Is Jesus the new taboo subject in classrooms?

God’s Not Dead 2 (PG)

This sequel to the controversial 2014 film God’s Not Dead – the title inverting the famous Nietzschean epithet – takes place shortly after the original. 

It centres on a schoolteacher called Grace (Melissa Joan Hart) who tries to console one of her pupils, Brooke (Hayley Orrantia). Brooke is grieving for the loss of her brother who died in an accident six months before.

She asks Grace how she manages to be so upbeat all the time. Grace tells her it’s because of the presence of Jesus in her life. Brooke’s parents are atheists but she finds a Bible among her brother’s possessions and starts reading it.

In class soon afterwards Grace is speaking about Gandhi and Martin Luther King. She mentions the way they embraced peace as a solution to many of life’s problems. Brooke asks if this is similar to Jesus’ teachings. She says it is.

In a sign of the times, Grace is now reprimanded for proselytising as a result of the analogy. “She took a question,” it’s alleged, “and turned it into an opportunity to preach.”

She’s placed on paid leave and a disciplinary committee is formed to investigate the situation. She hires a lawyer, Tom Endler (Jesse Metcalfe) to represent her.

She’s informed that if she apologises to the Board of Management, the matter will be dropped but she’s unwilling to do this because she doesn’t think she’s done anything wrong. “I’d rather stand with God and be judged by the world,” she says, “than stand with the world and be judged by God.”

A priest called Dave (who appeared in the original film) is on the jury. He receives a subpoena to submit the text of his sermons for the previous three months but he refuses this.

Grace’s principal testifies that she talks about religion all the time on school property – a major ‘crime’ in the film’s police state zeitgeist. She defends herself by saying that Jesus was a historical figure (like Gandhi and Luther King) and she was therefore entitled to speak of him in the same context as they.

Reverse psychology

Rev. Dave now gets appendicitis. He’s replaced on the jury by a young girl with piercings and tattoos. Things aren’t looking good for Grace.

But then Tom gets an idea. He starts badgering Grace with an anti-Christian rant until she breaks down. She doesn’t realise he’s using reverse psychology to help her. At this point the tide turns.

Critics have dismissed the ending of the film as cute, coy, trite, simplistic, saccharine etc. It’s even been called ‘triumphalistic’.  

One could argue that this is to counteract the equal triumphalism of an atheist culture clamouring for a veto on any form of religious expression. 

The film has some ‘Sunday School homily’ overtones to be sure but its message is important. 

Are we living in a society where a teacher can be hauled through the courts for having the audacity to utter the ‘J’ word?