Movie Review: Friends of God

Last night my wife and I watched Friends of God, an HBO show (documentary would suggest more substance than there really was).  It described itself as a road trip of sorts through the Evangelical, red-state heartland of America.  It’s essentially a video montage of that road trip.  It bills itself as a documentary, but I don’t consider a bunch of home movies to really qualify as a documentary.  There is no verbal commentary from the director, Alexandra Pelosi (yes, she’s the daughter of California Democratic Senator Nancy Pelosi), but rather the footage itself serves as her commentary.  A healthy heaping of can you really believe there are people like this out there?! 

Her repeated comment in the film of “You’d never see this in New York” seems a good insight as to her view of reality.  And I’m sure that her educated, wealthy friends in New York (and probably Los Angeles) got a good chuckle out of video clips of Christian wrestlers, or Ted Haggard pontificating on how even atheists hate for Godly leaders to turn out to be not-so-Godly – a rather painful foreshadowing of his own life.  A lot of time was spent focusing on the late Jerry Falwell and his emphasis on getting out the Evangelicals as a voting force to be reckoned with in American politics.  As such, the film ends up a simply a visual warning to those who don’t hold the same values or religious beliefs as Evangelical Americans – these folks are out there, and they’re voting.  It doesn’t actually say but they shouldn’t be allowed to, but the silent judgment remains. 

It’s not hard to make people look foolish.  It can be the most erudite or educated of people, and if you catch them with the right question at the right moment, they say or do something that doesn’t really give you a balanced perspective of their capabilities.  So I don’t find these sorts of films to be terribly helpful, other than for giving a few people a few laughs at what they assume is the ignorance or hillbilliness or simplistic attitudes of those included on the film.  But that sort of smug superiority is something that wears off quickly, and has to be constantly refueled.  Which perhaps explains why these sorts of films are becoming more common. 

The film sounds warning bells for the liberal constituency – Evangelicals are not going away.  Think they’re dying out?  Some of them are having huge families!  Think that your carefully constructed educational system will change the lil’ buggers’ minds?  Don’t bet on it – home schooling is a popular option for people who recognize the increasing bias in public classrooms.  Think that materialism and sex will deter them later in life?  Not necessarily – even good looking 20-something guys can get turned on to Jesus and spend their Saturday nights at a Christian worship service instead of trolling the bars.  Think that limiting Federal funding to religious groups will help dampen their power?  Don’t bet on it – a lot of them are willing to give deeply from their own pockets and in their own ways to help ensure that Christianity is not erased from the American landscape of discussion and politics.  Think that you might be able to out-legislate them?  Falwell’s Liberty University is busy educating conservative Christian lawyers and activists. 

This is undoubtedly a serious conundrum for liberally minded and non-Christian leaders in America.  And if it does nothing else, this film serves as a reminder to these people that conservative Christians are not going away, that they are becoming a more mobilized voting block, and that they are going to insist on being heard. 

I’m not an Evangelical, and much of this film made me uncomfortable because it differs so much from my experience of the faith and Church.  This doesn’t mean that these people are wrong (or that I am, for that matter), it simply demonstrates the room for a great deal of diversity in the Body of Christ.  But that’s to be expected, according to St. Paul, or else we wouldn’t be a very effective body.  Pelosi and others can mock all they want, but the Body lives. 

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