I recently ran across the short film Is She Crazy?! Mary James: The Preacher Lady of Riverdale, winner of “Best US Documentary Short” at the 2011 San Diego Christian Film Festival. I was telling some of our men about it at our monthly men’s fellowship last Saturday and thought I’d do a post.
The brief film (only c. 20 minutes long) is about Mary James, a woman who for the past five years has stood by highway 85 in Riverdale, Georgia “preaching” to those who pass by. The title of the film reflects the question of many who have seen Mary James by the roadside. Is this woman mentally unbalanced? The film sympathetically shows that Mary James is not “crazy” but pursuing a “ministry” she feels strongly about. The film also shows how Mary James has become a staple of the Riverdale, Georgia community with nearly everyone who lives there having frequently seen or encountered her on the street (BTW, reminding me of “the waving man” on Rt. 29, near Covesville, VA). She also receives frequent cash gifts and meals from those who pass, offering their support.
Few will watch this film and not be touched by this single mother’s testimony of becoming a Christian out of a rough background, her devotion to doing what she thinks is her calling, the obvious affection of the community for her, and her simple trust in God to provide for her needs (she is apparently homeless and relies on supporters of her “ministry” to survive).
When we look beyond emotions, however, the film demonstrates some of the problems with revivalism, charismatic theology, easy-believism evangelism, and the uncritical promotion of “street preaching” or “open air evangelism” as a general obligation and calling.
Among the questions raised in my mind by the film were these:
- Should one who is not qualified or called to church office (as Mary James is not on several grounds) be encouraged to engage in this kind of “open air evangelism” and “street preaching”? Does this help or hinder the cause of Christ?
- Does the sincerity of a person’s motives or the pathos of her personal story exempt that person from Biblical standards for exercising public ministry?
- Does the literal “drive-by evangelism” practiced by Mary James (and those like her) reflect in any way legitimate Biblical evangelism and the call to Christian discipleship?
- How might Mary James’ story have been dramatically different if she had been evangelized and come under the discipleship of a sound pulpit ministry and a sound doctrinal church?
- Is it legitimate even to evaluate (judge) such efforts given that Jesus taught, “he that is not against us is for us” (Luke 9:50—I’ll be expositing this verse Sunday!) Or, are we justified to “test the spirits” (1 John 4:1) and not give approval to any and every minister or ministry (2 John 10)?
Romans 10:9 "You have to go through inviting Jesus into your heart"
I've never heard it put quite that way. She must use the MJV (Mary James Version)!
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