LORD, SAVE US FROM YOUR FOLLOWERS
Best Christian Film, 2009 - 4 Stars
Quirky, Fun, Intelligent, Compelling
I was apprehensive about seeing this one. It was being described as "Michael Moore meets Monte Python," which says to me, "lies," "disrespect" and "off-the-wall humor." Well, the off-the-wall humor is there, but not the lies and disrespect. To the contrary, I found the film to be very well researched, balanced in its opinions, interesting and entertaining - plus it has a great message.
"Why is the Gospel of Love dividing America?" is the question being posed by filmmaker Dan Merchant, who spent four years looking for the answer. Wearing a white jump suit covered in bumper stickers carrying Christian and anti-Christian slogans, he would walk up to people on the street and ask them to pick out a sticker they liked. Then they'd talk about it. Predictably, most of the responses reflect stereotypical prejudices.
There are a lot of well-known talking heads in the film, representing both conservative Christians and liberal atheists, as well as everything in between. Al Franken gets a lot of screen time, unfortunately. His comments are probably the emptiest of anyone's. He loves to hear himself talk... and laugh, with a smile strangely reminiscent of the Joker. Others, like Bono from U2, are very moving in what they have to say. His pleas for Christians to reach out to the poor are sincere, compelling and are followed up by his own example of compassion.
While Lord, Save Us From Your Followers starts off by telling everything that's wrong with Christians in America today, it ends by showing everything that's right. Merchant gives three examples of Christians that are getting it right. First, a group of Christians reaching out to AIDS victims in Africa. Second, the many groups of mostly white Christians who came to New Orleans following Katrina to help the mostly black communities rebuild their homes. And, third, a group of Christian volunteers in Portland, Oregon, who, each Friday night, give haircuts and other acts of hygiene and love to street people. In all three cases, those being ministered to had nothing but praise for their care-givers.
This is a stark contrast to all the name-calling and finger-pointing in the first half of the film.
There's a lot of emphasis on Christians reconciling with those they've hurt: for example, homosexuals. One homosexual transvestite in particular, who's dressed as a cross between a nun and a clown, figures prominently. He/she is seen initially in a group of activists trying to shout down a group of young Christian protesters on the steps of City Hall in San Francisco. Afterwards, the filmmaker interviews him/her and we get to hear some of his/her complaints about Christians. Later, Merchant sets up a confessional at a gay rally, where, rather than hearing confessions, he offers his own confessions to gay people willing to listen. Basically, the filmmaker apologizes for all the things Christians have done wrong to homosexuals in the past.
I feel the same way about this as I do about Obama apologizing to the world for America's mistakes, and the Catholic Church apologizing to Muslims for the Crusades: you can't go back and relive history, nor do we know today what the exact circumstances were that led to these incidents. I'm guessing that most of us, if we had been in those same circumstances, would probably have acted in the same way, or worse. Our ancestors were courageous men and women of character and principle, for the most part. How dare we presume to apologize for them. We need to be apologizing for ourselves and the sorry examples many of us are today. We need to move on and do our best today.
It's interesting that you never hear the other side apologizing, even though they were probably equally to blame for most of the mistakes in history. How long are we going to feel bad for doing what was right, and there being someone who didn't like it? I feel there is more involved than clearing conscience with most of the public apologies being offered today, and I find them to be ludicrous. In Dan Merchant's case, however, I don't feel that's true, but I do believe it is uncalled for. But if it makes him feel better, fine.
There is one scene in Lord, Save Us From Your Followers that is genuinely disturbing: an incident from Tony Campolo's past in which a homosexual youth on his high school football team is urinated upon in the showers by five of his fellow team members. Later this led to the boy's suicide. It was a cruel, unconscionable act, about which Campolo regretted not doing something. He acted the coward, and offered that as an example of something he needed to confess and be forgiven for. I agree. We need to confess our own, personal sins; but not necessarily those of our ancestors, who may have acted in the only way they could at the time. But, then again, there are acts for which there can be no excuse.
It's clear that Merchant knows what's important: it's not the bumper stickers, the talking heads, the culture wars, nor the rest of the rhetoric filling the airways: its the personal acts of reconciliation and love. And that's what we need to be focusing on in our own lives. The talking heads are not going to stop talking, nor are the culture wars going to cease: but we don't need to be part of them. Let's join Christ in what He's doing to draw all men to Himself.
This is not only a compelling film, it's also a very creative one - much like Monte Python. If I had wanted to make a film about the virtue of charity, about which I've been writing lately, I could not have done a better job than Lord, Save Us From Your Followers. I highly recommend it.
Lord, Save Us From Your Followers is playing in limited theaters for a limited time. The more people who go out to see it, the more theaters they will add, and the longer it will run. Please go out and see it this weekend, if possible, with family and friends. My church is showing it at our men's retreat. You might think about doing something similar in your church. It makes for a great discussion. Here's the website:
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