Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul., by Albert W. Vogt III

Life is hard enough without putting added pressure on yourself.  This is a lesson that I am still learning.  The past few weeks have been draining.  Even the time spent in the last few days getting away from it all were taxing.  Further, upon returning home, I was reminded that the House of Prayer in Clearwater, Florida, was re-commencing its Rekindle nights, it being the first Friday of the month.  I typically do not miss Rekindle.  I cannot put enough emphasis on that last sentence.  Yet, between everything going on recently, and my relative physical exhaustion from recreating and not sleeping as much as I should, it made me rethink the evening’s activities.  This is when the pressure for me begins.  There are times when rest is needed.  At the same time, the devil comes along and says that I am letting God and my friends down by not going to the event.  It takes me a moment to sort through those lies, which is why I said I am still learning. Then again, who among the practicing is not doing the same?  As I drove home from seeing Honk for Jesus.  Save Your Soul., the film having instilled some bitter feelings, again those whispers came.  You see, I would tell myself, you chose this awfulness instead of Rekindle.  You should be ashamed of yourself.  Listen, satan, I would have rather been praising my Lord and Savior at a place near and dear to my heart.  His praise is never far from my lips.  Yet, the struggle against you, to indeed save souls, is ongoing, and my tired eyes could handle a flick better than the drive to Clearwater.  Now, I am here with the talent God gave me in order to do my part in leading people to Jesus.

Appropriately enough, an image of Jesus is the first thing you see in Honk for Jesus.  Save Your Soul.  Not that this is a part of the plot at all, but this Catholic reviewer noted that it also had the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  Done in a “mockumentary” style, it focuses on the pastor of the fictitious Wander to Greater Paths Southern Baptist Church, Lee-Curtis (Sterling K. Brown) and his wife, first lady Trinitie Childs (Regina Hall).  Actually, Trinitie, often shortened to Trin, is the initial interview, but she is clearly flustered.  This is because indiscretions on the part of her husband have caused the church to fall from prominence.  Throughout, there are suggestions that the pastor had engaged in homosexual affairs with younger men in the congregation.  There are news reports cataloging the downward spiral, sprinkled in with clips of Lee-Curtis telling his flock that his material prosperity is the result of God blessing him abundantly.  If you have read many of my reviews, you can probably guess where this is later going.  For the time being, the pastor has mostly paid off his accusers and he is preparing to relaunch his mega church.  In order to build the hype, Lee-Curtis has hired a filmmaker to document his rise back to the top, led by the enigmatic (because she is not seen and rather always behind the camera) Anita (Andrea Laing).  It is clear that Lee-Curtis is trying to control the message.  Still, the movie does shows us moments when they are not being videoed.  For example, as they are driving away from their church after a long day before the cameras, they rap along with the lyrics of a violent gangster song.  Their destination is the new, up and coming church, House of Heaven, led by husband-and-wife co-pastors, Keon (Conphidance) and Shakura Sumpter (Nicole Beharie).  At his most vulnerable, Lee-Curtis admits that he fears that the Sumpter will take everyone from the Childs.  Of course, this is not their only problem.  They did not see their biggest one, but that is a discussion for later in the review.  In the meantime, there is Lee-Curtis’ continued wrestling with his sexuality.  At one point, he comes onto the soundman for the camera crew, but is soon distracted by Trin’s arrival.  There is also the matter of Khalil (Austin Crute), the only one of the young men who would not take a bribe.  Nonetheless, even in the face of mounting evidence that the enthusiastic public face is not working, he pushes ahead with his planned re-opening, set for the upcoming Easter Sunday.  To his horror, Trin informs him that the Sumpters are planning the opening of their newest church for the same day.  Not even a visit from the Childs, and the kind of passive aggressiveness that only certain so-called Christians can muster, could get them to move the date.  Lee-Curtis’ next hair brained scheme is to get Trin to hold up a sign along the side of the road with the title words on it, having her paint herself as a clown to do so.  Indeed, Trin has been bearing the brunt of the ridicule in public.  At one point she has her mother over to their palatial estate asking for insight on how to handle her husband and a community seemingly turned against them.  The motherly advice is much in keeping with how Trin has been handling things: to continue to put the best front forward.  And it is very much just that: a façade conceived as part of her chosen role as a spiritual leader.  Everything comes to a head after the Childs discover that the Sumpters are going to open their new church on the same Easter Sunday as the Childs planned relaunch of their congregation.  Trying to get ahead, Lee-Curtis moves up their event a week.  This is when the Childs stand on the road with their sign and face paint.  While doing so, Khalil stops by and confronts Lee-Curtis.  This triggers a break down by Trin, yelling at the camera crew and Anita.  There are a few more scenes where you see the Childs outside their church on the appointed day hoping to see their congregation return.  Though Trin is present, you can tell that the process has brought her to a new realization of her role, and that is essentially where the film ends.

