Dan Merchant wonders, “Guys, guys [and presumably gals, too]—how are we supposed to have a conversation when everybody’s talking at once? Why is the Gospel of love dividing America?” Want to know why? Merchant decided to find out, so he donned a religious bumper-sticker-covered jumpsuit and set out across America in the documentary Lord, Save Us From Your Followers.
Along the way, Merchant meets Southern Baptists, apathetic Protestants, atheists, Al Franken, Catholics, homosexuals, Jim Santorum, a cross-dressing nun, and Tony Campolo calling Jon Stewart a “prophet of God” (referencing Tucker Carlson’s Crossfire on CNN, October 2004). He listens, asks, talks, pokes, prods. People critique his bumper stickers. They talk religion. In a conversation.
Merchant meets Ron Luce, leader of the national youth movement “Battle Cry” and discusses the “bee-hive” Luce and the event ran into in San Francisco. “Battle Cry” wants today’s Christian youth to speak out against the mass media culture that has turned America, a “Christian nation” according to Luce, into a culture opposed to Christianity. In San Francisco, “Battle Cry” staged a protest event on the steps of the San Francisco City Hall.
“It’s like we put our finger into a bee hive, and we didn’t know it—we didn’t realize it was a hotbed for a very violent response to people who represent the Bible,” Luce said.
This situation, according to Joe Garofoli, of the San Francisco Chronicle, put this Christian event on the same sacred steps for gay marriage, where the Mayor had decided to bless gay marriages just a few years ago. After the blow-up during the first event and plentiful press coverage, Luce brought “Battle Cry” back to San Francisco the next year, and again held a protest on the front steps of City Hall.
Merchant’s documentary opens with an animation of commentary from talking heads:
Jon Stewart: “Religion: it’s a powerful healing force in a world torn apart by… religion.”
Jerry Falwell: “We formed the Moral Majority. We weren’t intending to say everyone else is in the Immoral Minority.”
Merchant hit the streets and asked for the opinion of Americans on what Christians are all about: to be holy. Fanaticism. The Crusades. Killing off non-Christians. Trying to get other people to be Christians. Being good people That “love thy neighbor” thing. Theatrics. Jesus Christ. Being really snobby. Hypocritical. “Preparing to be holy, and being butt-[censored] wild behind closed doors. And that’s a fact.”
For Merchant, the trip began on a trip to Ethiopia, where he met Christians “full of joy, kindness and grace, despite living with daily hardships that would snap [him] in half.” That messed him up, he said, because he started to recognize the “stark contrast” between the Christians in Ethiopia, and the Christians he saw in America. “This collision of faith and culture in America—is killing me,” Merchant says. “It’s one thing to project our faith from a bumper sticker, it’s another to have a conversation. I think we’re getting it wrong again.”
Some will recognize this title from the book release. Lord Save Us has garnered attention from the Today Show and a USA Today Op/Ed piece. The film is available on DVD via group-screening license, by free download from the film’s website, or in a planned limited theatrical release June 13.
As documentaries go, Merchant and co-producer Jeff Martin produced a solid one. Both put their extensive television and film production experience to work, and through their production label hope to create more titles that express the spiritual truths of grace, redemption, and forgiveness.
The voices they include in Lord Save Us span the colors and faces of America and give a multi-sided voice to this commentary on Christianity in America. Politics and hot topics make up the early minutes of the film, while social justice and humility fill the later minutes. The film is also up-to-date, including footage of the Iowa Debates between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.
Through much of the film, there is a visual stimulation overload with animation, news clips, original interviews, talking heads, images, and music. Yet the representation implied is clear: there are many, many voices… and as Merchant noted early in the film, they’re all talking at once, and few are listening.