A pastor in California is part of a faction of Christians upset about Octavia Spencer’s role as God in the movie adaptation of William P. Young’s controversial 2007 novel The Shack. Spencer is black, you see, and God is a white man.
Certain Christians are mad not only about this depiction of god as a black woman, but also the movie’s basis in universalism and the idea that all humans make it into “Heaven.” The plot of the movie—which stars Spencer, Sam Worthington, and Tim McGraw, and hits theaters in March 2017—goes as such (via IndieWire):
A man whose daughter was murdered during a family camping trip sinks into a deep depression and begins to lose his faith. One day, he receives a mysterious letter encouraging him to return to the site of his daughter’s murder and finds the physical manifestations of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit and God, who takes the form of an African American woman played by Octavia Spencer. Unsurprisingly, some Christian figureheads object to Spencer’s role as well as the film itself, which purports to be a faithful adaptation of Young’s book.
Astonishing, because God is de facto white? Here with some constructive criticism is Joe Schimmel, pastor of Blessed Hope Chapel in Simi Valley, California who told Christian News Network, “Young’s pretentious caricature of God as a heavy set, cushy, non-judgmental, African American woman called ‘Papa’ who resembles the New Agey Oprah Winfrey far more than the one true God revealed through the Lord Jesus Christ in Hebrews 1:1-3 –…lends itself to a dangerous and false image of God and idolatry.”
Will God smite the pastor for being so judgmental? Hard to say. This Christian-on-Christian fight has been raging since the release of the book, which Christian News Network and others have described as “blasphemous.”
In agreement with Schimmel, James B. DeYoung, author of Burning Down the Shack: How the “Christian” Bestseller is Deceiving Millions, says “if the film is a faithful portrayal of the events and the theology of the book, then every Christian should be gravely alarmed at the further advance of beliefs that smear the evangelical understanding of the truth of the Bible.”
All in all, great marketing for the film. Spencer told USA Today in a 2015 interview, about the potential outrage, “It’s like, ‘Oh, my God! Someone is playing God.’ But people have to remember it’s a manifestation of God. How [the film subject] sees God. Not necessarily how or who or what God is.”