Suffer the Children
There is a group of celebrities who grace our television screens and divide the Christian community. The world looks on, often wondering how it is that they keep on doing what they do and how people get sucked into what they do. Many people wonder why the voice in the Christian community isn’t stronger against these celebrities, why we often let them get away with what they do.
Suffer the Children is an 83 minute look into these celebrities, what they do, why people follow them and what affect they have on peoples lives.
The group is Word of Faith tele-evangelists. Those not familiar with the title Word of Faith will more likely recognise them as preachers of the prosperity doctrine.
I began watching the documentary thinking it was just going to be another piece simply exposing the extravagance of these people without doing justice to the broader Christian message. Such expositions frustrate me because they often leave the viewer with a bad taste in their mouth when it comes to the Christian faith, of which, these preachers are poor examples, if they are an example of it at all. I was pleasantly surprised.
The film exposes these people for what they are, false prophets pursuing their own gain; charlatans deceiving people and leaving abused, broken lives in their wake. It’s a harsh reality, but it’s a reality that many Christians need to wake up to and speak out against. Too often we remain quiet about these people who often provoke silent misgivings within us, because we don’t want to upset people’s faith and we don’t want to speak out against others who we think may very well be part of the Christian family. Often we want to avoid conflict and not upset the ‘apple cart’. In not speaking out, these people continue doing what they do and more lives are destroyed because of it and we betray the tradition of vocal action in the face of injustice that stands as the foundation of much of our Christian heritage. As an evangelical, where would I be if the likes of Martin Luther, John Wesley, William Wilberforce and many others, had remained silent in the faces of the abuses they saw.
This film allows us to see how the tele-evangelists are perverting the Gospel of Jesus Christ, by going beyond just exposing their practices, into contrasting it with ideas, thoughts and practices that certainly better reflect the person of Jesus. One cannot walk away from this documentary thinking these people are faithfully representing the person and Gospel of Jesus Christ.
The documentary itself clearly lacks the experience of well seasoned documentary makers and the huge budgets that many documentaries seem to have now, but that almost serves it better, as a large budget production would almost be anathema to what it’s trying to say. There has been an attempt to try and inject humour to add some comic relief to what is a very serious and very deep topic and at times it serves the documentary well by explaining some concepts using basic animation in a simple linear fashion that makes them more accessible and more palatable for the audience. Other times the attempt at humour only cheapens the debate.
I question the use of stand-up comedians who mock a couple of the tele-evangelists, and there is a piece in the film that uses a mock boxing match to try and show conflicting thoughts around different selected verses in the Bible. That part was done poorly and didn’t even come close to representing the tension around different sections of scripture.
Actual television footage is used effectively to demonstrate the actual words and teachings of these preachers. Clearly work was done to get the relevant footage. Thus it is not simply hearsay.
By far the most powerful part of the film is towards the end. The main personality used to represent the Christian side opposed to the Word of Faith preachers is a man called Justin Peters. Justin works as a travelling evangelist (who travels economy class whenever he flies, as opposed to using privately owned multi-million dollar jets) and has cerebral palsy. Justin does a great job of explaining how his condition has been a blessing in his life. Another man with a debilitating illness is shown on stage with the men of another TV show talking about how God has blessed his life through his illness and how in his condition he can praise God. This is powerfully contrasted with prosperity teachers who would call this blasphemous.
There is a clear bias from the outset of the film, but I would say it is a well founded one. By far the strength of the film is the contrast between what the prosperity preachers teach and what has been accepted for the past 2000 years amongst the majority of the Christian Church.
As a Minister and a Christian working in Christian media, I would state that this is a must see for all Christians. Hopefully it will make many of us wake up and realise that maybe, just maybe we need to stop fearing conflict and for the good of those whose lives have been and will be abused and ripped apart by these people who falsely represent the Gospel of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, maybe we need to turn that apple cart upside down.
Reviewed by: Frank Ritchie
Written and Directed by: Trevor Glass
Length: 78 mins