"Religion: it's a powerful healing force in a world torn apart by... religion." Jon Stewart
In Ethiopia, filmmaker Dan Merchant met joyful Christians. He was blown away by this experience with individuals full of joy, kindness and grace despite hardships that Merchant openly admits would "snap [him] in half."
Merchant began to see, more vividly than ever, the stark contrast between Christianity in Ethiopia and Christianity in the United States...a land that, at least on the surface, has so many more reasons to be joyful. Faith and culture are on a collision course in this country and, if we're being honest, many of us live a rather simplistic bumper-sticker theology that seems frightfully devoid of of joy, kindness, grace, love or listening.
Why is the Gospel of love dividing America, is the simple, yet not so simple, question that Merchant sets out to ask in "Lord, Save Us From Your Followers," a full length documentary and Official Selection during the 2008 Heartland Film Festival in Indianapolis.
To find out the answer to his question, Merchant set out across America wearing a bumper-sticker laden white jumpsuit in an effort to invite dialogue with believers, nonbelievers, atheists, conservatives, liberals, progressives, blacks, whites, gays and others.
Along the way, Merchant interviews theologians, people on the street, individuals attending protest rallies, media and others offering a depth of insight and perspective that both puts Bill Maher's "Religulous" to shame while simultaneously explaining why Maher felt the need to make his film.
Merchant, who comes off as sort of a humble everyman who acknowledges being a believer but who seems well versed in arguments on both sides of the coin, makes the often difficult subject more palatable with an approach similar to that of a Michael Moore and Morgan Spurlock...that is, he presents his intentional, theological and sociological dialogue in a way that is entertaining, authentic and inviting. His core point is that we've lost the ability to talk to one another, a fault he points out lies with both Christians and non-Christians.
While it might be tempting to assume that Merchant would come down hard on the non-Christians, the opposite actually happens as Merchant repeatedly points out how Christianity is often devoid of Jesus's core teachings and values.
At one point early in the film, Merchant heads to the street to ask people what they think of when they think of Christians...the answers are, at times, refreshing. Often, they are rather appalling as words such as "Crusades," "theatrics," "snobby," "killing off non-Christians" and others are spoken.
From his street wandering to the bumper-stickers to a "Family Feud" style game of Culture Wars between liberals and conservatives all the way to a mock confessional, in which it is the Christians who confess, during a "Gay Pride" day, Merchant's film is entertaining, captivating, thought provoking and, at times, heartbreaking.
"Lord, Save Us From Your Followers" occasionally lags a bit in energy and I couldn't help but notice that Merchant never really dialogues with some of the evangelical Christian leaders who can be the most divisive. Despite these minor flaws, the film is a fair and balanced look at what is happening with religion, mostly Christianity, in America.
Visit the film's website to find out more information. "Lord, Save Us From Your Followers" is already available on DVD and by free download from the film's website.
by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic