What the MCU Can Teach SDAs

It’s easy to underestimate the importance of representation when your identity is seen as the “default”.

Myriads of articles, blogs, think pieces, research papers, class curricula, and books have been written about the Black Panther movie—part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Hundreds of groups have sprung up on social media to talk about the themes of the movie—including one Facebook group boasting over 9000 members who identify in some way or another as Adventists (or at least SDA adjacent). And it’s only been two weeks! Many people don’t understand the hype. And others—many of whom are Adventist as well—have chastised those who have seen it. Not just because of the usual Adventist anti-theatre stance, but also for the focus on traditional African cultures that we have been conditioned for so long to view as antithetical to Christianity. Now, of course I’m not advocating syncretism. But, apart from the religious traditions, Christians have been taught that Africanness is simply incompatible with our faith.

In the comment section of Spectrum’s Christ Whittaker review of the movie, someone noted that our pride should be in the love of God—not cultural heritage. This is something that is oft repeated in Christian circles. We need to “shed” our identities to embrace a unifying new identity as Christian. Which sounds very nice…until you break down what that means. Only some groups are asked to change themselves; they set aside their traditional clothing, instruments, and liturgical style for those that are decidedly Christian (read: Anglo). If we are honest, we should all realize that there’s is nothing remarkably Christian about wearing a suit instead of a djellaba, playing an organ instead of a jembe or worshiping sitting in a pew instead of by a river. The singing, the preaching, and even the pacing of worship services will be infused with someone’s tradition. There is no “neutral”. No culture is inherently sacred just as none are inherently opposed to Christianity. Jesus is equal opportunity.

Last my last month’s Spectrum column I wrote about how many churches have“cultural days” to signify a “break” from the “norm”. But no one wants to merely be thrown breadcrumbs of nominal representation. People want to feel integral. That’s why it was so refreshing to see black and brown faces populating a blockbuster—not as mere extras or incidental characters, but as main participants and crucial actors.

This film wasn’t just significant for black people in general, but it was groundbreaking for its treatment of women especially. Women were not portrayed as simple accessories, love interests, or damsels in distress, but as agents of meaningful action in their own right. One of the main characters, Shuri, is a teen genius in the Marvel Universe. Another black, adolescent, female character, Iron Heart (who is elsewhere in this comic universe), also has a Superior IQ. Immediate parallels were drawn and some people commented that they should fuse the characters in an upcoming film. That would be foolhardy. After all the pains Marvel took to demonstrate diversity and range for both ethnic minorities and women in Black Panther, it would be a step back to merge two brilliant black female characters into one—especially in a world where there is apparently room for 34 different white male heroes named Chris! There’s room for more melanin.

Likewise, if our church is to continue progressing instead of regressing, we need to be intentionally inclusive, both culturally and across gender lines. Not just with background characters, but in leadership as well. Not just with tokens, but in real substantial numbers. I recall many years ago when a conference that was one of the few in the NAD who hired female pastors rejected one of my gifted colleagues and friends. The reason given was as straightforward as it was hurtful: the then president stated, “we can’t be the only conference hiring women, we have three already.”

Why think like that? There’s so much opportunity for all of us—regardless of gender and color and culture—we can all play substantive roles in this movement for God! As Benjamin Baker pointed out, Adventist women and people of color have already been bold agents of change for Christ. There is room for many more of these stories to be told!

For years we have asked the question of how to keep and sustain our church for the future. The answer is not to whitewash everyone’s traditions and pretend we aren’t diverse. And the answer is not to set arbitrary quotas for inclusion. The answer is to create an atmosphere where we genuinely embrace a variety of people and allow them all to be integral actors—not just background to a white or all male foreground. And though some may feel threatened because it’s a deviation from what many have grown to expect, making this change won’t require casting anyone aside. I promise you, there’s room enough for everyone.

Courtney Ray, MDiv, PhD is a clinical psychologist and ordained minister of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Previous Spectrum columns by Courtney Ray can be found at:


Image Credit: Marvel Studios / Black Panther Facebook page

If you respond to this article, please:

Make sure your comments are germane to the topic; be concise in your reply; demonstrate respect for people and ideas whether you agree or disagree with them; and limit yourself to one comment per article, unless the author of the article directly engages you in further conversation. Comments that meet these criteria are welcome on the Spectrum Website. Comments that fail to meet these criteria will be removed.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/8602
1 Like

Yes, powerful women were featuresd in this movie, and yes they were gorgeous and gave stellar performances.

However, the king’s body guard, who were
(unusual for bodyguards )
female, engaged in the most horrific body to body combat.

I do not enjoy watching violent females in venomous combat.

This movie was filled with gratuitous VIOLENCE from beginning to end!
The body count was incalculable.

It is one of the worst movies I have seen—I would have walked out, had not the weather outside been horrible, and my car parked blocks away!

The all black caste of upscale famous black actors, has given this movie hype and heft.

However, the glorification of gore was gratuitous and ghastly !


I have learned to, or never outgrown the childish habit of covering my eyes at the violent parts of movies. Good stories are so deeply satisfying that I don’t want to miss out just because I don’t like one aspect of it. I imagine it’s not a movie for little kids, but I definitely plan on watching when I get the chance.

