CHICAGO (Christian Examiner) – Two years after the faith-based film "God's Not Dead" surprised movie observers to become a box-office sensation, its sequel is set to be released with a theme some say is essentially ripped right out of the headlines.
"God's Not Dead 2" (PG) will open in theaters April 1, spotlighting a high school history teacher named Grace Wesley (Melissa Joan Hart) who is asked by a student about the similarities between Jesus' teachings and those of Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi. She responds by saying that King's nonviolence was inspired by Christ's beliefs – a statement that gets her in trouble with school officials who demand she apologize for violating the "separation of church and state."
The student's parents then sue the teacher, arguing that Jesus, as a historical figure, never even existed.
"God's Not Dead" opened in the Top 5 in 2014 and stayed there for another two weeks, and ended its run with a gross of $60 million – an impressive total for a movie that was made for merely $2 million.
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee has a cameo appearance in "God's Not Dead 2" and spoke with Christian Examiner about the film, its message and the subject of religious liberty. Following is a transcript, edited for clarity:
Christian Examiner: How did you get involved in "God's Not Dead 2"?
Huckabee: When I was asked to be in a cameo role, I was thrilled, because I loved the first movie and thought it would be a lot of fun to be a part of. But I also thought the newer movie had a very powerful message. Truthfully, it fulfilled kind of a bucket list, as I always said I'd like to have a little part in a movie. But I did not know the full script until I got to see a screening of it. And when I did, I was really, really impressed with the powerful message of it. I thought it was extremely well written and well acted. It's sort of like "Godfather 2" – it's actually better than the original. The production values on it were first class. This is one thing I like about films that [producer] David A.R. White does; he's very insistent that the production values are equal to anything else that's on the big screen.
CE: One of the co-writers said the message in the movie is only about half a step ahead of reality in America – that this exact situation hasn't happened yet, but it easily could happen. Do you agree?
Huckabee: Absolutely. It's as if the storyline could be ripped from the pages of any daily newspaper. It's very realistic. It's very plausible. You really don't have to have a suspension of belief to see this movie happening. But I think it also is a challenging movie, and it calls for every believer to look deep within: What do you do when your faith and following Christ means it's going to cost your something – and you don't know what the outcome is going to be? The movie didn't give any pretense to, "Well, if you just love Jesus, everything is going to be great." It was more realistic: If you really love Jesus, you're going to be really put through some tests, and the outcome will not be guaranteed.
CE: Do you fear what the future holds for Christians and Christian beliefs?
Huckabee: Yes. When we see an elected county clerk put in jail, with bail, because she followed not just her conscience, but she followed the law of her state in regards to marriage — she believed the same thing that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton believed just three years before it. Then you see people who are criminalized and fined up to $185,000 because they refused to make a wedding cake for a homosexual couple, or the people who have lost their photography business. These aren't hypothetical cases. These are real, live, cases of people who are being persecuted and punished because their beliefs and their Christian faith has become out of sync with a very, very politically correct and secular world.
CE: Of course, the debate over religious liberty is larger than the marriage issue.
Huckabee: I think that's the power of the movie. It didn't focus on just marriage or the sanctity of life, but the bigger issue of religious liberty. The point was very powerful in the film – you can mention Islam and that's OK. You can mention just about any religion in the world, and that's just considered a study of history. But if you specifically mention Jesus, then suddenly that turns into a sectarian religious discussion and we supposedly can't have that – even though you can't deny the historical fact that Jesus was a real person. He had an enormous impact on not only His world but the world that we live in today. That's an indisputable fact of history. If you take that out of any historical discussion, then now you have re-written history and you're giving children a very incomplete picture of the story. You're robbing them of an honest education. How do you even discuss how we measure time – B.C. and A.D. – if Jesus can't be brought up? How do you talk about the holiday Christmas?
CE: How, then, do we get back to where we need to be? What should Christians do?
Huckabee: I think we have to approach it on a multi-front basis. One, we need to push back legally. We need to defend ourselves in court when we are either charged with some type of violation or when we're sued. It's one of the reasons that organizations like Alliance Defending Freedom and Liberty Counsel are so very important and valuable. Secondly, we need to challenge pastors to teach and preach truth again. If people don't understand the biblical standard, then they won't defend it. And one of the reasons we're losing many of the issues we're losing is that people don't know what the truth is. It's like they're trying to play a musical instrument that hasn't been tuned. If you don't have a tuning fork, there never will be a very pleasant tune.
In theaters April 1. For information on group tickets and show times, visit GodsNotDeadTheMovie.com.