Pass the Light
Steve Bellafiore is a lot like many other 17-year-olds. The third-string receiver for the Northfield Christian Academy Lions has a crush on cheerleader Jackie Burns … even though he's more likely to get crushed by her boyfriend, linebacker Wes Randolph, then ever attracting her attention.
But Steve Bellafiore is pretty different from his peers in other ways. Relentlessly upbeat even when he's beaten down, he's often on his knees praying, so much so that Wes and his buddies derisively call him Little Tebow.
Worried that his dad might not find another job anytime soon, tired of the bullying, and horrified that his good friend Trevor (who runs a Christian soup kitchen called Salvation House) doesn't feel like he can go to church because he's gay, Steve decides to use his optimism and natural spark to … run for Congress!
Never mind that he's too young to actually hold the position.
He wants to counter the fire-and-brimstone message coming from another Christian candidate named Franklin Baumann. The older man is running on a platform devoted to banishing all "sodomites" and other such sinners from the state. "I am on a mission of purification to exile all evildoers, the drug users, the immoral, we do not want you," Baumann says.
And so when Baumann starts in on his spiel at Steve's school (at a pep rally), Steve finds that he can't take one more word.
"Dude, do you ever shut your mouth?" he blurts out in the middle of the man's speech. "I think that the way you frame your message is the reason why a lot of people aren't hearing the true Christian message."
Baumann doesn't think much of Steve's challenge. Nor does Steve's father or his football coach. But the young Bellafiore won't be deterred. He's determined to show the world that there are some Christians who don't judge people, who want to unite and include everyone. And so he sets out to do just that with the help of his social-media savvy "campaign manager" friend Willy and eventually Jackie Burns, too!
Steve's faith motivates him to be kind and look for ways to help others. He serves food to underprivileged folks at Salvation House, he volunteers to scrub a spray-painted slur off of Jackie's locker, he urges his at-odds parents to start talking honestly about their differences and disappointments, and he sparks a movement in which students begin aiding each other and their community in concrete ways.
When Steve's sometimes on the verge of quitting or feeling discouraged, Willy and Jackie (and, later, his parents) are present to cheer him on. At one point, Steve and his friends leave personal notes of encouragement in every student's locker at school. It's a moment of affirmation that inspires lots of classmates to join in as the movement spreads throughout the school, their town and online. Even Wes is won over eventually.
Pass the Light extrapolates John 3:17 (which appears onscreen as the movie starts and reads, "For God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him") to mean that Christians should always strive toward inclusion and not spend time judging the sins of others.
Speaking to his school over the intercom, Steve declares, "We are all equal. We're all one through Jesus." And in a televised debate, he says of his reason for "running" for Congress, "At first I got in it to protect my faith. … I saw the faith I loved being used to hurt the people I cared about, and I couldn't just stand by and do nothing." Turning to Baumann, he says, "Sir, the way you frame your message is the reason why a lot of people don't hear the true Christian message. Your Christianity divides people. You preach judgment and even war, but that is not the Christianity that my father taught me. Pete Bellafiore taught me about inclusion, about acceptance. You say you like to use the Bible to back up your arguments, but what about Galatians 3:28: 'There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female for you are all one in Christ Jesus"?
Baumann, meanwhile, often paraphrases Bible passages that list the sins that displease God. As mentioned, he suggests that such behaviors need to be purged and that the people who practice them should be exiled (or at least "exiled from our consciousness," he later clarifies when pinned down by a reporter).
Steve sees Trevor embrace a male co-worker and surmises that they are in a homosexual relationship. When Steve asks about it, Trevor admits he's gay and then says his lifestyle keeps him from going to church because he believes he and his partner wouldn't be accepted. (Earlier, we saw Trevor being harassed for being gay as a guy on the street hatefully calls him "those people").
This prompts Steve to tell Baumann (in the big debate), "Two of the best men I know are homosexual men. They do more for the people in this town in one day than most people do in their lifetime. And they do it out of selfless love and pure faith. I can't say if their way of life is right or wrong, I don't know that I'm qualified to judge that. But I do know that counting them out is wrong. I know that it's terrible that they feel that they can't come out and practice their faith for fear of being judged. Now I'm not saying you have to agree with their way of life, but you have to at least be up for the conversation. You have to try to understand and show love. That is our moral duty."
