A Note From Our Editor: “Conviction” -- By: John Warwick Montgomery
A Note From Our Editor: “Conviction”
“Conviction” is the title of a new film definitely deserving to be seen—even though it will hardly win Academy awards and has been panned by one critic as more of a TV drama than a big screen production. The title is a double entendre: an innocent man convicted of murder and given a life sentence and his sister’s conviction that the sentence must be vacated. The film is based on true life: a miscarriage of justice that occurred in Massachusetts in 1980.
The sister, one Betty Anne Waters, literally gives up her own existence in a singleminded effort—over eighteen years—to achieve the release of her brother Kenny, a tearaway with little to attract sympathy. Betty Anne, a waitress with no academic pretensions and no money to hire top-class counsel, attains a law degree so that she can achieve the necessary legal results. Whilst in law school, she learns that DNA evidence can be used to exculpate when (as in this case) the technique was not available at the time of the original investigation and conviction. Her studies result in the breakup of her marriage, her husband becoming sick-and-tired of her crusade. But ultimately she succeeds. Kenny is released and significant compensation is obtained for him owing to the prosecutorial misconduct of a female police officer interested only in obtaining a conviction.
The characters in the film show no religious orientation and the language employed will surely keep the film from appearing on the evangelical recommended lists. Why, then, should you see it? For some powerful theological reasons.
First: Conviction is a remarkable illustration of Jesus’ declaration: “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Betty Anne literally gave up her own life in order to free her brother. Toward the end of the film she asks her sons if they would do this for each other; neither can unqualifiedly say he would. That kind of love is of the rarest quality. Only our Lord manifested it perfectly—and for the sins of the whole world.
Christians should be the paramount examples of self-giving love—living as “little Christs for their neighbour,” in Luther’s felicitous expression, so beautifully depicted in the “Charity” paintings of Reformation artist Lucas Cranach the Elder.
Secondly (and this will surely irritate those readers who are first of all political and social conservatives—and, then, to be sure, conservative evangelicals): Conviction is, indirectly, a powerful statement against the death penalty. At one point in the film, after Betty Anne has obtained the help of the (actually existent) Innocence Project whi...
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