Is Tradition the Enemy in Welcome to Paradise

Is Tradition the Enemy in Welcome to Paradise?

Lisa HollowayBy Lisa Holloway7 Minutes

The Welcome to Paradise movie is a faith-centered family film that takes on a lot of the tough issues in Christian life. Single-parenting. Homeless churchgoers. Favoritism in the church. How to act toward people we don’t like. Women in church leadership.

More than that, Welcome to Paradise gives the issues a very human face — that of the flawed and likable Reverend Debbie Laramie, played by actress Crystal Bernard (Wings), whose role as a female pastor is enough to spark controversy wherever she goes.

It’s easy to get stuck on that last part. Most believers have definite opinions about the role of women in the church, one way or the other. But if you stay focused on that one point, you’ll miss an even bigger question the movie asks …

What is the church?

What Does the Movie Say?

In the first scene, there’s a nod toward tradition as the answer. We see how it’s valued when Debbie is banished to Paradise, supposedly for flouting church traditions.

We see it again when Debbie invites a homeless musician, Trevor (Lou Beatty Jr.), to sing during the service and encounters disapproval. Again, traditional preferences — in this case, from wealthy churchgoers.

To associate pastor John Sullivan (Brad Stine), that’s what matters. In his words, “Love don’t pay the bills” — which, if you think about it, is an interesting perspective for a Christian leader to take. Remember: “God so loved the world that He gave His only son…” (John 3:16). There it is: a bill paid in full by love.

When the Paradise community experiences disaster, another possibility arises: Maybe the church is the building. And they feel pretty lost without one.

What We Try to Do

There’s a lot going on in the movie, and it’s tempting to get caught up in all of the smaller dramas and controversies, just as we do in everyday life. Sometimes we complicate things.

When we do, it’s easy to miss what Christ wants to do with those moments. We get a clearer view of what Welcome to Paradise really says about the church through the story of the homeless woman, Frances (Beth Grant, Rain Man).

After Frances makes a costly mistake, she gives her most priceless, irreplaceable possession to Debbie — a necklace her mother once gave her. Frances is like many of us — when she understands the damage she’s caused and knows nothing she can do will make up for it all, her heart is to try and make it right with what she has.

How often do we do something like that? We may know we need God, but our focus often stays on what we can do in our own strength.

What Does the Bible Say?

Identity fuels action. So what does the Bible say the church is, and how does that affect the church’s relationship with the world around it?

First of all, the church belongs to Jesus. He is the builder. He is also the cornerstone (Ephesians 2:20) — the one who holds it together and gives it direction.

Put another way, the church is the body of Christ, while Jesus is the head of the church. Each part of the body has a different purpose (1 Corinthians 12:12-14) and performs a necessary function. The head — Jesus — tells the rest of the body what to do.

What Did Jesus Value?

Throughout His ministry, Jesus made a point of reaching out to people society usually devalued — children, sinners, the diseased, the poor, and the broken. People there was no practical advantage to helping.

Want to know what Jesus valued? Look at the rare events that made Him indignant, as when His own disciples tried to get children out of the way of what they thought mattered:

“When Jesus saw what was happening, he was angry with his disciples. He said to them, ‘Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children’” (Mark 10:14).

Traditional perspectives shaped the disciples’ ideas about what mattered. Ultimately, is tradition the enemy in Welcome to Paradise? Not really. But when tradition becomes an idol, it stands in the way of what Christ wants to do in us and loads on requirements that Jesus never did.

Through Debbie’s welcome for all the “nobodies” she invites to church and potluck and makes a place for, she encourages the church body to value what Christ values.

What Is the Church?

In the end, Debbie gets another thing right: She gives back Frances’s necklace and gives her a place to stay and work to do. She gives Frances acceptance and identity.

That’s what the church does, when it’s working right — because that’s what Jesus Christ did for each of us. When we give Him all we have, He gives it back to us and then some. He paid the price for our mistakes because we can’t. All of our sins — past, present, and future — were nailed to the cross with Him (Colossians 2:14).

He gives us back who we truly are. A place to belong. A purpose and work to do, as He leads us. That “body of Christ” isn’t just something that fills seats while we listen to someone else preach sermons. It’s the hands and feet and everything else for the work of Christ here on earth.

That’s what the church is. And that’s the church they come a little closer to by the end of Welcome to Paradise.