The 1998 film, Pamela’s Prayer, opens with a title card that informs us that “Pamela Bucklin” got married in 1992 when she was 22 years old. It’s a bit of an odd opening, because I imagine that there were a lot of 22 year-olds who got married in 1992.
The film then flashes back to the 70s and we learn that, after her mother died in childbirth, Pamela was raised by her father, Wayne (Rick Scheiderman). Wayne works at the family business, a Christian film library which specializes in sending films (like this one!) to church groups and evangelical retreats. Wayne prays with Pamela every night. As Pamela grows up, he makes clear to her that she’s to wait until marriage. From Wayne’s point of view, that means no dating, no kissing, no male friends at all. Needless to say, once Pamela becomes a teenager, she starts to resent Wayne’s protectiveness but, since this is a faith-based film, Pamela’s rebellion is not only very chaste but it only lasts for one night and it leads to a sleazy boy spreading rumors about her. Later, that same boy goes on a date with Jessica, who is also Pamela’s best friend, and things do not end well. When Pamela informs Wayne about all of this, Wayne can barely suppress smirk. It’s a real “I Told You So” moment.
Fortunately, there’s a nice boy working at the Christian Film Library and eventually, he and Pamela have one of those courtships where they don’t even hold hands. After getting Wayne’s permission, they marry. (Jessica, being the maid of honor, can only wonder why she has yet to find the one.) Having waited 22 years to even kiss a boy, Jessica decides that she can wait for a few minutes more and she calls her father …. ON HER WEDDING NIGHT! …. so that they can pray together over the phone.
I think that I’ve proven over the years that I can be fair when it comes to judging faith-based films on their own merits but seriously, Pamela’s Prayer is exactly the type of faith film that drives other people crazy. I mean, don’t get me wrong. Some people choose not to have sex before marriage and, if that’s their decision, that’s fine. Personally, I think it’s a bit foolish to go into a commitment like marriage blind but whatever. The problem with Pamela’s Prayer, though, is that its emphasis on purity feels rather cult-like and it’s never really Pamela’s decision not to date or to kiss. Instead, it’s all due to Pamela’s father ordering her to wait. One gets the feeling that Pamela spent the first 22 years of her life being controlled by father and now she’ll spend the next 60 or 70 years being controlled by her husband. What does Pamela want? The film seems to suggest that it really doesn’t matter.
Christian films always seem to struggle when it comes to dealing with sex. I guess it’s understandable when you consider that, especially in the 90s, the majority of these films were made to be shown at church meetings and to youth groups. An honest discussion about sex and attraction and the suggestion that sex can be more than just a marital obligation would probably have scandalized the film’s target audience. That’s one reason why films like this always seem to resort to the best friend who gets “in trouble.” In this film, it leads to a telling of the story of Jesus and the woman accused of adultery, with the emphasis being not on Jesus ordering people not to cast stones but instead on Jesus saying, “Go and sin no more.” To me, that’s missing the most important part of the story. Don’t throw stones, people!
In the end, Pamela’s Prayer is about as effective as an old purity ring.