Thursday, May 12, 2011

I was looking out the window. It was spring.

I watched Lord, Save Us from Your Followers this week with my husband (earlier in the week it was Modify, which Mihnea and I had to avert our eyes for portions of, No Impact Man, which has pushed me toward eating more local food, and Audience of One which was alternately hilarious and frightening in very different ways from Modify - I've been sick, so it's been a week of documentaries) and I have to say, I am a bit disappointed.

The basic premise is that an evangelical guy wonders why everyone can't just get along, is frustrated with the tendency to distill our beliefs into bumper sticker slogans, and decides to travel the US talking to people about how the "gospel of love" has divided us so thoroughly. Great idea, right?

He does the "man on the street" gig in a white jumpsuit covered in various bumper stickers (everything from a Jesus fish to a FSM to a bumper sticker that urges fellow drivers to vote pro choice), talking to average people about which bumper sticker is their favorite and why, what their general belief system is, and what they think of that Jesus dude. He also interviews various political, academic, and social leaders who consider themselves Christian, most of them evangelical, and this is where he begins to lose me.

One of the interviewees for this documentary is Rick Santorum. Yes, that Rick Santorum. The one with the Google Problem. Now, I don't have a problem with someone interviewing Rick Santorum, but what I do have a problem with is not giving us an introduction to Santorum's hateful politics and then proceeding to allow him to crow on about how Christians need to show love and work together with non-Christians. I mean, really? There was no other Christian politician who could have been interviewed who hasn't, say, compared loving sexual intercourse between two men to a man having sex with a dog? And if you must interview such an awful human being, at least have the courtesy to then give us the flip side of Santorum. To use a cliche, actions speak louder than words, and actions plus many many words that contradict what he said in this documentary completely invalidate everything Rick Santorum says in Lord, Save Us from Your Followers. I live in Pennsylvania. I worked actively to get this man the hell out of office. Watching him say with a straight face that Christians need to be more loving (pointing the finger at someone other than himself) was absurd.

My second issue follows close on the heels of Rick Santorum, and is named Rick Warren (Rick is a cursed name, apparently), a man who the documentary holds up as an amazing Christian. Yes, the Rick Warren who spent millions of dollars to help have gay marriage made illegal in California. The Rick Warren who gave rise to the term "saddlebacking" care of Dan Savage. Rick Warren, who may not have taken a paycheck from his church in the past few years, but who spent that money, instead of sending it to, say, AIDS orphans in Africa (an example of the amazing work being done by Christians in the this documentary is care given to AIDS orphans) by spending those millions of dollars to ruin the lives of people who just want to be free to love one another (hmmmm - why does that phrase sound familiar?) and have the same rights and status as heterosexuals in society. Wow. What an awesome guy, am I right???

After mentioning more than once what a great person Rick Warren is, the film then leads directly into a gay pride festival where our host goes to apologize to gay people for the sins of the church in a confessional-style booth. If this bit had not been more or less introduced by an ode to Rick Warren, I would have liked it a lot more. The people he confessed to seemed touched, and it was nice to watch the initial awkwardness between an evangelical Christian and members of the LGBTQ community give way to something more positive and healing. However, had I been one of the people interviewed and had then watched the documentary, I would be livid. When placed next to an unapologetic interview with Santorum and praise to Warren, the confession seems almost like a cruel joke. "I'll apologize to you, but only after I talk about what great people two of the men who have worked the hardest to make your lives hell are".

The documentary goes to pains to show how it's the average Christians who are working to make the world a better place rather than the mouthpieces, and I don't disagree that there are Christian groups out there who do work very hard to help the sick and distressed. Nor do I disagree that it is more often the average person who does the greatest work. The organizations highlighted in Lord, Save Us from Your Followers were presented in a very inspirational way, and the average individual people were much more inspiring and kind than the talking head segments.

I guess my confusion here is twofold - if the average Christian is, as this documentary argues, kind and compassionate and generous and loving, then why do they have such shitty leaders as Warren and Santorum? Why not decry these men? Why not have someone kind, someone giving, someone as full of love for the downtrodden and sick as the average person appears in this film, as their leader and figurehead (I mean, other than Jesus who doesn't totally count because he can't vote or hold public office)? It simply makes no sense that what is described as the loud, obnoxious, and hateful 10% gets to make all the decisions. Christians, if this is true, why not step up and get rid of these douche bags? Why not denounce them as publicly as you can?

