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June 14th, 2013
04:05 PM ET

Superman: Flying to a church near you

By Eric Marrapodi, Co-Editor CNN Belief Blog

Baltimore, Maryland (CNN) - As the new Superman movie takes flight this weekend, filmmakers are hoping the Man of Steel lands not only in theaters, but also in pulpits.

Warner Bros. Studios is aggressively marketing "Man of Steel" to Christian pastors, inviting them to early screenings, creating Father’s Day discussion guides and producing special film trailers that focus on the faith-friendly angles of the movie.

The movie studio even asked a theologian to provide sermon notes for pastors who want to preach about Superman on Sunday. Titled “Jesus: The Original Superhero,” the notes run nine pages.

“How might the story of Superman awaken our passion for the greatest hero who ever lived and died and rose again?” the sermon notes ask.

(Disclaimer: CNN, like Warner Bros., is owned by Time Warner.)

Similar campaigns to corral the country's large number of Christians into the movie theater have been used for "Les Miserables," "Soul Surfer" and "The Blind Side," all of which had at least some faith angle.

Baltimore pastor Quentin Scott is among dozens of ministers who received an e-mail invitation from Grace Hill Media, a Hollywood-based Christian marketing firm, to an early screening of “Man of Steel.”

“There was an actual push to say `We’re putting out something that speaks to your group,' ” said Scott, one of the pastors of Shiloh Christian Community Church in Baltimore.

At first, Scott said, he didn’t buy the religious pitch. Then he decided to attend a free midweek screening in Baltimore.

“When I sat and listened to the movie I actually saw it was the story of Christ, and the love of God was weaved into the story," said the pastor.

"It was something I was very excited about that with the consultation of our senior pastor, we could use in our congregation.”

CNN Entertainment: 'Man of Steel' director Zack Snyder on Superman's Christ-like parallels

Grace Hill’s sermon notes are specially designed for churches like Shiloh that integrate multimedia into their services.

“Let’s take a look at the trailer for `Man of Steel,’” the notes suggest after briefly introducing the movie’s history and themes.

The man behind the notes, Pepperdine University professor Craig Detweiler, has prepared similar material for films like 2009’s "The Blind Side" and "The Book of Eli" from 2010.

The spiritual themes in “Man of Steel” are abundant, Detweiler said, and his notes enable Christians to thoughtfully engage with pop culture instead of shunning it.

“All too often, religious communities have been defined by what they're against. With a movie like `Man of Steel,’ this is a chance to celebrate a movie that affirms faith, sacrifice and service,” Detweiler said.

It will be hard for even casual Christians to miss the messianic metaphors in "Man of Steel.”

The movie focuses on the origins of Superman, who was sent from the planet Krypton as an infant to save his species.

He is raised by surrogate parents who help him grapple with his special powers, even though they don’t fully understand the source of his extraordinary abilities.

When he turns 33, Superman must willingly sacrifice himself to save the human race.

Sound familiar?

If that’s not enough, as a boy Clark Kent is shown wrestling with his superpowers, and asks his earthly dad, Jonathan Kent, “Did God do this to me?”

“Somewhere out there you have another father and he sent you here for a reason,” says Jonathan Kent.

Even the visuals hammer home the messianic motifs.

During a fight with his archenemy, General Zod, Superman plunges down to Earth, his arms outstretched as if he were being crucified. Of course, he rises again.

Detweiler writes in the sermon notes, “What Jesus and Superman both give us, through their `hero’ actions but also their `human’ actions – is hope.”

“I think it’s a very good thing that Hollywood is paying attention to the Christian marketplace,” said Ted Baehr, who runs Movieguide, a website that reviews family friendly films from a Christian perspective.

“Where it gets sticky is when they try to manipulate the market and when Christians try to manipulate Hollywood. But here I think we have the right balance.”

But other Christians are heaving a supersized sigh at the movie marketing.

"Any pastor who thinks using `Man of Steel Ministry Resources' is a good Sunday morning strategy must have no concept of how high the stakes are, or very little confidence in the power of God’s word and God’s spirit," writes P.J. Wenzel, a deacon and Sunday School teacher at Dublin Baptist Church in Ohio.

"As they entertain their congregants with material pumped out from Hollywood’s sewers, lives are kept in bondage, and people’s souls are neglected," according to Wenzel, who said he was e-mailed information about the movie.

