I'm in Love With a Church Girl
Miles Montego's Saturday nights are always booked. His Sunday mornings? Wide open.
Back in the day, when he was one of San Jose's best known and most feared drug lords, he was always out on the town, making deals, clowning with cronies and enjoying his ill-gotten gains. Even now, he still makes his living on the weekends—producing concerts, enjoying the city and hanging with his posse. So what if his best buds haven't completely broken with their old lifestyle yet? They're still good people. They'd do anything for him. Except, maybe, go straight.
As for Miles? He says those drug-dealing days are behind him. Yessirree. He's as clean as they come. He paid for his Bentley, he'll tell you. He juggles a mortgage on his California mansion just like any other businessman.
But keeping his nose clean doesn't mean Miles likes to go to church. He may be straight. But he's busy on Saturday nights, and he likes to sleep in just as much as the next guy.
Then Miles meets Vanessa. She is a morning person—Sunday morning especially—and she lives in the light of that morning all week long. She goes to church, attends a Bible study and works in a faith-based store. She talks the talk and walks the walk and, in spite of it all, Miles finds her irresistible.
She returns the favor by slowly leading Miles back into the influence of the Church. He's given a Bible with his name engraved on the front. She shuffles him CDs of Christian artists to listen to. She pushes him into even coming to worship services with her—and not just on Christmas and Easter like he's used to. It's crazy, he thinks, but he slowly begins to see that God is more than just sitting through sermons and passing the offering plate. Way more.
Not everyone is convinced that Miles' turn toward the light is legit. Miles' friends think he's doing it just to impress his new gal. Vanessa's mother had always hoped to fix Vanessa up with a good Christian boy, and she's not convinced Miles is either good enough or Christian enough for her little girl. And the Feds, watching his every move, think it's a cover for deeper, darker wrongdoing.
People like Miles don't just turn clean.
The Apostle Paul understood the power of love, and its oomph here is unmistakable. While Miles starts his journey down the straight-and-narrow on his own, it's clear he can't stay on that path without God. And he finds God through the love of others.
Vanessa is, obviously, instrumental. Through her unwavering commitment to Christ and the gentle example she sets, Miles grows ever more committed to walking the righteous walk. When he struggles with belief, Vanessa shows patience. When he makes moves toward deepening his faith, she encourages him.
But it's not just Vanessa who tries to be a positive influence in Miles' life. Miles' mother loves her son, introduced him to church when he was boy and now wants nothing more than for him to find a nice Christian girlfriend/wife. Vanessa's father opens his arms to the boy, while her mother keeps a chilly-but-wise distance. She's not so welcoming as her husband, but she respectfully conveys to Miles how important it is that Vanessa find a God-fearing man. She is unwilling to bend her standards no matter how much Vanessa likes her new beau.
According to the opening credits, the executive producer of the movie is God. And it's clear that I'm in Love With a Church Girl is as much about the church part as the girl.
Miles, we learn, used to go to Mass every Sunday with his mother, where he was bored to tears. As an adult, he only goes to church on Christmas and Easter … until he meets Vanessa. He tells her at first that he's merely "between churches"—a status she quickly changes. Before long, she's taking Miles to her evangelical-style church with its cool contemporary music and urgent altar calls. Miles starts reading his Bible and asking questions. And when he fears that his past makes him damaged goods, Vanessa reassures him that God wants him just as he is.
Miles' mother couldn't be more pleased with his new interest in faith. "God has something special for you two," she tells him and Vanessa. And she promises Miles that God is "the answer to all your problems. He's got big plans for you, baby. Big plans."
But Miles first has to work through some deep-seated anger and control issues with God. And when Vanessa gets injured in a car accident, Miles has it out with Him. "I'm tired of hearing, 'It's in the Lord's hands!'" he fumes at the hospital. And he bargains with God not to take Vanessa away from him, railing that he's a changed man—a better man—these days.
Then, in the end, Miles realizes that having God as a co-pilot isn't enough: He's got to give Jesus full control of the wheel.
"I surrender, Lord," he says. "I surrender."