This part of the story, notably, was inspired by something screenwriter Victor Hawks heard while working on a Broadway show. He says, "The most universal dynamic on the Broadway stage is acceptance." And during one production, he recalls a fellow actor turning to him and saying, "'Just so you know, my parents have no idea I am gay.' … He told me, 'I have God in my heart, but no one in my church could ever really know about me. It's just easier for them not to know.' He was the kindest person I had met in New York. I have God in my heart as well, and the God I know teaches love and acceptance of all His children. I hurt for my friend. But I felt a resolve to tell a story about acceptance and love."
Elsewhere, Jackie wears tight, low-cut tops and short skirts. She confesses to Steve, regretfully, that she had sex with Wes when they were dating. That choice, she says, was followed by a pregnancy scare that prompted Wes to spread lies about her sleeping with someone else (and spray paint "TRAMP" on her locker). She says, "Look, I know what the Bible says about the sexually immoral and how you should wait for marriage. … I know that I sinned and I'm trying to make it better." (She says abortion was never a consideration.) Steve responds, "Everyone sins. It's how you deal with it that counts."
Pete and Anne share a passionate kiss. She says that one of the things she likes most about her husband is "his butt."
In a father-son confrontation, Pete raises his hand as if he's going to hit Steve (but doesn't). Steve gets repeatedly flattened by Wes during football practices.
Crude or Profane Language
One "heck." Name-calling includes "stupid" and "moron."
Drug and Alcohol Content
Other Negative Elements
Pass the Light may be a low-budget movie, but it dares to ask a high-end question: What is the "true Christian message?"
The issue at hand is homosexuality. And we get two onscreen answers, both of which have grounding in Scripture, only one of which the film suggests is "right." Each has to do with the theological concepts of truth and grace.
Blowhard candidate Franklin Baumann is an exaggerated caricature of a brand of Christian fundamentalism that, frankly, we haven't actually seen in American politics in a long time—if ever. Certainly there have been conservative Christian politicians over the years—especially since the emergence of the Moral Majority in the 1980s—that majored in moral renewal. But the filmmakers have pushed Baumann past someone who's merely interested in the country's spiritual revival. Instead, with his repulsive talk about exiling homosexuals and going to war against sinners, he comes off as someone more along the lines of the late Fred Phelps … or the Taliban.
Baumann's rabid vitriol makes his harsh convictions about spiritual truth easy to minimize as listeners find out that his strict, Pharisaical faith is utterly devoid of any sort of grace. He's a two-dimensional straw man villain who never invites us to substantively address the actual Bible verses about morality that he paraphrases so stridently (and with no context whatsoever) throughout the film.
Given such a furious foil, it's almost a given that moviegoers will side with the humble Steve Bellafiore. Steve is as far away from Baumann on the grace/truth spectrum as it's possible to be, and his graciousness is as magnetic as Baumann's legalism is repugnant.
But Steve's embrace of grace lacks the counterbalancing influence of truth just as much as Baumann's death grip on truth lacks grace. He expresses little discernment with regard to what actually constitutes sin. He's completely agnostic, then, when it comes to the information God has given us about the way in which the righteous are to live their lives.
In contrast to both Baumann's and Bellafiore's distortions of that true Christian message, John 1:14 testifies, "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth" [emphasis mine]. Jesus lives out that paradox in his treatment of the woman caught in adultery a few chapters later in John 8. He cared deeply for her, treated her respectfully, even defended her. And he also told her to turn away from her sin.
Sometimes the Christian church can become too focused on truth at the expense of grace, alienating those on the outside with harsh, wounding words and actions. And so sometimes a corrective is needed, a reminder of the grand importance of grace. Pass the Light attempts to deliver exactly that kind of reminder. But it undermines truth in the process by insisting that we can't know whether some things are right or wrong—things that are important moral and spiritual issues clearly taught in Scripture.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Cameron Palatas as Steve Bellafiore; Colby French as Pete Bellafiore; Milena Govich as Anne Bellafiore; Alexandria DeBerry as Jackie Burns; Jon Gries as Franklin Baumann; Dalpre Grayer as Willy; Charlie DePew as Wes Randolph; Brendon Eggertsten as Francis; Lawrence St. Victor as Trevor; Rafael Noble as Pastor Jones; Richard Hawks as Pastor Basil
Malcolm Goodwin ( )
February 6, 2015