Scott, the Baltimore pastor, said he knows that Warner Bros. Studios has a financial incentive in pushing the film to pastors.

But he said that’s fine with him. “They’re using us but in fact we’re using them,” he said.

His church won't show clips from the movie this weekend because it had already planned out its service. But he plans to use them later, during meetings with the church’s men’s group.

“If you give me another opportunity to talk to someone about Jesus Christ, and I can do that because of your movie, that’s a win for me, because it is about spreading the Gospel.”

CNN's Erin McPike contributed to this report.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Belief • Celebrity • Christianity • Church • Entertainment • Media • Movies

soundoff (6,545 Responses)
  1. tony

    Father's day is a sad reminder that so many religious conservatives should had a vasectomy, but didn't.

    June 15, 2013 at 7:24 pm |
    • lol??

      da wymen control da womb. beasties say so.

      June 15, 2013 at 7:42 pm |
  2. Secular Humanist from Ohio

    Science,

    Switched to Mozilla. Better.

    June 15, 2013 at 7:23 pm |
    • Secular Humanist from Ohio

      Not. Forget this post.

      June 15, 2013 at 7:27 pm |
    • Science

      Secular Humanist from Ohio

      IE needs adobe update.............firefox works better .......you found out

      June 15, 2013 at 7:44 pm |
  3. Jim

    With father's day coming up, who wouldn't want to watch a movie that conveys the message of hope and courage. Man of steel is just that, it is a good reminder of the real super star, Jesus Christ.

    June 15, 2013 at 7:19 pm |
    • rabidatheist

      I prefer "Jesus Christ Superstar".

      June 15, 2013 at 7:20 pm |
    • tony

      But like 30 or billion of the rest of us, he's dead.

      June 15, 2013 at 7:21 pm |
    • One one

      Does Superman send people to hell if they don't worship him ?

      June 15, 2013 at 7:21 pm |
    • tony

      . . .but at a much earlier age.

      June 15, 2013 at 7:22 pm |
    • RichardSRussell

      Well, there's "300", which is ALSO a message of hope and courage. Of course, they all die in the end, but then, so did your guy, so they're all the same, really.

      June 15, 2013 at 7:28 pm |
  4. David DeForge

    Stupid? Thy name is christian.

    June 15, 2013 at 7:19 pm |
    • lol??

      are you one of those bi-gots??

      June 15, 2013 at 7:21 pm |
    • The real Tom

      Lolly, are you one of those bi-sexuals?

      June 15, 2013 at 7:22 pm |
  5. Michael

    They tried this for Superman Returns also, and I thought it was sleazy then, too. Frankly, I think it cheapens Superman as a hero. Then again, I guess there's a reason I prefer Batman. He's not a glory hound like Supes is usually portrayed as.

    June 15, 2013 at 7:18 pm |
  6. lol??

    the next superman will cast a chinaman in the role.

    June 15, 2013 at 7:16 pm |
  7. trevor

    it's sad that there are people in this country dumb enough for this to actually work

    June 15, 2013 at 7:13 pm |
    • tony

      It's sadder that there are enough of them that it's worth CNN's while to run a "belief" blog.

      June 15, 2013 at 7:20 pm |
  8. Richard

    Ha! ALL the studios avoided Mel Gibson's "Passion" because of where it laid blame for Christ's death, but now the studios are pandering to the Christians because they saw what kind of pulling power those ministries have when it comes to DOLLARS!
    HA HA HA!

    June 15, 2013 at 7:13 pm |
  9. Larry B.

    This must be a real loser movie if the studio is marketing it to the KKKhristians already. That's worse than a new release going directly to disc or having Sara Palin endorse it.

    June 15, 2013 at 7:12 pm |
  10. bRuno

    Superman is an ideal worth striving for...religion is a lobotomized opiate for the breeders

    June 15, 2013 at 7:11 pm |
  11. tony

    What no guns? And he still lives???

    June 15, 2013 at 7:09 pm |
  12. The Lord of Excess

    A great reason not to go see this movie then whether or not you are a Christian or an Atheist on this both camps should be united. If you are a Christian you should be offended that Hollywood is pandering to your pastors, the same studio which has put out so many other films that have degraded, devalued and generally eroded American culture into a pop cultural wasteland. Lets not even get into the outright violation of so many things that Christians consider sacred by just Warner Brothers alone, let alone the entire industry.

