June 3, 2010
Lord Save Us From Your Followers
Reviewer: Simon Augustine
Rating (out of 5): ****
Compassion should be given, not earned. -from the film Lord Save Us From Your Followers
This DIY documentary is a humorous and humane attempt by filmmaker Dan Merchant to address the increasingly vitriolic and seemingly unbridgeable divide between Red and Blue state mentalities - those on the religious Right who favor traditionalism vs. the leftist/secularist community who has grown hostile and turned off to Christianity because of what they perceive to be close-mindedness and hypocrisy stemming from Fundamentalist approaches. The film claims a certain uniqueness in that it is presented by a progressive Christian, deeply critiquing his own faith. He rightly recognizes that the current bombast, volume, and pre-conceptions on both sides actually drowns out meaningful dialogue and winds up serving neither those leftists who may have religious curiosity and/or passion, nor those on the right who are open to more modern viewpoints. Not to mention how the trend of hyperbole and sensationalism often wastes time and denigrates our common humanness.
He aims to show how the combative structure of the debate itself often precludes real conversation and understanding in the current "culture wars" of America, and for the most part he is successful.
What begins as a seemingly glib satire of the rhetoric in the battle between traditional Christians and more secularized progressives actually develops into a surprisingly moving and compassionate "non-sermon" on the way the essential Christian message is lost in the foibles and egos of human communication - susceptible as it is to hyperbole and sensationalism. Merchant takes some brief but effective looks at the issues of poverty, consumerism, war, gay marriage, and abortion. He interviews a series of talking heads including comedian-turned-Senator Al Franken, and produces segments on the good works of Christians as diverse as Bono and Rick Warren.
And like a Michael Moore crusading for a purer humanism rather than a specific political agenda, Merchant also walks around the streets of NYC and Texas, his suit covered in bumper stickers and buttons running the gamut of the most extreme fundamentalist and atheistic slogans, attempting to elicit and provoke conversation with people from varied perspectives. What this stunt lacks in the satiric acumen, bite, or political intensity found in Moore's best set-pieces, it more than makes up for it in the way that Merchant exposes the self-fascination and rancor of right vs. left political clashes to find a common practicality of the gospel of love hidden underneath all the sound and fury.
One particularly innovative and striking experiment has Merchant, as a Christian, setting up a confessional booth at a gay community event to personally apologize to gays and lesbians for the shortcomings of the Church in terms of acceptance and understanding, evoking fascinating reactions and aptly demonstrating what inroads are possible. And the film ends with an emotional encounter between Christian social workers and homeless men and women whom they serve at a mobile facility that elegantly summarizes its message.
With a charming homemade quality (that unfortunately sometimes devolves into tacky, annoying graphics and a distracting amateurism), Lord Save Us From Our Followers does not have the cinematic power of something like Fahrenheit 9/11, but it is still a minor revelation in terms of emphasizing creative togetherness over easy conflict.
Posted by cphillips at June 3, 2010 4:46 PM