(Spoiler warning … But c’mon, you know the story …)
Disney has an agenda in its latest move, Beauty and the Beast. Their goal couldn’t be more overt if they slapped you in the face. The Disney Agenda is to challenge Christians to be better Christians.
Near the beginning of the film, Belle goes to her town’s library, which is also the town’s church. She enters the building and greets Pere Robert, or Father Robert, a priest dressed in a long black robe. As they peruse the library’s books and discuss their mutual love for Shakespeare, the screen pans around the room, and in the back of the library we see Jesus hanging on a large crucifix.
Disney’s Christian Message
Disney didn’t have to put a church in the movie. It certainly didn’t have to show a crucifix. But Disney is moving in a deeply prophetic direction. Recent movies like Big Hero Six and Zootopia contain Christian themes, but Beauty and the Beast is overtly Christian.
Showing us an image of the crucifix, Jesus hanging on the cross, so early in the movie is Disney’s way of telling us what this story is about.
Beauty and the Beast is about the Christian message. It’s about how nonviolent love saves the world. But it also provides a prophetic warning about how we can thwart that love.
Gaston, the villain of the story, reveals how we can work against that love. He trapped Belle’s eccentric father, Maurice, in the forest, and left him there to die. But an elderly woman saved him. When Maurice returned to town, he told the truth about Gaston’s attempt to murder him. Instead of admitting the truth, Gaston told a lie. He accused Belle’s father of being mentally unstable. He convinced the town’s people that Maurice was a threat to their safety. Gaston and the crowd united against Maurice as they locked him up in a carriage to send him to a mental hospital.
Beauty, the Beast, and the Scapegoat
This is a classic example of what René Girard calls scapegoating. Whenever conflicts arise within a community, instead of seeking the truth that our problems reside within ourselves, we seek someone else to blame. It’s usually someone who is weak and doesn’t have a defender. Maurice fits that description perfectly. Maurice never fit in with the town’s people. He was strange, but also harmless. He posed no real threat, except for the fact that he held the truth about Gaston.
Gaston didn’t stop with Maurice. Scapegoating increased his prestige among the crowd, and he desired more. Once he discovered the Beast, he led the crowd in chants to “kill the Beast!” They marched to the Beast’s Castle and began a war with little Mrs. Potts and her son Chip. Like Maurice, neither the Beast, nor Mrs. Potts, nor Chip posed any threat to the Gaston or the crowd. All they hoped for was to become human again. But when we are possessed by the spell of scapegoating, we lose the ability to see where the true threat lies.
The crowd that chants “Kill the Beast” reflect the crowd that chanted “Crucify him.” Jesus, like Maurice and the Beast, didn’t pose a real threat to anyone. The only threat Jesus held was the truth that we all are susceptible to the scapegoat mechanism. The truth is that there’s at least a little bit of Gaston and the crowd in each of us.
For example, take the controversy many Christians have with this iteration of Beauty and the Beast. Many are scandalized that there’s a gay character. And that gay character dances with another gay character! Oh my. Disney is endorsing the gay agenda!
Poking the Christian Beast
Disney prophetically poked the Christian beast, and many Christians are showing our inner Gaston. Many are protesting this movie, accusing Disney of promoting the “gay agenda.” As a Christian, whatever the “gay agenda” is, I know that it isn’t a threat to any of us. So, I support it. And I’m proud Disney supports it, too.
But deeper than that, the Christian message is that everyone is included in God’s love. Under the crucifix of Christ, we can no longer live by the scapegoating categories that we create to include and exclude people. Even categories like “friends” and “enemies” wash away under Christ, who calls us to participate in God’s universal love.
One of the first Christians put it like this about the scapegoating categories of his day, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”
When the Beast and Gaston finally meet, Gaston attempts to kill the beast with a gun. But the Beast responds to Gaston with nonviolence. Even after Gaston shoots the Beast, the Beast refuses to fight. Indeed, Gaston is killed in the end, but he’s killed by his own violence.
And that’s the Christian prophetic warning. Violence leads to our own destruction. “Those who live by the sword die by the sword.” Jesus calls us to trust in his nonviolent love. And to trust that all people, even those we call our enemies, are invited to his kingdom.
Notice that nobody celebrates Gaston’s death. No one enjoys the moment when the villain dies. Why? Because celebrating the death of an enemy thwarts the love that heals the world.
Jesus Invites Us To Party
Jesus compared the kingdom of God to a party where everyone is invited. Beauty and the Beast ends with the resurrection of the Beast and his servants. They have become truly human. And what do they do with their humanity? They throw a joyful dance party, where all races and sexual orientations are invited to participate in this new way of being human.
The danger for progressive Christians is that we might become like Gaston. We can easily mimic our fellow Christians who are scandalized by the gay characters in Beauty and the Beast. In other words, we can become scandalized by their scandal. Mimicking scandal means mimicking scapegoating as we begin to view them as “beasts.” But we don’t have to get hooked in a rivalry with those who are scandalized by Beauty and the Beast. Instead, we can truthfully name the scapegoating practice for what it is, and then join the party, trusting that God’s nonviolent love will save the world.
But will Christians live into our true humanity that joyfully welcomes all people to the party? Or will we live by scapegoating the LGBTQ community and the “beasts” in our lives?
Disney is asking Christians these prophetic questions. How will we respond?
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