Documentary on Evangelical Christians in the US

HBO just aired Alexandra Pelosi’s Friends of God. Given that the maker of the documentary is the daughter of the current Speaker of the House, it could be expected that the documentary would be politically charged – but like any good documentary maker there are no judgements: those that come off well do so because of their own words, similarly, those that come off as repugnant, again, do so because of their own words.

The documentary looks at evangelical christians in the United States. Outside of America these christians would probably be called born again or even fundamentalist. One of the things the documentary looks at is how evangelicals celebrate their faith: from the mega-churches of the mid-west, to the skateboarders and hot-rodders for christ. In nearly all cases it is just people being people doing what they enjoy, living what they believe, and hoping they can make a living from it. The putt-putt fellow was a good example.

The mega-churches and much of Jerry Falwell’s empire is heavily mass-entertainment based. Fireworks, bands, big-screens, sixty-thousand seat arenas and a University with an atrium seating thirty thousand where his operations is training future Senators, Congressmen and Lawyers in order to return America into a nation under god.

This is where the documentary doesn’t delve too deeply. The congruence of evangelicals, nationalism and politics is pretty recent, and one which the current Republican Party, and President George Bush have tapped into for electoral advantage. Falwell was pretty brazen in using the his evangelical operations for Republican Party political advantage. So his ministry, or constituency, vote on values.

The problem evangelicals are finding is that politicians desire power mostly and are quite happy to use and abuse constituents in order to obtain and maintain that power. The amount of evangelicals that the likes of Falwell and Dobson are able to raise do not make a majority and consequently the moral middle class, to steal Judith Brett’s phrase, will hold sway over the rigid, and maybe even unachievable, moral claims of evangelical leaders.

Like socialists and communists who looked to government as their saviour, christians have discovered the same problem. Government cannot help. Not even slightly. As David Kuo wrote:

Since the mid-1970s and with ever increasing passion, Christians like me have looked to politics to save America. We thought that the right president, the right congress, and the right judge or justice would stop abortions, strengthen marriage, create a safer country for children, and ensure our religious faith was respected. We wanted to save our lives, homes and our country. …

Has our political focus produced results? … In short we’ve had almost everything we wanted [politically]. But things are hardly better. Social statistics are largely unchanged. Divorces are rampant and more and more children are growing up in a home with just one parent.

The other issue that the documentary didn’t challenge deeply was evolution vs creationism. The enlightenment replaced mysticism with rationalism which has been the basis of the scientific revolution. One of the problems that evangelical christians face is when they appeal to mysticism against reason – ultimately the former is a disadvantage in the modern world.

For most of the documentary however, people come off as people: proof again that familiarity and face-to-face contact solves 95% of the worlds problems. Short of the pitfalls and disappointments of seeking political power as a monolithic faction; presumptuously assuming moral ascendency; and advancing mysticism where it contradicts reason; for the most part evangelicalism is folks living as they know best.

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