“End of the Spear,” a film that opened in theaters nationwide last week, recounts one of the most extraordinary chapters in the modern missionary movement.
“End of the Spear,” a film that opened in theaters
nationwide last week, recounts one of the most extraordinary chapters
in the modern missionary movement.
Yet it has become an unexpected example of the
nation’s culture war, with an actor who is a homosexual activist
playing its lead character.
The film’s release marks the 50th anniversary of the
Jan. 8, 1956, killing of Nate Saint, Jim Elliot and three other
American missionaries by spear-wielding tribesmen in the Ecuadorian
The story continued when one of the missionaries’
sisters, Rachel Saint, and one of their widows, Elisabeth Elliot,
subsequently lived among the tribesmen, helping kindle faith among
those who had cast the spears and others in the pervasively violent
Elliot chronicled her experiences in “Through Gates
of Splendor,” which remains a classic among books on missions.
Nate Saint’s son, Steve Saint, who was 5 when his father was killed,
has made regular visits to tribesmen over the years – and found an
amazing bond with the one who speared his dad, a man named Mincaye now
in his mid-70s. And Steve Saint’s son, Jesse, and his family presently
live among the tribe.
“When the killings occurred, it shook the entire
Christian world and beyond,” Wayne Atcheson, admissions manager for the
Christian Writers Guild, recently wrote in an e-mail to friends. “I was
13 and remember it well. Only God knows of the thousands who were
influenced through their courageous effort, who committed their lives
to missionary and fulltime Christian service.
“Only God knows of the millions who have come to
faith in Christ through these men who were willing to risk and give
their lives as martyrs,” he added. “…No doubt, this is the most
powerful missionary story of the 20th century.”
“If you talk to someone who was a believer at the
time, it had the same effect as other events such as Kennedy’s
assassination – people remember where they were when they heard the
story,” wrote Jason Janz, assistant pastor of South Sheridan Baptist
Church in Denver, at SharperIron, his Internet Web log and forum
focusing on “news and ideas from a Christian, biblical, fundamentalist
“I heard someone at a missions conference say that
the greatest flood of American missionaries to land on foreign soil did
so after the deaths of these young men,” Janz continued. “… Who
hasn’t heard Elliot’s motto, ‘He is no fool who gives what he cannot
keep to gain what he cannot lose’?”
Janz, however, is among a number of Christians who
have voiced concerns about the casting of homosexual actor and activist
Chad Allen for the role of Nate Saint in End of the Spear.
The film’s lead producer, Mart Green,
producer/writer Bill Ewing and director Jim Hanon issued a
three-paragraph statement to Baptist Press concerning Allen, whose
career credits include one of the lead roles in “Dr. Quinn: Medicine
“We are the filmmakers of End of the Spear. We cast
Chad Allen because he had the best audition of anyone else by far. We
know that the character in the film and the actor are not the same. If
as a film company we could only work with people who were completely
sanctified, then the film would never have been made. We do not agree
with Chad over homosexuality. End of the Spear is not about Chad Allen,
but rather it’s about remarkable people who lived their faith against
all odds, and dared to reach out at the cost of their lives.
“The discussion over sin and working with sinners
has been in the body of Christ from the beginning. We are glad that our
lives are not being compared with Nate Saint. We don’t believe we would
“The story is greater than the storytellers and it
would be an enormous disservice if great stories of faith like this one
were reduced to the human shortcomings of the filmmakers. We invite you
to experience End of the Spear and then judge for yourself the message
you are left with.”
Mart Green, founder of the Every Tribe Entertainment
company that undertook the $30 million production, is the son of one of
the nation’s most generous donors to Christian causes,
David Green, founder of the nationwide Hobby Lobby chain.
Steve Saint has been a consultant to the film company, which is
donating half of any proceeds to benefit the Waodani (who had been
misidentified for years as Auca Indians) and other indigenous peoples.
Saint led Mart Green and others into the Ecuadorian jungle to ask the
tribe’s permission to film their story.
The producers have said they were not aware of Chad
Allen’s homosexuality when they gave him the role of Steve Saint in the
film but decided to stick with him once they were told of his sexual
Saint, who has befriended Allen, hopes that End of
the Spear will help other persons see “that all of us have tragic,
shattered relationships in our lives and that God is the one who can
put them back together in incredible ways.”
“If Mincaye and I can be very close friends, be
family, love each other, and my kids and my grandchildren can love
Mincaye and his family – if that can happen out of the tragic
relationship that we started with – then maybe it’ll give people hope
that their strained relationships can also be reconciled,” Saint
explained in an interview with the Billy Graham Evangelistic
Association’s Decision magazine. “And that, better yet, God can be part
of the answer.”
Saint, who has written a book likewise titled “End
of the Spear” (Tyndale), also has underscored the approach of telling,
for the first time, the story from the Waodanis’ vantage point.
Still, though, the culture war casts a cloud over End of the Spear.
Janz, on his Web site, noted that Chad Allen, who
plays Steve Saint in the film, was a proponent for “gay marriage” on
“Larry King Live” the night President Bush announced his support for a
constitutional amendment banning “same-sex marriage”; he has been on
the cover of one of the leading homosexual magazines, The Advocate; and
he has been featured in a production of “Corpus Christi,” a stridently
Christ-mocking stage play. Janz lamented that End of the Spear “will by
far be one of (Allen’s) biggest splashes on the screen.
“No doubt, his fan base will explode, especially
among Christian kids,” Janz explained. “Every e-mail that is sent from
evangelical teens will go through his hands. (Allen has said he
personally receives all e-mails sent to his fan website.)
“You cannot go to Chad’s Web site and spend any time
there without seeing his homosexuality on display,” he continued. “At
several points, kids can learn about gay publications, online
magazines, and support groups for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and
Janz suggested that the “Christian film-making
community (should) come up with a code of ethics that will show the
difference between a Christian film company and a secular film company.
If you are going to ask for our loyalty and support, you need to be
willing to hear our concerns and let us know that you will protect our
beliefs, not muddy the waters.”
He also suggested that people who want to see the
film “wait until it comes out on video and have lots of people over to
see it in their home. That way, Every Tribe Entertainment doesn’t get
as much income.”
Saint is accustomed to controversy, having heard
periodic criticisms of how his father and the other missionaries
approached the Waodani.
Ruth Tucker, a professor of missiology at Calvin
Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Mich., and author of “From
Jerusalem to Irian Jaya: A Biography History of Christian Missions,”
described the missionaries’ actions as “fundamentally flawed” in a
Religion News Service story.
“To me, it would have been surprising if they had
not been killed,” Tucker said, conceding that some good was
accomplished, but more good would have come of the situation if the
five martyrs had done things more judiciously.
Saint, in a news story in The Charlotte World, noted
that within a few years of the missionaries’ first contact with the
Waodani, the tribe’s homicide rate had dropped by 90 percent. About 20
percent became Christians.
“Where were they supposed to go to come by this
cultural wisdom?” Saint asked. “No one had ever had contact. To suggest
that they had not taken every precaution is ludicrous.
“This story has had an impact far beyond human
wisdom,” Saint continued. “If they broke every rule of good solid
method, then I say we perhaps need to have fewer rules.” (BP)