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Published: Thursday, 1/26/2006

Christian martyr film pelted with criticism

BY DAVID YONKE
BLADE RELIGION EDITOR
Allen Allen
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A movie about missionaries who were speared to death by a primitive South American tribe is being targeted by some conservative Christian leaders because one of the actors is a gay activist.

More than 150 ministers across the country have signed a letter of protest expressing "deep disappointment" in the producers of End of the Spear and vowing not to support the film because Chad Allen stars in the dual role of slain missionary Nate Saint and his adult son, Steve.

Christian station WLMB-TV (Channel 40) in Perrysburg pulled 30-second promotional ads for the evangelical film, which it had been airing for free.

"Given the publicity of Chad Allen's activism and the intensity of his mission to normalize homosexuality it is hard, if not impossible, to suspend belief and see him as a missionary martyr for the Gospel of Jesus Christ," said Jamey Schmitz, the station's CEO and general manager.

Mr. Allen, 31, told The Blade yesterday that he never wanted his sexual orientation to attract more attention than the movie and its message of faith, love, and acceptance.

"My greatest hope would be that through the premiere, through all the advertising and promotion, that everybody would focus on the mes-sage of the movie and what it means to them," Mr. Allen said from Los Angeles.

"But I'm not surprised by the controversy. I've been openly gay for a long time, and I'm aware of the anger and fear over this issue," he said.

Not all Christian leaders feel that Mr. Allen's sexual orientation detracts from the movie's evangelical message.

The Rev. Todd Hostetler, an associate pastor of New Hope Christian Center in Lima, Ohio, and station manager of Toledo's YES-FM 89.3 Christian radio, said End of the Spear "is a fabulous, fabulous movie and it would be horrible waste of a ministry opportunity if somebody wouldn't take a nonbeliever to this movie because an actor is homosexual. ..."

"The whole point of the story is reaching out with the love of Christ and redeeming sinners, which we all are," Mr. Hostetler said.

The $10 million film, which earned $4.7 million last weekend when it opened nationwide, including in theaters in Toledo, Maumee, Perrysburg, and Adrian, is based on the true story of Nate Saint and four other American missionaries who were slain by Ecuador's Waodoni tribe in January, 1956.

Mr. Allen said he was drawn to the movie because of its strong script. He said he auditioned for the role against the advice of friends and colleagues who warned the outspoken gay activist not to get involved with the conservative Christian filmmakers at Every Tribe Entertainment.

He said he told the filmmakers about his sexual orientation after he was offered the role but before filming began.

"I didn't want them to freak out down the road," he said.

"We both came to the table with a lot of preconceived notions," he said. "I thought they were right-wing crazies, and they thought I was the godless bohemian or something. But we learned that none of the preconceptions applied and threw them out and got to know each other."

Mr. Allen said he respected Steve Saint, the 55-year-old real-life son of Nate Saint, so much that he offered to walk away from the movie "unconditionally" if Mr. Saint asked him not to do it.

"I could tell he was deeply concerned and scared about what was the right thing to do," Mr. Allen said.

Mr. Saint told The Blade this week that he "agonized" over whether to make that request.

"It was an excruciating process for me," he said. "It forced me to go to the Scriptures."

He cited a number of verses about Jesus and his disciples reaching out to nonbelievers and the verses in John, Chapter 8, about a woman caught in the act of adultery. Jesus didn't tell the mob to obey the law and stone the woman, Mr. Saint said.

"He said, 'Yeah, you're right, she was caught in adultery, an offense against God, go ahead and stone her. But why don't we start with those of you who don't have sin in their own lives?'●" he said, paraphrasing the verses.

Mr. Saint said he had an early morning dream that convinced him it was God's will for Mr. Allen to be in the movie.

"In this dream, I saw a mob of Christians chasing me. They had these signs, 'Why did you do this to our story?' And I turned around to them and I was trying to yell, 'I didn't want to do this, I'll ask him to step down,' and - boom! - I was standing in front of God. He said, 'You, of all people, should know that I love all my children. I went to great lengths to orchestrate an opportunity for Chad Allen to see what it was like to be a true God follower. Why did you mess up my plan?'●"

Jim Hanon, screenwriter and director of End of the Spear, said he was "saddened" by the controversy over "this fairly cynical debate over whether to involve people who don't know the Lord in the things God is doing."

"If the Bible is true and we want to live its message, then we don't want to exclude anybody," Mr. Hanon said.

Contact David Yonke at:

dyonke@theblade.com

or 419-724-6154.



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