Dallas Buyers Club & the Church



I may have been the last person on earth to do it, but I just saw “Dallas Buyers Club.” So good. No wonder it won three Oscars.

Near the end, in the courtroom scene, I thought of you. (I confess, I’m always thinking of you!) Even if you haven’t seen “Dallas Buyers Club,” this will make sense to you — and it won’t spoil the movie.

It’s when Ron (Matthew McConaughey) goes to court to seek permission to use the drugs he has gotten in Mexico to treat his AIDS. The judge empathizes, he says, because he knows people are dying, and these drugs and supplements are helping, but he can’t do anything about it because he has to uphold the law — and the drugs are not approved in the United States.

It’s a perfect picture of legalism: law receives higher priority than people. That is legalism in a nutshell. It was a problem with “Dallas Buyers Club” — and it’s the problem with church.

People were dying. It was a crisis situation. No one had answers. These drugs were helping. Yet the judge put the FDA regulations above people. He said, “I know, the FDA was put in place to protect people, and here they’re being used to hurt people — but I have to uphold the regulations.”

Yeah. It doesn’t make sense.

He could say, “The FDA is for people; and in this case it’s hurting people; you FDA boys go fix the regulations so they help people instead.” Why not?!? If the judge couldn’t do that because he was bound by the law, then that’s a breakdown in the system.

Every time religious leaders brought their laws to Jesus, they expected him to say (like the judge), “Oh, you got me! I can see this law is hurting people, but we’ve got to stick with the law.” No, and no. Jesus never prioritized law over people. He said, in essence, “You put that away! Don’t ever make law more important than people! Don’t you know people are more important than laws? The law was made for people, not people for the law. Come on, now!” He did it here and here.

Both these situations have the same rotten core: greed and selfish gain of the “legalists.” The drug companies manipulated the FDA to push dangerous meds and prohibit life-saving drugs and supplements. They threw those who were dying of AIDS under the bus so they could line their own pockets.

Likewise, the religious leaders wanted Jesus to back them up on their own plans for selfish gain. They trotted out laws, just like the FDA, to say, “See, here? You have to support us. The law says so.” But they could never trick him. Instead, Jesus called them out on their abuse.

Unlike the judge, Jesus wasn’t manipulated by those legalists. Instead he said, “Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.’

Every one of us who claim Jesus’ name likewise need to find out what it means that God wants us to prioritize mercy, not the law.


4 thoughts on “Dallas Buyers Club & the Church

  1. Thank you so much for the thoughtful piece! It’s so very true, and relevant.

    I write for Impact as well and this is a subject very near and dear to me. I’m HIV+, and survived the plague, living in San Francisco and Los Angeles in my formative years in the 80s and 90s. There are a number of converging films, blog pieces, the release of “The Normal Heart” this week about exactly what you’re writing, and such that are coming to the forefront, and each in some way deals with the role that the church has played, and is still playing, in the spread of AIDS and HIV infections.

    Access to and the dissemination of medication is the biggest hindrance to getting this under control in the developing world. In addition, where we were targeted as incurring God’s wrath during the Reagan years, faith-based initiatives implemented in the Bush II era redirected monies to 15 nations that are currently seeing tremendous backlash and scapegoating of LGBTs (concurrent to the rise of AIDS). It’s nearly identical to what those of us at Ground Zero experienced in years past and now, as was true then, the church is preaching abstinence and adherence to God’s will as the means of controlling the spread.

    This is a complex issue. To put things in perspective, though it was horrific in the US, only 1.7% of the 78 million infections (and 38 million deaths thus far since 1981 worldwide) were in North America. Put another way, 98.3% (according to the CDC) died abroad – and are dying. This is a disease at its infancy, and we’re lulled into thinking that a sleeping monster is gone and relegated to the history books. I’m reminded of how untrue this is every night, when I take the 2 pills (which cost about $24,000/year) that keep my own condition “manageable.”

    I would highly, highly encourage you to peruse a series currently written by Caris Adel (over the past week) entitled “Gays, AIDS and the Church” at http://www.carisadel.com. It’s a broad overview that opened even my own eyes on what’s occurring now, and what needs to be done by Christians and other faith groups to curb this.

    Apologies for the lengthy reply. There’s much atonement to be made to those who lost loved ones in the name of “God’s/Nature’s revenge” in the 80s and 90s. But even more, the breadth of devastation that this is wreaking for lack of access to treatment, dissemination of lethal information on prevention, and worst of all, silence and apathy on our part are recreating a perfect storm abroad.

    Thank you again.

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