In 35 years as a journalist covering religion in America, I've rarely seen such an emotional response to four words about faith: "Christians should love Twilight." That phrase places the Bible squarely in the realm of vampires and werewolves.
Since leaving newspapers four years ago, I am now the founding editor of ReadTheSpirit online magazine and books. We recently published both a book and online materials written by veteran Bible-study teacher Jane Wells, called "Glitter in the Sun." We chose to publish Jane's materials about the hugely popular Twilight phenomenon because Jane is a talented writer, a veteran church-group teacher and she is passionately devoted both to her Christian faith and the Twilight series.
How popular are these novels and movies? Huge! The Twilight movies alone already have zoomed past the box office of Narnia movies. They are likely to top revenue from the Lord of the Rings movies. The audience is almost exclusively female -- first teenaged fans and now millions of adult women, too.
But when Jane Wells published a short summary of her book's five core points last week, timed to coincide with the "Breaking Dawn" movie opening, none of us at ReadTheSpirit expected her commentary to quickly attract more than 1,000 comments and a big buzz spreading across Facebook.
It was the tone of these comments on Jane's "Christians should love Twilight" that caught us by surprise. They're what we can call the Good, the Bad and the Very Ugly. Many fans of Twilight see eye to eye with Jane Wells. But many Christians are offended that a romantic saga about vampires and werewolves is even mentioned in the same phrase with their Christian faith. And many readers simply hate both religion and Twilight and delight in poking fun at any writer who says otherwise.
What are these now infamous five core points? With Jane's permission, I'm going to share what we now realize is a fire-brand text:
5 Reasons Christians Should Love Twilight
First, some background: In the Twilight saga, Author Stephenie Meyer created the Cullen coven of vampires, respectful of human life, living off the blood of carefully culled wild animals. It is one of these "vegetarian" vampires, Edward, who the very human Bella Swan adores in a difficult star-crossed love that reminds readers of Romeo and Juliet or Bronte novels like Wuthering Heights. So, why should Christians love Twilight? Five themes cross the bridge between faith and fiction.
1. The supernatural surrounds us whether we're aware of it or not.
In the first novel and movie, "Twilight," Bella moves to her father's home in Forks, Wash., from her mother's home in Phoenix, Ariz. Soon she meets Edward Cullen, and learns that vampires are not only real, but walk daily among the residents of the small town. Her awareness of them, or previous lack thereof, does not affect the reality of their existence.
In Hebrews we read that we are to entertain strangers because we might be entertaining angels. From Ephesians we also know that our battle is not against a physical foe but against "spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms." An awareness of the unseen is a big piece of walking in faith.
2. Love results in, and even requires, sacrifice.
In the second book and movie of the series, "New Moon," Edward concludes that including Bella in his vampire world is unhealthy. He attempts to save her by breaking up and moving away. It is, he says later, the hardest thing he's done in 100 years. Although it nearly kills him, he is willing to die if it means she will live a normal, happy, human life.
It was no less than Jesus himself who says in John 15:13, "Greater love hath no man than this -- that a man lay down his life for his friends."
3. Humans crave divine perfection.
Throughout the series, Bella notes how perfect she finds Edward in every way. The gaping hole Bella feels when Edward leaves is very much like the one we spend our lives trying to fill with relationships, food, status or any other of a million different things -- but can only be filled by a relationship with God.
No one captures this better than David in Psalm 42, which opens with an image of a deer searching for water -- just as David's soul desperately seeks out God. In this psalm of heartbreak, David cries out to the only perfection that can heal him. Later, in the psalm he says, "deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls, all your waves and breakers have swept over me." Our human spirits recognize and respond to the call of the Spirit of God, even if in the weak echo of nature's beauty.
4. A drastic change of direction may be exactly what you need.
In the third novel and movie, "Eclipse," we learn more about Jasper Cullen, Edward's adopted brother. He was second in command of a vampire army during the American Civil war. However, after several decades of constant conflict, the violence began to weigh heavily on him and he left. Eventually, he found peace with the Cullen coven.
Every disciple Jesus called turned his back on one way of life to embrace another, none more drastically than Matthew, who had been a tax collector. But the choice is yours, as illustrated by the rich, young man in Matthew 19. Jesus looked on him and loved him, yet he walked away from Jesus' offer of eternal life because it hurt too much to give up his wealth.
5. You'll only fit in after you accept what God has designed you for.
All of her life Bella was a misfit. In Arizona she was a pale geek. In Forks, she is the newcomer. Her mother doesn't get her, her father is clueless. She is a square peg to everyone's round hole -- until the end of "Eclipse" where she realizes she'd been fighting to fit into everyone's expectations which, although well intentioned, were far too small. In my own life, trying to fit myself into everyone else's plans for me resulted in deep unhappiness. It wasn't until I found the courage to step out into the dreams God placed within me that I found peace.
"I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future" (Jeremiah 29:11).
So, how about you? Do these connections between faith and fiction make sense to you? What's our response -- good, bad or ... well, try not to be too ugly.