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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. OleWm

    This article without mention of Joseph Campbell's HERO WITH A THOUSAND FACES, or Carl Jung's offerings on the psychology of archetypes seems essentially lacking.

    June 16, 2013 at 9:23 am |
  2. Cambridge Ray

    Jesus Christ, Superman AND Pinocchio.

    June 16, 2013 at 9:22 am |
  3. rcflyer8410

    Sounds plausible.. Two tales, two fictional characters... Superman seems more interesting, and at least they aren't try to sell us on the notion that he is real!

    June 16, 2013 at 9:22 am |
  4. Superfan

    classictvdvdreviews on blogspot has great analysis of "Superboy" series.

    June 16, 2013 at 9:22 am |
  5. Joey Isotta-Fraschini, D.D. ©™

    Churches' condemnation of the film "Baby Doll" (1950s) may not have increased church attendance and finances, but the sermons drove audiences to theatres across state lines.

    June 16, 2013 at 9:19 am |
  6. JoeJoe

    All Hollywood cares about is their might dollar.

    June 16, 2013 at 9:18 am |
  7. jboh

    If they need support from talibangelical preachers, the panning the movie got must be justified.

    June 16, 2013 at 9:17 am |
  8. Troy

    bull! I am now avoiding this movie because of this article.

    June 16, 2013 at 9:16 am |
    • CA

      I'll take your place. I had no plans to see this until reading this, but if it gives me just one more opportunity to discuss Christianity with my son, then I will certainly take it. We talk often, but this puts it in contemporary terms.

      June 16, 2013 at 9:28 am |
  9. GonzoG

    The two Jews who wrote the original Superman, Jerry Seigel and Joe Schuster, then sold it to DC, were well versed in Messianic lore, and they put lots of references to it in their original. Kal-El WAS the Messiah they never had.

    June 16, 2013 at 9:15 am |
  10. frank

    SUPERMAN? Like Jeeeesus ?
    Why not? BOTH aren't REAL !!!

    June 16, 2013 at 9:14 am |
    • ed dugan

      As an athiest I have to disagree. I don't believe for one minute he was the "son of god" and all the rest of that biblical claptrap but he did exist. The fairy tales that christians wrap around him are of their own making but if a person wants to be disallusioned they will probably succeed. As for the superman tie-in, it's just hollywood trying to get a little extra ink for a picture that has doubtful value.

      June 16, 2013 at 9:20 am |
    • nelson4truth

      No Frank. Superman not real. Jesus is absolutely real. I know Him personally. and you can too.

      June 16, 2013 at 9:26 am |
    • Thomas

      Trying to get extra ink for a picture that has doubtful value? Seriously? Because Superman has never been popular, ever, in the past right? Come'on man.

      June 16, 2013 at 9:28 am |
    • Richard Cranium

      frank4 belief
      You BELIEVE jesus was real. Maybe he was, there is no way to relaly confirm it.
      Jesus as a god...nothing but belief. No evidence of it whatsoever. To say he is absolutley real is a lie. To say you BELIEVE he is real is the truth.

      June 16, 2013 at 9:32 am |
    • Truth Prevails :-)

      nelson4truth: You lie. No-one can possibly know jesus when there is little outside of your buybull to say it is true. Isn't lying a sin in your fairy tale?

      June 16, 2013 at 9:36 am |
    • Thomas

      ^^ That's why it's called "faith". It's not really that hard to figure out. Maybe you should develop a little. Then you might have some hope in life. Doubtful though.

      June 16, 2013 at 9:39 am |
    • Richard Cranium

      Thomas
      I have a great deal of hope in life. I don't know why you would think otherwise. Just because I don't believe in any gods does not mean I don't have beliefs.
      Why do you think you need to believe in gods to have hope?

      June 16, 2013 at 10:31 am |
  11. Truth Keeper

    Time Warner is owned by those with whose spirit, ...dout its clean !...nuff said.