    As for Atheists the mere fact that studios are trying to pander to Christian pastors and actively spinning the Superman story towards religion I would think would be very offensive.

    I know that I was excited to see the film and with 100% honesty this article has caused me to decide to skip it, at the theaters at least. I don't really care to see something that is going to be preachy one way or another and I am beyond tired of the marketing that Hollywood and big media is engaged in. This mass marketing, appealing to all demographics simultaneously has meant there are almost no films that are worth watching produced anymore. As long as Hollywood tries to make movies that are all things to all people, I'll continue to avoid virtually everything they put out.

    I am but one random, meaningless individual, but I know many, many people who feel the same and I think this is an ever increasing sentiment whether conscious or simply because we all have so many more entertainment choices these days.

    P.S. I know Superman is going to break all sorts of records, probably win awards and probably be loved by those who go see it, I simply am acting independently, based on my own opinion and preference. At any rate good article and a nice heads up for those deep believers or the skeptical.

    June 15, 2013 at 7:09 pm |
    • tony

      Great Pandering Pastors, Batman, err Sup .. , err –

      June 15, 2013 at 7:13 pm |
  13. Paul J Graham

    Why religious? It would be more appropriate to discuss how an individual might attain great things... Nietzsche's concept of the Superman... overcoming our own limitations and faults to achieve a higher ideal... rather than the unreality of the Jesus myth.

    June 15, 2013 at 7:07 pm |
  14. Smeagel4T

    "sacrifice and service" - OH! They're marketing it to the progressive Christian community, not the conservative Christian community. When you're in bed with the GOP, you're obliged to be all about Ayn Rand selfishness.

    June 15, 2013 at 7:07 pm |
  15. Aaron

    Interesting.......what do you believe....

    June 15, 2013 at 7:02 pm |
  16. Dr

    I thought Spider-Man was more like Jesus

    June 15, 2013 at 7:02 pm |
    • tony

      Clingy is the way the door knockers come across.

      June 15, 2013 at 7:08 pm |
  17. lol??

    peg noonan story,

    "This little story about Mohammad Ali from her column couple weeks ago won't let me go.

    It was back in the 1960s and Mr. Ali, who was still Cassius Clay, was a rising star of boxing, on his way to being champ.

    One day he was on a plane, going to a big bout. He was feeling good, laughing with friends. The stewardess walked by before they took off, looked down and saw that his seatbelt was unfastened. She asked him to fasten it.

    He ignored her.

    She asked him again, he paid no attention.

    Now she leaned in and issued an order: Fasten the seatbelt, now.

    Mr. Clay turned, looked her up and down, and purred, "Superman don't need no seatbelt."
    She said, "Superman don't need no airplane. Buckle up."

    And he did."

    http://www.fieldnotestoday.com/2009/02/superman-dont-need-no-airplane-buckle-up.html

    June 15, 2013 at 7:02 pm |
    • Science

      Hey lol?/ an action plan for you and Russ below

      Imagine No Religion 3: Peter Boghossian

      [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=orW1AstN7AI&w=640&h=390]

      June 15, 2013 at 7:05 pm |
    • Secular Humanist from Ohio

      @science

      For some reason I can't get cnn comment videos. Any ideas?

      June 15, 2013 at 7:09 pm |
    • Science

      Secular Humanist from Ohio

      CNN comment videos do not have embedded code..............like youtube..........see if video has been posted on youtube

      then copy and paste code/url...........is the easy way.

      June 15, 2013 at 7:21 pm |
  18. Birdyboyz

    Great! SUPERMAN becomes a child-molester.

    June 15, 2013 at 7:02 pm |
  19. Jez

    Ugh. A Christian Superman?? Religion, I don't care which, is a ridiculous scorge on society. Everybody is an Athiest when it comes to old, Mythological gods and goddesses that humans created. True Athiests just go one god further. It is all lunacy. Do you Chirstians/Muslims/Whatever really believe you will be sawing a violin at god's right hand, or jumping on 72 virgins??? This brings stupidity to a new lowness.

    June 15, 2013 at 7:01 pm |
  20. tony

    There's no business like snow business. . ..

    June 15, 2013 at 7:01 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.