I recently highlighted a list of significant religious documentaries released in the past decade. Well…it looks like I missed one, but perhaps so did many of you. Thankfully, Lord Save Us From Your Followers will re-release in theaters on February 26. I had the opportunity to host two screenings of it as part of the Pacific School of Religion’s Earl Lecture Series.
Director Dan Merchant dons a painter’s suit plastered with religious or anti-religious bumper stickers and Jesus/Darwin decals. he travels the country interviewing people about topics ranging from ideas about Christians, Jesus, conversation, arguments, etc. and seasons them with countless media clips and dist-downs with the likes of Tony Campolo and others. He also stages longer scenes like a faux-gameshow between young conservatives and liberal elites, extensive scenes of Katrina recovery efforts, and a confessional booth (where he does the confessing) at a gay pride festival in Portland, Oregon. In the end, Merchant reveals the ups and downs of Christianity in the wider culture while attempting to encourage more civil discourse.
Even though Merchant encourages this discourse, the film itself isn’t free of problems…much like the people on which he turns his camera. There is still an us vs. them dichotomy established in the film that could be critiqued. The conservative evangelicals constant assertion that “we” (they) HAVE to love everyone is a bit problematic. Love doesn’t seem to be love if you HAVE to do it. Surely Jesus’ love for those with whom he came in contact, and God’s love for the world, comes from a place deeper and more compassionate than necessity.
On the other hand, the film lays out two key points worth discussing. First, Merchant makes a strong assertion that an apology is a firm foundation for conversation. For what could or should we apologize before beginning a conversation with someone with which we might disagree? In what ways are we complicit in the very disagreements or critiques of those conversation partners?
Secondly, though this question isn’t explicitly raised, the film leads us there: what questions are completely irrelevant in the face of radical compassion? What does sexual orientation, political affiliation, or religious identity matter in the face of radical compassion? On the other hand, in the face of radical compassion, what questions do matter? Why are people oppressed, why are there so many poor in our wealthiest of countries?
This film reminds us that we are all very complex, and for many, faith (or the lack thereof) is a significant ingredient in that complexity. Our conversations, dialogues, disagreements, and statements (both public and private) should reflect that. People and congregations looking for ways in which to better engage their surrounding communities, both locally and globally, would do well to watch Lord Save Us From Your Followers and to practice a little of what Merchant preaches.