Winning Hearts, Not Arguments in "Lord, Save Us from Your Followers"
- 2009 25 Sep
Release Date: September 25, 2009 (select theatres)
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 1 hour 40 min.
Director & Host: Dan Merchant
How much would you pay to see Dr. Tony Campolo call The Daily Show's John Stewart "a prophet of God?" Ten bucks?
Well, you'll soon have your chance as the new documentary film Lord, Save Us from Your Followers opens in select theatres nationwide beginning on September 25. (See www.lordsaveusthemovie.com for locations.) There are many, many more off-beat moments in store as host and director Dan Merchant travels coast-to-coast to find out: Why is the gospel of love dividing America?
Lord, Save Us plays like a quirky mix tape of cultural voices, each speaking into the debate on hot button social and religious issues affecting our culture. Where else will you see Senator Rick Santorum, George Clooney, Pat Robertson, Bono, Jerry Falwell, and a cross-dressing "nun" from The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence—all in less than two hours. Without theatre hopping.
Part comedy, part cultural exposé, Lord, Save Us scampers through religious topics that divide us as a nation. Merchant assumes his persona as "Bumper Sticker Man" (dressed in a white jumpsuit covered in religiously themed bumper stickers) and hits the streets to talk with everyday Americans. No sensitive issue is safe. Topics range from politics, gay marriage and abortion to racism, pornography, and the origins of the universe. That's a big canvas, and Merchant paints on it with playful, colorful brushstrokes in a style reminiscent of Michael Moore.
This movie is not all fun and games, however. According to Merchant, there is a loud, angry cultural war going on in America where conservatives and liberals are squaring off for control. From the beginning of his quest, Merchant looks for why this culture war is so contentious and for ways Christians can bridge the gap to bring hope, dialogue and understanding. The way he sees it, all sides are doing little more than shouting down each other in a contest of one-upmanship. "What happens when you fight fire with fire?" he asks. "You get a bigger fire."
The film points out a major contributor to this cultural conflagration—the Church. Merchant compares the body of Christ to a Frankenstein-like monster. An institution started by Christ for good purposes, the Church is now going awry and frightening unbelievers. He plays a clip from Rick Warren on Meet the Press: "The Church is the body of Christ. For the past fifty years, the hands and feet have been amputated, and all we've been is a big mouth." Merchant fears that "the gospel of love is being turned into the gospel of being right."
At this point in the film is where Lord, Save Us benefits from its casual, nonchalant tone. Somehow it refuses to ease up on its critique of the American Church while at the same time remaining fair, positive, and non-judgmental. It evaluates where we are and offers a new way forward based on Christ's example. As curious as the blend of people in this film is, by the end of Lord, Save Us, the viewer experiences and even stranger mix—a potent combination of conviction, empathy, and redemption. The laughter makes the lessons linger.
The diversity of the film's topics is one of its strengths and one of its weaknesses. The middle third of the piece seems to lose focus, introducing new topics of discussion without moving the overarching themes forward. Sometimes, less is more. In this case, a few less minutes in this 1 hour 40 minute film could have contributed to the final impact and prevented the mind from wandering a bit. Combined with creative—but less than stellar—production values, the pacing does not result in a misfire but it does keep Lord, Save Us from hitting the bull's-eye. This is a film worth supporting in the theatres; just be prepared to think first and be entertained second.
Lord, Save Us from Your Followers aims to spark conversation in the Church and on the streets about ways to win hearts rather than merely win arguments. As believers, we need to step back and listen to how we sound to the rest of the world. "‘Us verses Them' is easy to play," Merchant says. "It's fun, it gets the voters out, it raises money and drives ratings. Outrage is way more exciting than humility."
Challenging and thought-provoking, Lord, Save Us is a witty whirlwind that speaks the truth in love and with humor. And (don't forget) features Dr. Tony Campolo calling The Daily Show's John Stewart "a prophet of God." Who wouldn't pay to see that?
- Drugs/Alcohol: A few passing references to being drunk.
- Language/Profanity: A man on the street has a string of profanities bleeped out.
- Sexual Content/Nudity: Interactions with and depictions of gay lifestyle are a theme throughout. Depictions of a few public displays of affection between same-sex couples are not explicit.
- Violence: Protestors have angry exchange at a gay marriage rally. Hazing of a gay student by other students is described in some detail and dramatized in a mildly graphic series of images including a suicide.