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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. Harrison

    Get a grip, people. Nobody is going to come to Jesus just because they saw some movie with a couple of remote connections to the bible.

    June 16, 2013 at 12:07 am |
  2. jsteinberg48

    Superman was created by two immigrant Jewish men in the 1930's with many references to Judaism. To see this "taken over" is just to much. Why couldn't it be like most other Superman movies, devoid of religious context?

    June 16, 2013 at 12:07 am |
    • RichardSRussell

      Really, it wasn't "taken over". If I had never read this article, I would never have noticed all the little subtleties and hints.

      But I suppose Warner Brothers would like Christians to think that I'm just deaf to all their "dog whistle" references. If so, this may backfire on them if a lot of Christians go to see the flik and just come away disgusted that they've been had over what is mighty slim pious pickin's at the buffet. It's 99% superhero movie and 1% product placement, and that 1% isn't Christianity.

      June 16, 2013 at 12:17 am |
  3. judy

    of all the movies that have been made.all the topics that have been covered. there sure could have been a worse one than this. it will be huge. it will give people hope. it will have meaning. it will make people feel. it will have a lasting impression. people have blown a lot more money on a lot less. you will never change a persons faith.we haven't been given that power.people decide privately. let it go....

    June 16, 2013 at 12:06 am |
    • tony

      No, But you can make them realize that there are sensible questions they can't answer with out being stupid.. Do that enough times and anxiety sets in.

      June 16, 2013 at 12:11 am |
    • RichardSRussell

      Of all the keys that have ever been made, the one that says "shift" is one of the most versatile and useful. DON'T let it go. It gets lonely.

      June 16, 2013 at 12:14 am |
  4. ff

    Now I know the U.S. has past the point of no return. Your doom is sealed.

    June 16, 2013 at 12:06 am |
  5. BRIAN

    are they selling holy water in jumbo cups at the concession stand or what? God help us all.

    June 16, 2013 at 12:05 am |
    • JimmyAlex777

      Yo mama's selling holy water from her hoo ha! Agh, ha, ha, ha, ha...

      June 16, 2013 at 12:08 am |
  6. RichardSRussell

    If decibels were piety, Man of Steel would be the holiest movie of all time.

    June 16, 2013 at 12:05 am |
  7. Bobby Uppot

    "The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands."

    Psalm 19:1

    If you are an unbeliever you don't see correctly. Pray very hard for God to be in your life. He will respond if you are sincere.

    June 16, 2013 at 12:04 am |
    • RichardSRussell

      Why is it that Christians who seek to convince atheists of the error of their ways think that quoting the Bible will do the trick?

      June 16, 2013 at 12:06 am |
    • tony

      With a tornado, a tsunami, a hurricane, or just part the local sea to drown soldiers?

      June 16, 2013 at 12:07 am |
    • J Miller

      I think you forgot the DNA structure... oh wait, the primitives didn't know about that, so they couldn't concoct any BS about that. hmmm... Keep staring at the sky... just barely left of center of the sun... you'll never get any blinder than you currently are.

      June 16, 2013 at 12:11 am |
    • albie

      the fact that you really believe that scares me

      June 16, 2013 at 12:16 am |
    • tony

      If you actually read your own bible, Genesis 1:14, you should have already checked the night sky for the signs of his work that aren't explainable by regualar, ungodly, astrophysics. BTW, there don't appear to be any in the last 13 Billion years.

      June 16, 2013 at 12:17 am |
    • Bobby Uppot

      If you don't believe me try it and see. God is watching over us. He responds to people who sincerely want to know the truth.

      June 16, 2013 at 1:45 am |
  8. J Miller

    Religion? I watched the movie, am not religious, and don't give a s**** about any religious stuff, but really, to pander to an ultimately-doomed population? :sigh: Religion needs to see a prophet that prophesies that they are on an imaginary planet doomed for destruction.

    June 16, 2013 at 12:03 am |
  9. zeyn2010

    Wow there are no limits to increasing profit – use of religion is too easy a path!

    June 16, 2013 at 12:01 am |
  10. NavinJay

    God made man in his image. That means since one day man is not there, then he is made, then he lives, then he dies, it's the same for God. Who created God?

    June 16, 2013 at 12:00 am |
    • zeyn2010

      I think god(s) was an alien....

      June 16, 2013 at 12:02 am |
    • RichardSRussell

      Well, I know that *I* was made in God's image, because I'm invisible, too.
      Just ask the boss when he's handing out year-end bonuses.

      June 16, 2013 at 12:04 am |
    • are122

      Try reading Paul Davies (physicist) book "The Mind of God" or through quantum mechanics that goes back to von Neumann, Wigner and Peierls. They all have a pretty good answer for this question.

      June 16, 2013 at 12:07 am |
    • Marc

      You're aware the the Earth isn't flat, nor is it only 6,000 years old, right?

      June 16, 2013 at 12:10 am |
    • J Miller

      @are122 Instead of reading theoretical explanations for the impossible, maybe you should try thinking clearly. It'll change everything, I promise.

