasing challenge, it isn't a new one. This isn't new. In 1901, Josiah Young made this observation:
'There is not enough of effort, of struggle, in the typical church life of today to win young men to the church. A flowery bed of ease does not appeal to a fellow who has any manhood in him. The prevailing religion is too comfortable to attract young men who love the heroic.'
Yes, the mission portrayed in Sound of Freedom is heroic but this isn't about any one issue or solution. This is about embracing a bigger vision for sharing God's love and goodness with the world. Not for our fame but to make much of Christ. Not instead of the gospel but because of the gospel. And when asked why we do what we do, we can point them to Jesus who loved us and gave his life for us (Galatians 2:20).
Men, do you want to do something?