    June 16, 2013 at 9:14 am |
  12. STRAIGHT TALK

    JUSUS CHRIST will be always the SUPERSTAR at the greatest story ever played by anyone!! No comparison

    June 16, 2013 at 9:14 am |
    • snowboarder

      emphasis on "story"

      June 16, 2013 at 9:17 am |
    • Richard Cranium

      You almost said something in English. Is that what you were trying to do?

      June 16, 2013 at 9:17 am |
    • Proud Atheist

      Jesus said that if you don't hate your family and your own life, then you cannot be His disciple. He also said that if you love you family more than you love Him, then you're unworthy of Him.

      In addition, He said that He did not come to bring peace, but a sword and division. He said that some of His disciples wouldn't see death until His return, and He also said that "this generation will not pass away until all things come to pass." That was clearly a false prophesy. It appears that your savior wasn't so divine after all.

      June 16, 2013 at 9:27 am |
    • Arthur Bryant

      Who is "Jusus Christ"?

      June 17, 2013 at 2:18 pm |
  13. Thomas

    Also, these asinine comments about pastors not being able to see how Hollywood "uses" them is crazy. Plenty of Superman fans or comic books fans in general out there who are Christians and like to draw connections between the moral courage and actions behind those of superheroes and Jesus. To act as if that's somehow lunacy simply because comic books are works of fiction that somehow can't be related to any real life heroics of real people is just silly. I guess no Christians went to see Superman this past weekend in many of your guys' apparent world

    June 16, 2013 at 9:13 am |
  14. Joey Isotta-Fraschini, D.D. ©™

    I wonder whether "Jesus Christ Superstar" (1970s) helped or hurt preachers' coffers. My belief is that churches will thrive more abundantly from condemning Boy Scouts than they would from any posture regarding this film.

    June 16, 2013 at 9:13 am |
    • ed dugan

      Churches only thrive on the ignorance of their followers. Each time a person does some thinking for themself the churches lose another one.

      June 16, 2013 at 9:23 am |
  15. marco

    waltrd, the core of Jesus' message is of course about sin and redemption. You don't accept crucifixion to tell people to feel good about themselves.

    June 16, 2013 at 9:12 am |
  16. Proud Atheist

    Jesus and Superman are both the same in the sense that they both possess no evidence for their existence and are completely fictional. In the age of knowledge, truth, and understanding, and when considering how far the human species has evolved and progressed, I cannot fathom how a highly intelligent being belonging to the most intelligent species on the planet can believe in these nonsensical fairytales contained within the Babble.

    June 16, 2013 at 9:11 am |
    • marco

      "I cannot fathom" is all you needed to say.

      June 16, 2013 at 9:13 am |
    • CA

      Yes, a horsefly and gorilla are mere manipulations of genes by nature. One was once the other. There was no creation (sarcasm intended).

      June 16, 2013 at 9:32 am |
  17. marco

    Jerry Siegel, Jewish creator of Superman, must be laughing from his cloud at this story.

    June 16, 2013 at 9:11 am |
  18. waltrd

    Contrary to popular belief, the core message of Jesus is not about sin and redemption, nor magical religion. Only the church layered this message on for power and control. The church does a disservice to Christianity when those preachers or priests fail to do scholarly biblical work and reject the symbolism of these stories. In themselves, they convey great truths. But they are lost when interpreted literally. Unfortunately, with this movie, preachers are right back at again losing sight of the core message.

    June 16, 2013 at 9:11 am |
    • snowboarder

      odd, the purpose of jesus supposed life was to redeem sin.

      June 16, 2013 at 9:20 am |
  19. Michael

    Backfired.

    I was on the fence about seeing this movie but this ploy has definitely made it to where I don't want to see it.

    Smooth move Time Warner. Let's try to get a bunch of hate-mongers to PR your movie.

    June 16, 2013 at 9:11 am |
  20. Aussie Meyer

    This is the top headline news? Headline should read "CNN pimps for Warner Brothers".

    June 16, 2013 at 9:08 am |
    • Truth Prevails :-)

      This is a belief blog, not a regular news blog! This story has to do with belief.

      June 16, 2013 at 9:09 am |
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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.