That got me to thinking about movies that depict my own work as a pastor.
Film pastors seem mostly to fall into several categories:
- clueless innocents
- fire-breathing moralists (who are unrepentant hypocrites)
- money-grubbing manipulators
- sexual predators
Some of my favorite portrayals of clergy appear in:
1. The Keys of the Kingdom starring Gregory Peck. Peck plays a priest packed off to China as a missionary who remains faithful despite the suspicion among his superiors that he's a failure. Thomas Mitchell plays Peck's spiritually skeptical friend, a relationship that's portrayed without a hint of heavy-handedness or sentimentality.
2. Bishop's Wife with David Niven as the spiritually-struggling bishop. This is one of the best Christmas films of all time. The movie isn't entirely satisfying though, ending with a Christmas Eve sermon that's more American civil religion than it is Christian.
3. Alias Nick Beal, with the aforementioned Mitchell as a district attorney standing off against an evil Ray Milland. George Macready turns in an interesting performance as a clergyperson who helps call a friend who has lost his spiritual compass to account and to renewal. Released in 1948, I had never seen Beal until this year. It's a great film, a seemingly forgotten classic. (The film's title song is an embellishment on Martin Luther's most famous hymn, A Mighty Fortress is Our God.)
4. Luther with Joseph Fiennes in the title role. Martin Luther, of course, was a theological genius, but he was, at heart, a pastor. He was also imperfect. That complexity of character comes across in this movie.
On television, Father Mulcahy of MASH is a variant of the clueless innocent type. Over the course of the series, Mulcahy's character was given greater depth than in the early seasons. (This is the opposite of what was done with Radar O'Reilly, who moved from the early episodes in which he was portrayed as sort of a sly conman to being an Iowa naif.)
[I'm the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]