Warning Spoilers ahead!
I really liked Captain America: Civil War. I liked it for several reasons. First, the airport fight scene is one of the most perfect scenes of any movie ever. I liked that the plot was a bit more than smash bad guys and save the world. I liked the change of pace, where the bad guy actually won. The movie was about people in costumes fighting each other, but it was also an exploration in how complicated right and wrong can actually be. The type of turmoil that drove the conflict between Captain American and Iron Man is the type of turmoil that we can find within American Christianity.
In the movie the central aspect of the conflict is based around how the heroes operate. Iron Man is willing to accept regulations and control for the greater good. Captain America is not willing to give up his right to do what he thinks is right. The movie does an excellent job at pointing out that both heroes’ viewpoints are valid. The themes of conflict in Civil War really stuck out to me because I am a United Methodist, and my denomination is very much in the middle of a civil war over the issue of human sexuality.
One of the key lines in the movie is delivered by Sharon Carter in an eulogy. She says. “ I asked her once how she managed to master diplomacy and espionage at a time when no one wanted to see a woman succeed at either. And she said,
"Compromise where you can. Where you can't, don't. Even if everyone is telling you that something wrong is something right. Even if the whole world is telling you to move, it is your duty to plant yourself like a tree, look them in the eye, and say, 'No, you move'. “
The conflict in the movie comes from the fact that both heroes plan themselves by what they believe to be the river of truth, and tell each other to move. The conflict in the church comes from both sides doing the same thing. I have no desire to wade into the debate about which side is right and wrong regarding human sexuality. You probably already have your own opinion anyway. Rather, I want to focus on the three pitfalls of conflict that Captain America: Civil War points out.
1. Both sides are right, both sides are wrong: This is one of the things that made the movie so engaging. The viewpoints of both sides had a lot of validity, but both sides were not perfect in their logic. This is very evident when the heroes clash at the airport. At that point in the movie it is really hard to say who is right. The fact that the viewpoints of Captain America and Iron Man drove them to conflict shows that both sides were entrenched. There is no effort in the movie to find a middle ground or third way. At one point vision literally draws a line in the sand (or rather tarmac), and the heroes choose their side. In an effort to be right, the two sides fight and everyone ends up in the wrong.
2. When it gets personal the truth no longer matters: By the end of the movie Captain America and Iron Man are beating the living daylights out of each other. At this point it is no longer about what the ideological truth is, but it became about beating the other person into submission. This is because it became deeply personal for both of them. Translating this to the real world, the conflict of human sexuality has the same problem. I am not generalizing everyone who has a stake in this debate, but in my experience I have heard people argue for both side of the issue from a place that was deeply personal. The conflict stopped being about what is Christian truth, and only became about beating the other side.
3. When the heroes fight, evil wins: In Captain America Civil War the heroes fight a lot. There are lots of innocent people hurt, and a lot of property destroyed. In the end it was all for nothing. Baron Zemo’s whole plot was just to get the heroes to fight. When it comes the human sexuality debate, I have to wonder if we are being similarly deceived. When the church fights, evil wins. All of the energy we spend arguing is energy we do not spend proclaiming Jesus saves. I know both sides of the debate will argue that their side winning is essential to being able to proclaim the gospel in the first place, but that is not entirely true. When we fight we do not honor the command that Jesus gave to his disciples to “love one another.”
Captain America: Civil War is a fun movie, but it is also a powerful movie. It does not resolve neatly with a happy ending. The heroes fight, the world suffers, and no one truly wins. This was the end result of two sides planting themselves like a tree and saying, “no you move.” Quite honestly, this is what the two side of the United Methodist church has been doing, and I hope we can learn from the mistakes of Captain America and Iron Man.