I knew it was coming the moment the words echoed across the massive theater in Hollywood and through living rooms across the nation.
“Now, first off, I want to thank God.”
Matthew McConaughey dropped the g-word in the middle of the Oscars and by the polite, yet noticeably sparse, applause it got, you would have thought he had thanked ancient aliens for giving him his six-pack abs.
But the awkward response at the Academy Awards were less predictable than the all-out promotion of the actor by many Christians, who seemed anxious to embrace anyone at an awards show after this year’s Grammys.
While McConaughey thanked God and that is a good thing, he also made some odd theological statements. He quoted British actor Charlie Laughton as saying, “When you’ve got God, you got a friend. And that friend is you”(emphasis mine).
I’m not sure how to take that last part and perhaps that’s the point, as the Oscar-winner closed his acceptance speech with this:
So, to any of us, whatever those things are, whatever it is we look up to, whatever it is we look forward to, and whoever it is we’re chasing, to that I say, “Amen.”
Should Christians unquestioningly say, “Amen” to people looking forward and looking up to “whatever” or chasing after “whoever”? I would hope not.
This is not to go after McConaughey. I’m not sure of his faith. He may be a follower of Christ. Lee Strobel tweeted a photo of the actor reading his book The Case for Christ, while reporters captured McConaughey and his wife attending church during the Cannes Film Festival.
That’s great, but my questions aren’t directed toward the actor and his faith (though I would hope he would avoid movies like Magic Mike in the future). My concern is more about us and our wisdom in embracing any and every famous person that claims Christ or even uses the word “God” in a positive light.
This seems to be yet another example of Christians adopting our culture’s celebrity obsession. Sure, we don’t care about Kanye and Kim’s latest shopping spree, but we want to know all about Tim Tebow’s latest project. We don’t watch the Oscar-nominated movies, but we own every season of Duck Dynasty on DVD.
Rooting for Tebow and watching Duck Dynasty are not bad things in and of themselves. In fact, they can be quite good things, but they can also feed into a Christianized version of celebrity idol worship.
Those who would defend holding up McConaughey as the latest cultural hero could point to his speech opening the door for a cultural conversation about God. They may say this is exactly what we need – more talk of God in Hollywood.
To quote McConaughey, “To that I say, ‘Amen.’” But I also say, “Hold up.”
For the other side of the coin, Marty Duren has good thoughts on what our attitude should be toward McConaughey personally – “Since we are guessing, a little grace is in order.” I agree with Marty, we just apparently saw two different attitudes that we thought needed a corrective: critiquing him personally and uncritically embracing his speech and him as the Christian celebrity du jour.
The follow-up post, Movies & Messages: What To Do With Bible-Based Films, discusses the odd way we praise someone like McConaughey for saying “God” even when he doesn’t get everything exactly right, but relentlessly critique biblically-inspired films and their creators for not delivering art that is a perfect reflection of God’s word.