Honk for Jesus.  Save Your Soul. is terrible, but not how you might think.  What I have said about the plot in the previous paragraph probably makes it sound like a more serious film.  It is actually a comedy, and that is why I found it distasteful.  First, it is completely disingenuous.  There are some important, and good, messages to be found throughout.  One of these occurs in the conversation between Trin and her mother.  Trin is nervous about where things are headed, and mom reminds her that only God knows the outcome.  All we can do is put our trust in Him.  That is a beautiful testament to Faith, and there are a few small nuggets like that sparsely sprinkled throughout the hour and forty-five minute run time.  I call it disingenuous because of the one line that Anita says in response to Trin’s meltdown towards the end.  Anita becomes the target of Trin’s ire, asking why the filmmaker is there.  Anita claims that she is doing this because she wants to understand the culture.  Trin rightly points out this assertion as being a load of crap (she uses more colorful language).  She clearly has an agenda, and it is seen in every furtive capturing of the seedier side of the Childs doings, or underscoring some of the more absurd aspects of the Childs lifestyle.  As I have documented in other reviews, broader American culture sees Christianity as silly at best, and complicit with evil at worst.  Both of these states are on display here, and no amount of occasional lip service to the life-giving components of Faith will change the overall tone of the film.  In short, it is a lie.  Like all good lies, you take things that have actually happened, like sexual scandals amongst clergy, and use that to say look, this is what Christianity is really like.  Or, as one of the younger members of Wander to Greater Paths puts it, it is “theater.”  Another word for that is fiction.

Like many works of fiction, Honk for Jesus.  Save Your Soul. has a villain, and that is Lee-Curtis.  This has nothing to do necessarily with his closeted homosexuality, at least in terms of his character.  The problem in that regard is the fact that he is on record as not only denouncing those of the LGTBQ+ community, but also calling it a sin.  It is akin to the truly disturbing old saying, “God hates fags.”  Such a statement is an oxymoron because God is love, no matter who you claim to be.  Please note the use of the word “claim.”  It is a sin because sex outside of marriage is one, and God created sex as part of a marriage between a man and a woman.  Regardless, He loves us all the same.  Saying what Lee-Curtis does about that alternative community makes him the worst kind of hypocrite given his wandering eye, pun intended.  The worst part, though, is his consistent claim that the wealth he amassed for himself is a sign of God’s blessing.  Wealth can be a blessing, and the Childs do seem to do some good with it, making several charitable donations.  Yet, Lee-Curtis doubles down on this false way of looking at material fashions by telling his congregation that if they believe in God, or more significantly in Lee-Curtis’ teachings, they, too, will enjoy the trappings of a large bank roll.  This was made particularly prominent for me this weekend with the Gospel reading from the sixth chapter of Luke talking about the need to renounce possessions.  Lee-Curtis says the opposite, and Trin is complicit as well.  There is much wrong with such assertions, never mind the fact that he is essentially equating himself with God.  For starters, it sets people up for failure.  If they pray every day and do not see more money, cars, and clothing in their possession, then they can lose their Faith.  That is the worst possible outcome.  It is also an incorrect way to measure spiritual progress, and based on a misinterpretation of the Bible.  Scripture is pretty clear on the fact that everything else in the world, particularly those items that the Childs seem to treasure, are secondary to a close relationship with Him.  Lee-Curtis teaches the opposite, and the film holds him up as a representative of an entire culture.  This is just plain wrong.

Despite all the bad things I have to say about Honk for Jesus.  Save Your Soul., I have toyed with whether or not I would recommend it.  If you are struggling with your Faith, then it is probably not a good idea to view it.  That could only serve to increase your confusion.  There is so much in the world that distracts us from our relationship with God, and the Childs are a perfect example of this truth.  My self-appointed role is to warn you about such things, and pray that you make the right choices.  The best and easiest one in this case is simply to avoid it.

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