That caveat aside, I think focusing on what you didn’t like about it misses both the amazing impact the movie is having and the point of this article. Society in general and the church in particular, both need to make black, brown, and female voices so common that it’s no longer newsworthy when they are there!


I really don’t understand why people keep complaining about a pausity of strong female characters and women being portrayed as “damsels in distress”. This may have been the case not long ago but now every other tv show and movie has female characters with extraordinary skills beating up and taking down men.

1 Like

Great post. But I really don’t think this is ever going to happen in the church. We can’t even decide if women are fully human and capable of being ordained.

Then there’s the rampant paranoia, like this, from the other version of this article:

I agree that this is what people think, but personally can’t figure out why they think this way. What coherent thought could possibly work its way through somone’s head that would lead them to think that being exposed to other cultures, even if they are violently hostile to Christianity, is an issue? How is that an issue? What possible result could be a problem? This is a delusion.

I agree, but I don’t think it’s ever going to happen. We’ve been regressing now for at least a decade. I see no sign of that changing. I see Ted pushing as hard as he can to get back to the 1950’s.

This article is refreshing, especially when coming from a minister. However, my impression is that it is ministers that are causing most of the issues in the church, whether in the local churches or (and more so) in various levels of management. As long as management puts the screws to ministers to tow the line, and as long as they continue leading their congregations they way they are, things will continue as they are.

Most members of the flock behave like sheep. They listen to the local authority and follow. As long as the church authorities don’t mirror the ideals presented here, they won’t come to fruition for most members, who will continue to live in fear of the other, in fear of the future, in fear of change, and, at the same time, with a misplaced sense of religious superiority.

I think you may have mistaken the Adventist Church for the Marvel Universal in reference to who is the source of problems within the church. I have yet to see a church which is exclusively dominated by a particular pastor as you seem to imply is the norm.
Churches, like countries, tend to get the leaders they deserve. I don’t want to be so facile as to say it’s all because of members that we have the challenges we do when it comes to openness. However, I have seen my fair share of pastors and administrators skewered by the sheep for attempting to be just a tad bit more inclusive than the flock was prepared to accept.
We are all in this together and it would be helpful if we chose instead of pointing the finger at the “brethren” or the “sheeple” we sought to do everything in our personal power to reflect the receptive nature off Christ.


This is a different and more forgivable issue, as members struggle to do the right thing, led by pastors.
As leaders they will have a good response to criticism of more progressive and inclusive ideas.

But most members don’t struggle with what they hear from the church. They just go with it, that being my point.

No argument there, but it won’t change the corporate church unless we all demand they change. And we won’t, based on history.

When I looked at the description of this movie, I thought “why would some ever want to go there? who say they are Christ’s followers.” Could they possibly imagine Jesus sitting through such a movie?

This is a different and more forgivable issue, as members struggle to do the right thing, led by pastors.
As leaders they will have a good response to criticism of more progressive and inclusive ideas.

But most members don’t struggle with what they hear from the church. They just go with it, that being my point.

I’m a bit confused. It sounds like you essentially affirmed the point I was trying to convey. Who bears responsibility for following along and not struggling? Is it the leadership or the ones being lead?

couldn’t agree with you more! your point is right on!

The point was against “PRIDE in one’s race, in one’s cultural heritage”. Such PRIDE, aggregated in community group-think, results in rampant racism in which individuals become blind. A good example of this is found in early 20th century German Nationalism. Even SDA were caught up in serving the good of the Fatherland, and the denomination split because of it.

See here: http://www.history.ucsb.edu/projects/holocaust/Research/Proseminar/corrieschroder.htm

The Jews are typical of a people who, saved from destitue slavery, turn right around and, glorying in their new-found national pride, despise “others” – which prompted Jesus to tell the parable of the Good Samaritan in answer to the question, “But, who is my neighbour?” Luke 10:25-37 Even today, you would think that the Jews of all people, after suffering the brutality of concentration camps, would never build a wall around a people whose land was taken away, and subject them to destitution.

Man is short-sighted. He doesn’t see the end of the road he is on. For this reason, Jesus even now reminds us that the things of this world are passing away, but there is something that remains forever: the character of inclusiveness and compassion which transcends the suit and tie, the djellaba, the organ, the jembe, the pew, the river bank, the bank account, the stunningly attractive face, the beautiful skin …

Naked you came from your mother’s womb, and naked you will return to dust; but if you clothe yourself in righteousness, you will shine like the stars forever and ever. Philippians 3:7-11

Remember that.


Not certain exactly what, but something seems diametrically amiss here.

I suspect that our real question is, can the SDA teach the MCU, and open-arms, welcome it into their sanctuaries, with all of the attendant baggage?

Priorities, that niggling question of intent. Should we choose to further enrich the MCU, too?
And like the rest of society, worship fawningly at its many altars?
What, exactly, does the MCU effectively teach our larger culture-how best can we refute that?

IF “the SDA” can (or ought) be taught by Hollywood, we seem to have missed the mark, and badly, if it were only by virtue (or lack therof) regarding racially delineated conferences.
We ARE a house divided, what does that portend for us?
And if we seek unity from the silver screen, what do we to the unity in spirit?
See Eph4;3, Mark3;25