My second "confusion" (or, should we say, doubt) is this - two of the interviewees in this documentary, the only two with whom I was at all familiar, are actually hateful men, not the lovingkindness-filled dudes they were made out to be. How do I know this is not the case for everyone interviewed in this documentary? I mean, we're 0 for 2 right now, and there was absolutely no honesty in how these men were presented. Again, was it that hard to find a Christian leader who is not a dick? I certainly hope not.

I was ranting and raving and getting pissed off at this documentary ("Why did he interview Santorum?" "Where's the interview with Dan Savage, hunh?" "Why not show what amazing work atheists and non-Christians do?"), and my husband gently pointed out to me that this documentary, in spite of its name, was at its heart a Christian documentary, and was meant to show the positive side of Christians in the US. There are no interviews with Dan Savage or non-Christian relief organizations because that's not the point. The point is that there are people trying to do good (and succeeding!), trying to bring people together, and trying to show care under the banner of Christianity in the United States,. It also urges Christians to continue that work and to be open to involving non-Christians in their work. I would add another call that I felt was unintentionally sent out by Lord, Save Us from Your Followers - if you are a Christian and you disagree with what the people who supposedly speak for you are saying, speak up. Get those people out of positions of power, and do it now.

This "review" may come off as slightly vitriolic, and I don't mean it to. However, I consider myself to be a member of the "B" part of LGBTQ, and I realized that at a very young age (4th grade, to be precise). At the time, I was going to a Lutheran church with my parents and I didn't have the word "bisexual", nor did I believe that my feelings were bad or wrong (I also believed that reincarnation just made sense, so I'm sure you can see where this is heading). Then, when I was in middle school, I became conscious of individuals who didn't simply not believe in Jesus, but who actively believed something different, and was absolutely horrified at the idea that these people, who were good, kind, and loving human beings, would go to hell if the beliefs I had been raised with were correct. That was the moment I stopped believing in the religion I was raised with. I recall that moment. I was in the car with my parents on our way to Giant Eagle. I was looking out the window. It was spring.

Of course, I eventually came out to my parents and was told by one of them that I was going through a phase (I'm sure they now believe this to have been the truth), though the other was perfect - absolutely accepting, and I am thankful every day that I had one parent who was able to make that leap. I stopped going to church as soon as I was 18. I struggled and I struggled and I struggled with spirituality for years, and I finally feel like I am getting to a place where spirituality is a wonderful, fulfilling, dare I say fun, aspect of my life that makes me a better person.

I am not a Christian. I do not think I ever will be a Christian. I am not sure I ever was a Christian. The church I used to go to is now a place where homosexuality was described by a church leader, in public, as "disgusting". It is a place where people are more worried about whether I had sex with a woman than whether I am a kind person. And for the record, I have had sex with multiple women. My only regret is that I probably wasn't very good for about half of them. I am trying to be a good person. These two things have very little to do with one another.

I think I might be ranting too much. I think this is a good place to stop.


mihnea said...

The first half of the documentary, when the filmmaker is trying to pursue his evangelical agenda, is pretty much a pointless cacophony. Once he visits the people affected by Katrina and the volunteers helping them, or when he apologizes to the gay community, or when he talks to the Night Strike Christians who are feeding and grooming the homeless, the narrative changes and the filmmaker finds his voice. The compassion for others and the regret for one's own intolerance comes to the surface in direct human contact and while witnessing the suffering of others. Perhaps without his intention the documentary shows that the genuine message of loving-kindness does not come from the high profile believers and their empty words delivered from political or religious pulpits, but from ordinary Christians who acknowledge the suffering of others and their own and who take the message of love to their heart.

Margaret Bashaar said...

Iubi! Thank you for posting this - I wanted to mention some of these things, but first, they were your thoughts, not mine, and second, this entry is already way long.

It's interesting to watch the filmmaker sort out his thoughts, though it makes the first half a bit tumultuous in terms of its organization.

I hope that his regret regarding intolerance eventually finds a more informed voice that recognizes the issues with giving people like Santorum the opportunity to spout such utterly insincere bullshit (at least, bullshit when it comes from Santorum) without any sanction.