Harry Potter, the fictional hero of the seven books and eight movies bearing his name, has been extremely popular among children and adults alike for the past decade or so.
Yet many Christians, churches, and pastors refuse to have anything to do with him.
This should not be.
I am well aware of why Christians avoid the Harry Potter franchise: because of a belief that it propagates witchcraft. My purpose today is not to argue against this belief. Instead, my purpose today is to explain why a group of ten of us – six adults, two teenagers, and two children – watched “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” in our Fellowship Hall last night.
Why did we watch Harry Potter at church last night? I have four reasons:
1. Our youth were excited to watch it.
At the beginning of this summertime “Faith and Film” series, I asked those in attendance for their suggestions about movies to watch and discuss through the rest of the summer. Harry Potter was one of the most highly requested films in that survey. Since that night, many of our youth have expressed to me their excitement to watch Harry Potter on the big screen in the Fellowship Hall.
You may argue that only two teenagers showed up last night, so apparently this was not as popular as anticipated. My response is that our youth expressed excitement about this film, and we watched it as a church event. If nothing else, this opens lines of communication and relationship between the youth and their senior pastor. If the youth are interested in it, I am interested in it. How else will I build relationships with them?
How else will you build relationships with them?
2. This movie helped us think about how we treat other people.
One of the messages of “The Chamber of Secrets” is that people should not insult or degrade other people. The “bad guys,” Lucius Malfoy and his son Draco, see themselves as “pure-blood” wizards, because their ancestors were also wizards. The Malfoys look down upon any wizard who is not “pure-blood,” such as Hermione Granger, whose parents are “muggles” (regular people, not wizards). Throughout the film, they insult Hermione by calling her a “mud-blood,” which she says is a filthy, pejorative term that is not used in polite conversation. (Think of “mud-blood” like the N-word.)
You may argue that this is a children’s story and that the real world isn’t like that. My response is that this actually describes the real world quite well. How often do white people still despise people of African descent, despite the life and death of Martin Luther King, Jr., the rise and fall of the KKK, and (more recently) the #BlackLivesMatter movement? How often do the rich ignore the needs of the poor when they decide issues of legislation, commerce, and taxation? How often do Americans grieve the losses of American lives but ignore or devalue the lives of Iranians, Saudis, Kenyans, Syrians, Mexicans, Brazilians, Chinese, and Indians?
How often do Christians despise those “sinners” at the casino or at the bar or in the wrong side of Saginaw?
Whom do you consider to be a “mud-blood”?
3. This movie helped us think about our struggle between good and evil.
Toward the end of the film, Harry Potter learns that he has been given some of the abilities of the most evil wizard of all time, Lord Voldemort. This troubles him, but his mentor Dumbledore says, “It is not our abilities that determine who we are, but our choices.” From that moment on, through the next six movies, Harry knows that both good and evil reside within him, and his responsibility is always to choose the good.
You may argue that this doesn’t sound very Christian. My response is that I agree with you. Last night, we discussed how Christian teaching differs from the perspective of Harry Potter. We believe that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 NIV), and we believe that we are always able to tempted to choose evil (Matthew 4:1-11). However, we also believe that a person who puts his or her faith in Jesus Christ becomes a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). We believe we can say, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20 NIV). Therefore, the struggle we face between good and evil is not existential, but it is real. The struggle is not to be taken lightly, but it has already been decided by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Good and evil do not reside within us in equal parts, but (like Harry) our responsibility is always to choose the good.
How do you understand the conflict between good and evil in your own life?
4. This movie illustrates the power of a story.
As human beings, we need stories to communicate truth. People have told stories from the very beginnings of civilization. Storytelling is innate to human nature; it helps to define us as a species. This movie, like the other movies and books in the Harry Potter franchise, is an incredible example of powerful storytelling. If we can overcome our initial objection to the movie’s (rather innocent) use of witchcraft, we will find ourselves engaged in a story that speaks loudly into our culture. Did you know that “The Chamber of Secrets” is the 39th highest-grossing film of all time? (The other Harry Potter movies are #7, 24, 28, 30, 32, 36, and 50 on that list. One-sixth of the fifty most popular movies ever are Harry Potter movies. Think about that.)
You may argue that the Harry Potter stories are silly, childish, and not worth adults’ attention, even if you set aside the witchcraft objection. My response is that I don’t know a preacher today who can hold the attention of two teenagers and two children – not to mention six adults – for two and a half hours. I have enough trouble every Sunday keeping my congregation’s attention for just twenty or thirty minutes. Never underestimate the power of a story to capture our imaginations and to form our understanding of the world and ourselves.
If our culture knows the Harry Potter stories inside and out, then we as Christians should read, watch, learn, and discuss these stories as well. We must not hide from these powerful stories, because they shape our culture whether we participate in the conversation or not.
Once upon a time, there was a man who was traveling from Jerusalem down to Jericho. While he was on his way, he encountered a group of thieves, who robbed him, beat him up, and left him for dead along the side of the road. Soon, a priest came walking by, but when he saw the poor victim, he simply walked around him and went on his way. Next, a Levite came along, but he crossed to the other side of the road so as to avoid this miserable, suffering man.
Finally, a filthy “mud-blood” showed up and saw the man bleeding beside the road. The “mud-blood” bandaged up his wounds, took him to a nearby hospital, and paid for all of the man’s health care costs.
Who was a neighbor to the robbery victim? The one who had mercy on him.
Go and do likewise, Jesus said. (Luke 10:25-37)
Never underestimate the power of a story. Join the conversation.