June 14th, 2013
04:05 PM ET

Superman: Flying to a church near you

By Eric Marrapodi, Co-Editor CNN Belief Blog
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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. Mikel

    No kidding the stories are similar. Superhero stories are modern myths, that is the whole point. I am a bit sad that they are explicitly trying to use Superman to sermonize though....makes me less likely to go see it.

    June 16, 2013 at 8:52 am |
  2. Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

    The parallels between Stupor Duck and Allah are equally amazing.

    June 16, 2013 at 8:52 am |
  3. momtojandl

    Thanks for the reminder that Jesus is just a story.

    June 16, 2013 at 8:51 am |
  4. snowboarder

    an interesting way to try make a buck on a movie.

    June 16, 2013 at 8:50 am |
  5. Thomas

    N&W 1000, I'm not going to argue further with you, but if you're so ignorant to believe there aren't athiests out there who constantly make fun of those of faith, you must've missed the 39 pages of comments prior to yours. And the fact that you felt the need to bring up a Tea Party connection speaks volumes. No need to say more.

    June 16, 2013 at 8:50 am |
  6. Carol

    To me, it sounds more like Warner Bros. using the pulpit for free advertisement.

    June 16, 2013 at 8:50 am |
    • snowboarder


      June 16, 2013 at 8:51 am |
  7. Scott H

    I thought the Matrix was Jesus' story.

    June 16, 2013 at 8:49 am |
  8. N&W 1000

    Let's make the Joker into Zorro Roaster or whatever his name was.

    June 16, 2013 at 8:48 am |
  9. DD

    Personally, I don't see any relation whatsoever between the 2 stories, whether you believe Jesus is real or not.

    June 16, 2013 at 8:45 am |
  10. badlobbyist

    ahh crap. and i was going to go see this.

    June 16, 2013 at 8:45 am |
    • sly

      that's exactly what I was thinking 🙁

      June 16, 2013 at 8:48 am |
  11. Grumpster

    Add mixed reviews with religion, I'll take a pass on this movie.

    June 16, 2013 at 8:45 am |
  12. N&W 1000

    Perhaps they could make Batman, in the next Batman move, to be Mohammed Jr.

    June 16, 2013 at 8:45 am |
    • Grumpster

      That would be an insult to Batman.

      June 16, 2013 at 8:45 am |
  13. deguy

    This commercializing & selling of christianity by hollywood, or the republican party has been going on for decades.... it's sad "christian" pastors don't realize they're being used to make money for the studios, and to gain power by politicians.....can these "churches" be any more hypocritical ?

    June 16, 2013 at 8:44 am |
    • beatstockpromotersdotcom

      They do realize what they are doing. They are being paid by the devil lol.

      June 16, 2013 at 8:49 am |
  14. Nicholas Leon

    The irony is that Superman was created by some Jewish guys, I don't think Superman was supposed to be a reference to Jesus.

    June 16, 2013 at 8:44 am |
    • JustMeReading

      There seems to be a universal search for something bigger than us to protect and guide us. The Jewish people do believe in that – a coming Messiah. Comic book characters as well as scores of other fictional and mythological (?) characters are saviors. I think that means that there is one somewhere, if it is so "inborn" in us to look to someone more powerful somewhere. When we decide that since we can't see the savior, we will settle for ourselves, I think it's a little sad. We are so weak and confused and have done so much damage to ourselves and others, even when we don't do it "in the name of..." some other power or other.

      June 16, 2013 at 8:49 am |
  15. Thomas

    The amount of athiests and non-believers on CNN is fascinating. All coming out of the woodwork to express their distaste whenever something Christian-related is put out to the public, especially in the realm of politics. A shame the trend in America is continuously heading in this direction. Lack of respect. Simple as that. Best of all, a silent majority of Christians will ignore you. I'm not even sure I believe, but I still respect those who have the faith to and their right to believe. It's called Freedom of Religion, not Freedom from Religion.

    June 16, 2013 at 8:44 am |
    • Charles L.


      June 16, 2013 at 8:44 am |
    • N&W 1000

      You MUST have the atheists mixed up with the TEA Party types; atheists are inclusive, tolerant, diverse, compassionate, and NEVER make fun of another's faith.

      June 16, 2013 at 8:46 am |
    • deguy

      Its sad the "silent majority" of so called "christians" can't see the hypocrisy of their pastors being used by movie studios & politicians. Maybe the atheists and non-believers dont have blinders on and dont get brainwashed by liars using a 2000 year old fairy tale book written by MEN (not "god").

      June 16, 2013 at 8:48 am |
    • Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

      So, Thomas, in the name of Freedom of religion, one as-sumes you support the work of the 9-11 hijackers? They were killing in the name of their religion.

      June 16, 2013 at 8:48 am |
    • One one

      Hey, Rick perry just said the same thing ! Do you respect the religious community's constant attempts to insert their religious beliefs into our schools, public spaces, and laws ? Are you saying I don't have freedom from religion?

      June 16, 2013 at 8:49 am |
    • badlobbyist

      But Thomas, it is a lack of respect. It is a lack of respect for other beliefs coming from a good many Christians. And the desire to keep church and state separate requires all people that are not from the majority to be vigilant.

      In our pledge of allegiance, we now say..."one nation under God". That is a relatively recent addition from the 1950s. Our paper money now says "In God we trust", also form the 1950s. It showed up on our coins in 1864.

      So please forgive the rants, but Freedom of Religion does indeed require Freedom from Religion at the state level.

      June 16, 2013 at 8:55 am |
    • Thomas

      Look at the replies prove my point, lol. Nobody's forcing your hand to believe, whether a prayer is said in public or in private the last time I checked. The ignorace here is astounding.

      June 16, 2013 at 8:57 am |
  16. N&W 1000


    June 16, 2013 at 8:43 am |
    • Charles L.

      May the Force be with you always.

      June 16, 2013 at 8:46 am |
    • N&W 1000

      Well, I was talking about Super Jesus; you are referring to the Holy Spirit; let's not mix up the Trinity.

      June 16, 2013 at 8:47 am |
  17. tomfoolery

    This country has reached the bottom of money grubbery. Everyone now is out grubbing fer a buck and they know this ignorant president that we have is blowing all we have on useless skirmish type wars that get us nowhere. Just when do we draw a line in the sand to stop his insanity?

    June 16, 2013 at 8:42 am |
  18. Charles L.

    If Superman is Jesus that makes the rest of the Justice League his apostles.

    June 16, 2013 at 8:41 am |
    • N&W 1000

      Maybe the Penguin can be Judas.

      June 16, 2013 at 8:43 am |
  19. N&W 1000

    Praise God for the shed blood of Superman, that saved men from their sins.

    June 16, 2013 at 8:40 am |
  20. N&W 1000

    CNN, honestly you are getting pretty desperate; we're used to the atheist stories every three hours but this is comedic.

    June 16, 2013 at 8:39 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.