- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 1, 2009

A bumper sticker becomes a Michael Mooresque indie film in “Lord, Save Us From Your Followers: Why is the Gospel of Love Dividing America?” that’s headed to a theater near you.

The theme of the 101-minute documentary is how the general public thinks Jesus Christ is a cool dude but his friends are utter losers.

Dan Merchant, an affable moviemaker who wanted to start conversations instead of shouting matches about culture wars topics, toured the country from 2006 to 2009 sporting a cacophony of campy religious bumper stickers (sample: “Nuke a gay whale for Christ”) on a white suit. Then he would pose questions about Jesus and his followers in Times Square, Minneapolis and lightly-churched Portland, Ore.

His respondents indicated that religion is the ailment, not the cure, and criticized Christians for being manic about gay marriage and abortion.

But aren’t there things one should be angry at, I asked him. Is it right that Oregon has legalized euthanasia?

“I am saying somewhere along the line we have made the splinter in someone else’s eye more important than the log in our own eye,” said Mr. Merchant, an evangelical who attends a Foursquare church in Beaverton, Ore.

So, Christians get a bum rap in much of the film for everything from the Crusades to sounding intolerant. The film does credit the church folks for showing up in droves in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, plus doing major charity work in some of Africa’s more hellish precincts. And it cleverly turned atheists’ arguments back on them to suggest that if they really feel so oppressed by Christianity, they should give cities such as St. Paul, Minn., a name like “New Leningrad.”

The film’s archetype angry Christian was white older men with a few black preachers tossed in. Conservative women - less apt to be bomb throwers - were left out. Newly minted Sen. Al Franken, a Jewish Democrat from Minnesota, got loads of air time - but I must say he had some astute observations.

Model Christians cited for walking their talk were Pope John Paul II, U2 rock star Bono, “Blue Like Jazz” author Don Miller and Saddleback Church Pastor Rick Warren. Other commentators included Teen Mania Ministries President Ron Luce, former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and former Evangelical Press Association President Dean Merrill.

So if anger is out and dialogue is in, what if you live down the street from the owner of the local abortion clinic? I asked.

“You make friends with the guy,” Mr. Merchant told me. “You take him to dinner and find a way to connect with this person. The church talking to the church has a different conversation than with the public at large.”

Unless people see some tangible act of love, words are “useless,” he added. “For instance, if the Christian church adopted every black baby that would otherwise be aborted, there would not be a problem.

“If people do not believe you care about them, they won’t hear what you’re saying. And we do not trust that God will work and the heart of the abortion clinic owner will be transformed. We do not trust God. If we trusted his grace, we would not be as defensive, strident and angry.”

Julia Duin’s Stairway to Heaven column runs Thursdays and Sundays. Contact her at jduin@washingtontimes.com. Her brother, Oregonian columnist Steve Duin, has a bit part in the film.

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