Church movie discussions spark dialogue, foster understanding

Friday, October 9, 2009 | 10:26 a.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Candy corn and East African doughnuts fueled powerful community dialogues recently for two Columbia congregations. The snacks were served during movie showings, which some churches are using as a means of  sparking provocative discussions in an informal gathering rather than a traditional worship service.

During the movie showings, audiences enjoy refreshments, a casual atmosphere and then participate in discussions about life and faith based on issues raised in the film.

Upcoming Film Discussions

Movie showings and discussions


At 6 p.m., International Community Church will host an on-site screening and discussion of "Rabbit-Proof Fence," a 2002 Australian movie about an escape of three Aboriginal girls.


The Crossing will show "Doubt," a film with multiple Oscar nominations, in its auditorium, followed by a discussion. Drinks, popcorn and other theater snacks will be provided; childcare is not provided. To register, go to

Karis Community Church

The November showing and discussion topic have yet to be decided. For information, go to the Movies and MindMaps blog.

The movies sometimes serve as a greater catalyst for discussion and thought than church sermons do. Karis Community Church and International Community Church host regular movie discussions to encourage open dialogue about global and community issues such as poverty, injustice and forgiveness.

Karis Community Church believes that film powerfully reflects and shapes modern culture, according to a church news release. The Karis "Movies and MindMaps" series helps viewers to identify the grids, or "mindmaps," through which they filter the messages of pop-culture movies.

"Everybody holds to some kind of worldview," said Aarik Danielsen, 28, a Karis member who facilitates the movie discussions. "In art forms like literature and film, these viewpoints really come out."

International Community Church hopes to foster cultural understanding through its movie series, said Dennis Wambuguh, a Kenyan-born church member who leads the discussions. As its name suggests, International Community Church has members from around the globe. The series provides a forum for discussing important issues faced by the countries represented in the congregation.

About 16 people from a Karis-sponsored group gathered in the Boone County Government Center Chambers to view and discuss “Slumdog Millionaire,” winner of eight Academy Awards this year. On that same September weekend, a group double in size met at the International Community Church to watch the 1995 version of “Cry, the Beloved Country.”

"I think it's great for Columbia to see a church that is not just hurling scorn at pop culture and media but is truly trying to interact with it," Karis lead pastor Kevin Larson said in an e-mail interview. "And, in that, not just critiquing it but trying to see the glimpses of grace present there."

The “Slumdog” discussion was the first in the fall "Movies and MindMaps" lineup. The series started four years ago as a movie discussion group at Larson's house and has continued on and off since then.

"As we create beauty in art, film, music and literature, we reflect the image of our Lord as we were intended," according to the Karis Web site. Through its regular discussions, the church aims to reflect beauty and truth, two of its key values.

"We try to choose films that will draw people from a good cross-section of the community," Larson said in an e-mail. "We want (to show) films that people want to see, yet have a message that is worth interacting with."

In the past, the Karis group has discussed films such as "The Dark Knight," "Sicko," "There Will Be Blood," "WALL-E" and "Rachel Getting Married." The next movie discussion will cover a documentary of some kind, but the film is not yet determined.

Karis members Maureen and Aaron Harris brought with them six Burmese refugees, ages 16 to 22, to watch "Slumdog." Maureen Harris, 32, is a fourth-grade teacher in Fulton who volunteers with Refugee and Immigration Services, a Catholic ministry that provides refugees with basic food and clothing, temporary housing, support networks and case-management services. Through work with the organization, she and her husband have gotten to know three Burmese families.

Shared experiences such as this movie discussion have allowed the Harrises to build a deeper friendship with the refugees and help them adapt to a culture completely different from the one in which they were raised.

"I knew the movie would connect us in a way that language could never and will never do," Harris said. She added that the movie "played much more of a role of bringing hope and redemption in our relationships than entertaining us."

In the "Cry, the Beloved Country" discussion, the group watched depictions of apartheid in South Africa. Although there were no South Africans in the audience, there were people from other African countries in attendance who had experienced discrimination in their own countries and in the U.S.

“Nowadays, everywhere in the world, there is some sense of segregation and discrimination,” Chuljin Ko, 52, said after watching "Cry, the Beloved Country."

A visiting public policy scholar at MU, Ko came to the U.S. from South Korea with the primary goal of learning English. Although “Cry, the Beloved Country” is an American movie, English subtitles were shown to aid foreign viewers like Ko.

After sharing his initial thoughts about the movie, Ko stood and recited a portion of Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1963 "Letter from a Birmingham Jail." Like King, it was as if Ko had an urgent message of his own: Society can't afford to wait when dealing with issues of discrimination. His speech was followed by a stirring round of applause.

"The main reason why I love the ideal of King is that we Korean had a lot of suffering under the control of Japan for 36 years," Ko said later in an e-mail. "There was many discrimination. So we must get rid of discrimination to make a good world for all people in the world."

Jim Gerdeen, 72, a retired engineering professor, issued a challenge to the group. “I think we should go out of our way to show friendship" to others, said Gerdeen. “What we pass on to our children and grandchildren is important.”

The sense of cultural understanding that both Ko and Gerdeen shared during the movie discussion promotes a goal of the International Community Church series — building community within the congregation and throughout Columbia helps people learn about and understand people's backgrounds.

Although "Slumdog Millionaire" and "Cry, the Beloved Country" are vastly different in style and structure, the two films present many of the same concepts. Both deal with murder and marginalization, and both touch on the notions of redemption and forgiveness.

In an effort to get Columbians thinking and talking about the culture around them, Karis Community Church and International Community Church will continue their public movie discussions in the coming months.

The topic on Karis' next discussion has yet to be decided. For the latest information, go to the Movies and MindMaps blog. On Saturday at 6 p.m, the International Community Church will watch and discuss "Rabbit-Proof Fence," an Australian movie.

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