A local evangelical Christian ministry is joining scores of other like-minded Christian groups who are looking to get moviegoers talking about faith during the Christmas season.
Standing Together Ministries will offer a set of two free tickets to "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" to the first 155 residents who log on to the group's Web site beginning at midnight on Nov. 30 and agree to take a friend of a different faith.
Pastor Greg Johnson, president of Standing Together, said the tickets will be given to evangelical Christians who choose to take an LDS friend, or to Latter-day Saints who want to take an evangelical Christian friend. The ministry — known for trying to help bridge the state's religious divide in recent years — hopes to generate religious discussion through the Dec. 9 showing of the film at the Gateway Theaters downtown.
The group bought out one entire showing of the film, and those with tickets will attend that particular screening.
"We believe that both evangelicals and Latter-day Saints revere and enjoy the writings of C.S. Lewis and that 'The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe' is a film that both faith communities could watch with enjoyment and reflection," he said.
Those seeking tickets must be at least 18 years of age, and guests will be given a page of conversation items pertaining to the film "that we hope will allow them to discuss the film following the screening. Additionally, each set of friends will be given a brief survey card to fill out and send back to us describing the value of such an experience that we might determine the worth of the evening," Johnson said.
The giveaway/dialogue is one of several Christian promotions of the film taking place nationwide for a film Disney hopes will rival Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ," which was panned early on by religious critics but widely embraced by Christian audiences, particularly evangelicals.
While mainstream studios shunned the film, worried moviegoers wouldn't pay for "proselyting," many Christian churches around the country bought out theaters so their members could see the film, which ultimately grossed hundreds of millions of dollars. Standing Together helped promote that film locally, and several Utah congregations attended screenings en masse.
Disney has reportedly hired several Christian marketing groups to hype the film — a head-turning irony in a world where the secular regularly clashes with the sacred and vice versa. In recent years, evangelical Christians sponsored a full-blown boycott of Disney and its theme parks after the company began making edgy films that many said undercut family values and offering "gay days" at Disneyland and Walt Disney World.
One marketing tool, found at www.narniaresources.com, offers a link to "buy tickets for your entire church or group." It also is seeking "Ambassadors of Narnia," who are willing to sign on to help promote the film in their local area.
The Barna Group, an evangelical polling and research site, is offering tickets for special Dec. 8 "preview screenings" on its web site at www.barna.org.
But the marketing isn't limited to evangelicals. Catholic Outreach has created a web site specifically geared toward using the film as a teaching and outreach tool. It describes the film as "a grand-scale, live-action movie that features the grandeur of 'Lord of the Rings' with the fantasy and virtue of 'The Wizard of Oz.' A classic story of 'good versus evil,' Narnia is a movie that will be loved and seen by millions."
Its Web site at www.narniaoutreach.com was created as a "resource center for parishes, schools, groups who want to use the film as a faith-formation opportunity."
The film is based on the first of a seven-book series, "The Chronicles of Narnia," by scholar and Christian apologist C. S. Lewis, and is considered among his most beloved works. The book is a symbolic re-telling of the Christ story using imagery that children can understand.
It tells the tale of four children who accidentally enter Narnia through a magic wardrobe and encounter a lion named Aslan (a Christ figure) who redeems Narnia by breaking the power of the evil White Witch who has made it "always winter ... but ... never Christmas."
Some religious leaders are lauding the film publicly before it hits the big screen.
Two were quoted recently in The Observer, a newspaper in the United Kingdom, that they see it as an evangelistic tool.
"We believe that God will speak the gospel of Jesus Christ through this film,' said Lon Allison, director of the Billy Graham Centre at Wheaton College in Illinois.
Ted Haggard, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, said the film is an ideal way for a Christian message to be brought to people who wouldn't otherwise darken the door of a church. "Here is yet another tool that many may find to be effective in communicating the message of Jesus to those who may not respond to other presentations," he said.