Four Weddings and a Funeral, now 20 years old, remains a great film; credit where credit is due. In the best tradition of comedy it powerfully combines some very funny moments with the tragedy of the powerful funeral scene. It pokes fun at the English establishment, the cultural traditions surrounding weddings and the experience of expecting to get married, but it never quite coming together. Yet its superb sugar coating hides, or at least distracts from, a powerful delegitimation of Christian standards.
Some of the elements are obvious: Andie MacDowell’s Carrie’s listing of her THIRTY THREE sexual partners offers a blatant legitimation of this behaviour, which Hugh Grant’s Charles fails to come close to. We are beaten around the head with the message that the gay relationship – which is presented as the most stable that any of the group have achieved – is perfectly OK; the film, along with Queer as Folk, some five years later, helped build the attitude of ‘tolerance’ that rapidly led to Civil Partnerships and now gay ‘marriage’.
Less blindingly obvious is the total acceptability of promiscuous sex – but that’s mainly because we are so used to it that it doesn’t come as any sort of a surprise – and that ‘love legitimates anything’; Charles and Carrie ending up in bed after the second wedding despite Carrie being engaged to someone else. It’s perhaps a stretch, but perhaps this logic has crept into the modern theories of the atonement that reject any concept of propitiation or substitution, arguing that the death of Jesus ‘shows the love of God for the world’, but implying that God is free to ignore the requirements of justice in ‘just forgiving’ anyone for anything; God’s love makes it happen…
So how should Christians react? The traditional solution was censorship; sadly a few Christians still seek to try this. Usually this is welcomed by the producers, for whom the publicity generated by such caterwauling is worth millions, as well as achieving nothing of value. Related to this is the idea that Christians should totally ignore such cultural icons; whilst marginally healthier – and certainly something which we should attempt for our younger children – the long term consequence of this is to ensure that Christians have no common language with the world in which to express the gospel.
The real answer surely is to go along for the ride, enjoy the jokes, but think about what messages were being projected, how it was done, and what we can learn about how to be equally effective in our presenting of God’s message. Culture is not a stable thing; rather it is changing at a remarkable rate not least as a result of the power of the mass media to amplify the viewpoints which are chosen. Yet Christians must recognise the reality to conform IS enormous; the media are one of the challenges that we do face day by day – we need to think hard about what the messages are, and remember that they are often not telling God’s truth.