      June 16, 2013 at 12:25 am |
  11. RichardSRussell

    Superman MUST be a Christian. Nobody but God could make a razor sharp enuf to shave him.

    June 16, 2013 at 12:00 am |
  12. JimmyAlex777

    Uhhh, no, he's not "Jesus" but look at that box the soldier on the left is sporting! Ooooo, hello?

    June 16, 2013 at 12:00 am |
    • Huh?

      Did you run out of old Sears' catalogs, Bub?

      June 16, 2013 at 12:08 am |
  13. Phaerisee

    This might be a good moment for the Monday Night Football phrase... "Come on, Man!"

    June 15, 2013 at 11:59 pm |
    • JimmyBob

      really good, and appropriate, comment. And funny.

      June 16, 2013 at 12:00 am |
  14. Michael

    The biggest similarity - both immensely popular works of fiction.

    June 15, 2013 at 11:59 pm |
    • J Miller

      Love it!

      June 16, 2013 at 12:04 am |
    • are122

      To know what isn't, you must know what is. Please share it with us.

      June 16, 2013 at 12:09 am |
    • J Miller

      @are122 – seriously? You can't prove a negative. Did you know that God has a head that is 1.2 mm in size? Don't believe me? Prove I'm wrong. When you're done spinning your head, delete your inane post.

      June 16, 2013 at 12:21 am |
  15. Brooklyn Bridge For Sale: Cheap

    Lois Lane has got to be thinking: "This guy must rock in bed."

    June 15, 2013 at 11:56 pm |
    • RichardSRussell

      Think so? Ready Larry Niven's hilarious sp∞f "Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex" for the inside scoop on the Big Guy's probable s¢x life.

      June 16, 2013 at 12:02 am |
  16. mikes

    Another hidden ad on CNN frontpage.

    Answer to the question "Does Superman's story parallel that of Jesus?' Yes, insofar as they're both fictional., come from the sky, and have metaphysical superpowers.

    June 15, 2013 at 11:55 pm |
    • J Miller

      I guess that means we need the "S" religion. Great, some other BS to believe in instead of just entertainment. (tongue in cheek)

      June 16, 2013 at 12:05 am |
  17. Urantian Sojourner

    For me, even the Synoptic Gospels never sufficiently answered my questions about Jesus. It was more like reading excerpts from an unfinished story that inevitably triggered additional questions the answers to which were not to be found anywhere in the Bible. All of my questions about Jesus (along with other philosophically challenging questions about God and the universe we live in) were finally answered when I was fortunate enough many moons ago to peruse the pages of The Urantia Papers (aka The Urantia Book). As the most recent epochal revelation of divine truth bestowed upon our planet, 77 of its 196 Papers are devoted exclusively to The Life and Teachings of Jesus. I recall being repeatedly scolded by more than one nun in my youth when I would ask things such as: Why do the Gospels jump from Jesus as a kid in the Temple around age 12 or so to Jesus as a full grown adult in his mid-30's? What happened to Jesus during those intervening years? In response to these and other thought-provoking questions I persistently asked, I was often told God did not want me to know those things. They wanted me to just shut up and smile and be blissfully content on the outside whilst on the inside I choked upon their fossilized versions of tainted truth without rebelliously questioning either the actual source of their dead-dogma doctrines or their primitive Gestapo-methods of using fear and intimidation and occasionally even physical violence to exert their Nazi-like mind-control over those of us who were unfortunate enough to have become their intellectual prisoners. To paraphrase, they were utterly clueless when confronted by the curiosity of a child. I thank God who has graciously seen fit to provide me with unlimited access to detailed records of those missing years in the life of Jesus along with a more complete version of His final days in the flesh that are covered elsewhere.

    June 15, 2013 at 11:55 pm |
    • JimmyBob

      It's hard to know, in my mind, whether the Urantia book has any authenticity at all. It might, but how can you tell. Keep searching. You will find what you're looking for, though it may not be what you think it is.

      June 16, 2013 at 12:02 am |
  18. agentzac

    I saw it and it was damn fine movie. I'm an atheist but if anyone wants to see religious overtones in the movie, fine whatever rocks your boat. The only true fact that Superman and Jesus have in common is that they are both fictional characters. And I'd pray to the church of Superman rather than silly heysus...

    June 15, 2013 at 11:54 pm |
    • are122

      So why don't you or many of the others that make the same identical comment please tell us...what IS real??

      June 16, 2013 at 12:12 am |
  19. Ben Franklin

    So Superman is Jewish!

    June 15, 2013 at 11:52 pm |
    • jsteinberg48

      Yes, the moses in the basic being rescued (his space ship) is just one of the many references.

      June 16, 2013 at 12:10 am |
    • RichardSRussell

      Yup. Conceived by 2 Jewish boys from Cleveland, Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel.
      Presumably, like that other teenage Jew from 2000 years earlier, also without s¢x.

      June 16, 2013 at 12:10 am |
  20. Tom

    Superman is a character that was created by young Jewish men.

    June 15, 2013 at 11:51 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.