This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

Filmmaker probes meaning of ‘turn the other cheek’

Growing up in a conservative Mennonite family, David A.R. White only saw one movie in his first 18 years — and that was at a friend’s house. Today, he is an actor and producer with a film scheduled for release on Good Friday.

David A.R. White

White plays Rev. Dave in God’s Not Dead: A Light in Darkness. It’s a role he played in the previous two God’s Not Dead films, which portrayed the challenges of Christians defending their faith in a not-too-distant-future America.

White said his father, Gene White, who died eight years ago, became a Christian in his 30s and felt called to become a pastor.

“He was led to the Mennonites because he felt like Christ taught turning the other cheek and not fighting,” White said. “Being a conscientious objector was really important to him.”

As the son of a pastor, White remembers growing up in Emmanuel Mennonite Church, an unaffiliated congregation in Meade, Kan. Calls to reach someone from there who knew the White family were unreturned.

White also remembers registering as a conscientious objector in case of a draft.

“I definitely believe in what my father taught in that way,” he said. “It’s Christ’s teaching — turn the other cheek.”

However, he said he wouldn’t completely rule out fighting in certain situations.

“That’s something that I’ve kind of struggled with over the years,” he said. “Sometimes there’s a just cause for it. It’s a tricky one; it’s not easy. I believe there is a just cause to fight for justice when it is clear.”

A similar conflict is the central question of the latest God’s Not Dead film. According to the production notes, that question is: “Can Christians fight for their rights and still be a loving example for Christ at the same time?”

White sees this as an important question for Christians in an increasingly divided society.

“We can do two things: We can either be a flame or the mirror that reflects who Jesus Christ is,” he said. “There’s no doubt about it — he said, ‘Turn the other cheek; love your enemies.’ . . . When we made this movie, we wanted to bring this to light. How do we as believers manage in today’s society and culture? Do we fight back? Do we throw that first punch?”

Rather than trying to effect change through the political field, Christians should focus on proclaiming Jesus as the way, the truth and the life, White said.

“Our message should be one of love and consistency,” he said. “I think we should try to stay out of the political realm and bring the good news of love to a hurting and dying world.”

But he added that this doesn’t mean Christians can’t voice political opinions.

“Obviously, I think we can address [political] issues,” he said. “It’s just a matter of — how do we do it? Do we do it with hatred and signs and picketing and all of those things? Every fight has a different way it should be handled. I don’t think there’s one easy answer to doing that.”

The new film

In the first two God’s Not Dead films, Rev. Dave was a supporting character who gave pastoral counsel to others while growing in his own faith. In A Light in Darkness, he becomes a main character who deals with hostility toward his church, the loss of a friend and navigating some complicated relationships.

“I think this [film] is different than the first two,” White said. “It’s much more personal. . . . We live in a divisive political-social culture right now. How do we as individuals deal with that? When bad things happen to good people, is God really good?”

White now lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Andrea, and their three children. He attends Calvary Community Church, a nondenominational congregation in Westlake Village, Calif.

White is a founding partner of Pure Flix Entertainment, a Christian film production company with an on-demand video-streaming service offering Christian-based films.

In January, more than 2 million hours of Pure Flix video were viewed.

Although his father took a cautious view toward entertainment, White believes he would be pleased to see his son’s work.

“My father never got to see the God’s Not Dead movies; I wish he had,” he said. “He always wanted me to become an evangelist.”

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