After that, Miles shows a willingness to allow God to work in his life, no matter what that might mean. "What I do have is yours, including my life," he prays. "I promise to be as faithful to you, Lord, as I possibly can." He encourages his old friends to begin believing that God never gives up on him. And he dedicates his own life to Christ in church. We later see him serving as a pastor.
Bling sometimes seems to attach itself to the lives of the faithful in this flick. The evangelical church's worship leader, Pastor Galley, drives a Lamborghini, for instance, and stresses to Miles (and us) that there's "nothing about style being a sin." Later, when Miles gazes at some of God's creation, he tells Vanessa that the Almighty is communicating through His landscape that "with the right drive and hustle you can have anything and everything."
The priest at a funeral tells congregants to offer prayers to help the woman's soul on her way to heaven.
Vanessa and Miles share a hotel suite once. Miles thinks he'll be able to share a bed, too, but Vanessa quickly puts the thought out of his head by announcing that he's sleeping on the couch. At a club, a woman slyly asks Vanessa, "Is it true what they say about Miles?" Vanessa responds that she hasn't slept with him, leaving the other women to marvel over that quaint bit of propriety.
Miles and Vanessa talk about his former conquests. She once finds him smooching with another woman. And Vanessa's insistence on abstinence ultimately starts to grate on Miles. He reads to her passages from the Song of Solomon and tells her it sounds like late-night HBO. When she insists that a relationship with God can be better than sex, he can't understand that and leaves the room.
Women, including Vanessa, sometimes wear formfitting clothing, cleavage-revealing blouses and skimpy swimsuits.
When one of Miles' friends gets into an altercation, Miles pulls a gun from his glove compartment and points it at the other guy, telling him to leave. A bouncer physically throws somebody out of a club. One of Miles' friends starts telling a story about how Miles was hanging out of a car window one night, firing guns. We see Vanessa in a head and neck brace after her (unseen) accident.
Crude or Profane Language
Nothing crude or obscene. There's one casual interjection of God's name and several exclamations of "gosh."
Drug and Alcohol Content
Miles admits he was a drug dealer, and his friends still appear to be in the business (though we don't see any drugs change hands). People drink wine and beer.
Other Negative Elements
Some Christians would call Vanessa's relationship with Miles "missionary dating," and it's typically not a complimentary label. Indeed, Christians who date non-Christians certainly are taking big risks when it comes to trying to honor Paul's "unequally yoked" command in 2 Corinthians 6. The unsaved can be led to Jesus through their faithful beaus or belles, but sometimes the dynamic can work the other way too. (We can see that it's a big issue to Vanessa and her parents.)
Much less philosophic is the fact that Miles drives recklessly as he chases after a pretty girl (Vanessa) he sees on the street.
I'm in Love With a Church Girl is based on the true story of its writer and director, Galley Molina. Perhaps the biggest deviance from his reality is that, while Miles avoided jail time, Galley was indicted and sent to prison for a stretch.
And maybe it's because Miles doesn't go to prison and his assets aren't seized, etc., that so many questions are raised by the onscreen narrative, some of them intentionally, some maybe not. A couple of examples: Does forgiveness mean we can or should avoid the consequences for our actions as Miles does? In the wake of God's generous forgiveness, is it morally OK to keep not only stuff you collected while sinning, but stuff you collected from sin? Does full surrender to God mean material blessing will follow?
Also, should a Christian ever date an unbeliever in an effort to win that person to Christ? And, finally, did God start to change Miles before Miles started to come to God? And if so, what might that mean, spiritually? Miles tells us that the only way you can change is with God. "There's nothing we can do to change," he says. "Believe me, I've tried." And yet, Miles did seem to change before he renewed his faith in God. Most (if not all) of his drug-dealing days were already in his rearview mirror before he met Vanessa and, in turn, God.
These are all good things to grapple with, whether the film explicitly points them out or not. But they're only part of the conversation here. After all, God doesn't come into most of our lives and make a clean sweep of who we are. The changes we see are gradual, incremental—not the stuff of dramatic narrative. And in that context, I'm in Love With a Church Girl can give moviegoers a taste of what the beginnings of that God-given change can look like. A glimpse of the spiritual hope surrender to Christ provides.