This topic starts with a "why" and includes numerous movie suggestions and resources for teaching Bible stories and principles using secular movie clips.
Reply below! Your suggestions are welcome.
Teaching the Bible with Secular Movies and Music
a short article by Neil MacQueen originally written for the Rotation.org Writing Team's MAGI Video Workshop which uses clips from Disney's Moana.
Using secular movie clips and songs to help illuminate Biblical concepts and provoke discussion has a l-o-n-g history in Christian education. Using secular media in youth ministry is pretty common, but less so in children's ministry -- which is odd given the vast amount of media our kids consume, especially in these days of YouTube and the internet.
There are several websites which cross-reference secular clips with scripture and biblical subjects. Try WINGCLIPS.COM for example. https://www.wingclips.com/?search_by=scripture
One of lesser-known reasons to use popular secular media is that it teaches our kids to compare and contrast the Bible's message with messages in secular media.
Take Star Wars for example. Once you realize it's a story about a messiah, an evil empire, and redemption, you can't watch the other movies in the series without thinking about these themes. There's even a book about it by a Presbyterian minister: The Gospel According to Outer Space by Robert L. Short.
Another reason to use popular secular media is for its memory-enhancing value. How many times will your children watch Star Wars over their lifetime? And every time they do re-watch it, your lessons, if sharp and well taught, will be refreshed too.
Moana, the recent movie from Disney, is a great example of this kind of powerful teaching opportunity, and it's one of the reasons our Writing Team used clips from it in our "Magi" lesson set. As a story and animated movie, it is acclaimed as one of Disney's best. Its themes are universal --seeking, challenge, courage, heart, redemption. Its hero is a young child out to save her people. The added fact that it is also a musical with great songs that appeal to all ages makes it a golden teaching opportunity.
DID YOU KNOW THAT Moana's songs were written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, the famous songwriter of "Hamilton" who just so happens to have attended a Christian university?
It's amazing how many themes from the Bible are found in Moana, albeit, with some different interpretations.
- Moana feels a call to be different, to explore beyond the reef.
- Her grandmother says the "ocean has chosen you."
- There are "Pharisees" in the story (her father is one), and prophets (her grandmother).
- Everyone else is afraid to travel beyond the reef, but Moana learns that it is the only way to "restore the heart of Tafiti and save her people."
- Maui, the comic relief, introduces himself as a selfish "demi-god" (half-god). But Moana's story of salvation is also Maui's story of redemption. He is a flawed hero.
- Maui teaches Moana how to be guided by the stars, a knowledge her people have lost.
- Moana realizes that LOVE is what Teka the Volcano goddess needs most, and it transforms both of them.
- Moana's example restores the heart of her people too, who learn to set sail again.
Supporting Members can access the Video~Music Workshop Lesson for the Magi that uses several Moana clips.
To be sure, secular movies RARELY exactly correspond to the Bible's message--but that's where the discussion fodder is! The same is true for the movie Moana.
Some Questions for Moana
- How is Moana like and not like a Magi?
- What was life like for the Magi that may have prepared them to want to venture beyond the reef?
- What is the "heart" that the Magi were seeking and wanted to see restored? Who restored it?
- How does love and not fear restore people?
- What does it mean to be a Magi today?
- Who are the people in our lives that have or can teach us to be guided by the stars?
What are the differences between... (the Magi and Moana)
Make a list comparing and contrasting the:
- What's the "redemption story" in the movie? How are people saved/redeemed?
- Main themes
By using secular media, we also teach our students how to parse the message they see and hear in secular media and compare it to the Bible's message.
Good vs. Evil, Heroes & Saviors, the Secret of Life, the Help of God (or gods), the Wages of Sin, Redemption ...these are universal themes read and seen throughout media. They are themes about which our students need the tools to understand how the Christian message differs. And yes, it is often "hidden" between the lines and scenes for the Spirit to help us see.
Several authors have written books about the parallels and influence of the Christian story in modern media. One of the most famous is The Gospel According to Outer Space, by Robert Short. It looks at the parallels between Superman, Star Wars, and the like, and the story of Jesus. That book, and others like it, were the source of lots of study group discussions back in the 80s and 90s.
As a Sunday school teacher, I tend to see quasi-Christian themes in all sorts of media. But it doesn't always happen right away. It wasn't until I had seen Moana for the third time with my granddaughter that the parallels jumped out at me. That's one of the blessings of a web ministry like Rotation.org -- we can post what we are seeing so others can see and use it too.
The Blessing of YouTube and DVD Players
The rise of YouTube has made showing secular media clips so much easier. Not only are key scenes and songs being released by the publishers on YouTube, they are being posted there by fans. You'd think the publishers would be upset, but most view any publicity is good publicity. YouTube's licensing and advertising revenue sharing also keep the movie companies happy.
In spite of the ominous FBI warnings on DVDs, US Federal Copyright Law gives EDUCATORS quite a bit of latitude to use clips from any type of media for teaching purposes. So while you can't legally show Moana in worship or fellowship without a license, you can show it without hesitation in a face to face teaching situation.