Rev. David Hill is no stranger to spiritual battles.
He’s discipled a college student whose faith was under assault from an atheist professor (God’s Not Dead), briefly served on the jury in a case involving a teacher sharing her faith with a student (God’s Not Dead 2), and defended his church’s right to rebuild on the campus of a secular university after the sanctuary is burned down (God’s Not Dead: A Light in the Darkness).
Now, another battle between religious liberty and government control is brewing. One that starts with an unexpected doorbell ringing.
Rev. Dave spends time each week teaching a Bible (and reading) lesson to a group of kids in his church’s homeschooling co-op. Participants gather in the home of Rebecca and Mike McKinnon, who are also homeschooling their two children, Brandon (a high school senior) and Shannon (who’s in fifth grade).
Amid a lesson about Noah’s ark one day, an unexpected visitor arrives: a social worker checking in on the co-op to make sure that the curriculum meets state standards.
She’s not impressed with the lesson’s moral: “What sin required [the animals’] destruction?” she asks, barely concealing her contempt for the Christian homeschoolers. It’s not long before a letter arrives in the mail, informing the McKinnons—and every one else at the co-op—of social services’ recommendations: that their children be removed from the co-op and enrolled in an “accredited learning program” immediately.
The letter stuns the McKinnons and their fellow homeschoolers. A follow-up court hearing with local magistrate, Judge Neely, delivers the knockout blow: “You have 10 days to conform or enroll your children in accredited schools,” she says plainly.
“And if we refuse?” Mike asks.
“Parents have the freedom to raise their children in line with their moral beliefs,” she says. “Your children, however, enjoy the right to an education. Your freedom as parents does not supersede your children’s rights. Your beliefs do not exempt you from the law, Mr. McKinnon.”
And, she adds, every day that their kids aren’t enrolled in an accredited school will result in a $1,000 fine, while parents could end up jailed for contempt of court. And the children could find themselves, temporarily, in foster homes.
It’s an intimidating, terrifying ruling.
But as we mentioned, it’s not Rev. Dave’s first proverbial rodeo, either.
Rev. Dave is initially overwhelmed at the thought of yet another religious freedom battle in front of him. But he remembers a conversation with his old friend Rev. Jude (who died in the church fire in the last film). And he’s inspired to stand up on behalf of the homeschoolers at his church.
Even as their local battle for the right to homeschool is unfolding, Rev. Dave gets a call from U.S. Congressman Daryl Smith, who’s striving to defeat a proposed bill in Congress that would impose similar—and more draconian—restrictions on homeschoolers nationwide. Congressman Smith invites Rev. Dave and the co-op’s homeschooling parents to come and testify at a hearing in Washington, D.C.
They do so, standing firm in the face of tremendous pressure from what the film identifies as “progressive” politicians who seemingly just want the Christian homeschoolers to conform to their legislation without a word.
Throughout the film, Rev. Dave, the McKinnons and others have opportunities to exercise courage that’s driven by their convictions. Ultimately, their passion and well-articulated arguments tip momentum back in favor of religious liberty.
We also learn that roughly 75% of families that choose to homeschool are not evangelical Christians, but people who are motivated by a long list of other concerns to educate their children at home.
Another character who’s appeared in every God’s Not Dead film is Martin Yip, a Chinese immigrant who has been rejected by his family for becoming a Christian. He’s become something of a scholar when it comes to American history—especially as it concerns religious freedom. At one point he says, “The Supreme Court said we can worship God according to the dictate of our own conscience.”
Martin is close friends with Ayisha Moradi, a young woman who found Christ in a previous film at the expense of her relationship with her Muslim family, especially her father. She prays that she would do anything for her dad to come to know Jesus. And as the events of the film unfold, circumstances she’s involved in do indeed help her father move toward Jesus.
Rev. Dave tells the students in the homeschool co-op, “Sometimes trusting God means doing and believing things that the world would not understand.” Those words are, of course, foreshadowing as this spiritual leader once again has to dig deeply into his own faith to encourage church members and to confront the injustice that they believe is being perpetrated against them.
The pastor also recalls being challenged in his faith by his now-deceased friend Jude, who talked about the persecution faced by believers in his home country of Nigeria. “If someone puts a gun to their heads and says, ‘Denounce Jesus or die!’ they say, ‘Jesus I’m coming home to You!’”
Various scenes take place in St. Jude’s church, with people praying and interacting there as they face trials together.
Among other concerns, parents discuss friends whose second-grade daughter came home from a public school with information about birth control. When asked whether she goes by “Miss” or “Mrs.,” the social worker who visits the McKinnon’s household sneers, “I identify as self-partnered.”
We see a married couple in conservative pajamas talking in bed together. Brandon McKinnon, a homeschooled high-school senior, is clearly interested in Kayla Neely, who reciprocates his interest. The two of them go to her prom together.
One character is driving when she’s broadsided by another vehicle, probably the most jarring and unexpectedly intense moment in the film. We later see her in the hospital with a bloodied bandage wrapped around her head, as well as facial cuts and bruises.
We hear that Taylor Hays’ Air Force husband recently died in an unspecified military accident.
Judge Neely is shown drinking a glass of wine with a meal.
As we have seen at times in previous entries in this franchise, the “bad guys” here are depicted quite one-dimensionally and melodramatically, and they clearly identified with the word “progressive.”
The latest entry in the God’s Not Dead franchise once again seeks to sound the alarm for faithful Christians, imploring us to see that religious liberties we may once have taken for granted are now under assault.
At times, this film arguably depicts those on the “other side” almost as caricatures. One-dimensional progressive politicians practically revel in revoking religious freedom. In that sense, this story is very much about the ongoing culture war. And the combative, dramatic tension between the two sides of the conflict here will likely ring very true to some viewers but perhaps seem a bit oversimplified or melodramatic to others.
That said, the film nevertheless provokes believers to ask some critically important questions. What is the relationship between our faith and politics? What is my responsibility, personally? How much do we push back on policies that marginalize our convictions, understanding—as the film points out—that the freedoms we cherish can easily and quickly erode?
Perhaps most importantly, the film asks us to ponder, What does it look like to respond to our day’s challenges with faith? God’s Not Dead: We the People proffers one answer to that question, an answer that will likely resonate deeply with many believers who feel their beliefs are under attack today.
If you do head out to see the latest entry in this franchise (which is being screened by Fathom Events October 4-6), I’d encourage you to budget some conversation time afterward to talk with friends about the important issues and questions this movie addresses.
After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews as the site’s director. He and his wife, Jennifer, have three children. In their free time, the Holzes enjoy playing games, a variety of musical instruments, swimming and … watching movies.