Trailer: The American Dream and Other Fairy Tales

Posted on August 23, 2022 at 9:19 am

If full-time workers are below the poverty line, then the welfare recipient is the corporation. I’m looking forward to this film from Abigail Disney about the way the company that creates magic for its audience treats its employees like the stepmother treated Cinderella.

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Trailers, Previews, and Clips

Interview: “Armor of Light,” the Documentary about Faith and Guns

Posted on November 4, 2015 at 3:58 pm

Armor of Light is a thought-provoking new documentary with important insights for everyone on all sides of the debate on guns. Documentarian Abigail Disney made a film about two people who are making a faith-based case for addressing gun violence to conservatives.

Reverend Robert Schenck is an evangelical clergyman who has been very active in opposing abortion and Lucy McBath is the mother of a teenager who was shot and killed by a man who tried to claim the “stand your ground” law as a defense.

Copyright 2015 Fork Films
Copyright 2015 Fork Films

I spoke with all three of them in Washington, D.C. as the movie was opening around the country.

Schenck explained that being raised Jewish and converting to Christianity gave him an appreciation for different perspectives. “My mother was actually a convert to Judaism in order to marry my father and all the children were raised Jewish but that was our story. So already there were boundaries that had been crossed and that brought different cultures into the family. So that’s very important but I think probably more than anything the way my Jewish experience informed this was in the kind of traditional way of approaching a puzzling question. There is a long history in Judaism of asking questions and listening to lots of voices and perspectives. I mean it’s Talmudic, it’s Midrashic but that’s the way it’s done. And it takes sometimes a long time, it can take centuries to come to a conclusion. And I do think even though there is an urgency about this question of gun violence, of course lives are on the line, it’s matters of life and death that brings an urgency to the question. At the same time it’s profound enough to demand at least a period of contemplation. Growing up with the rabbis arguing and not necessarily in hostile, confrontational ways but arguing a question to its conclusion and sometimes hearing scores of opinions on that. You read the Talmud, you read the Torah portion and then the commentary and the commentary on the commentary and the commentary on that. This question is worthy of that kind of investigation so in that way it’s been very, very helpful to me.”

McBath spoke of reaching out to people through their shared faith. “How deeply and morally are they really willing to be the face of God, to walk out their faith? I challenge them all the time in saying ‘What does the Bible say? What does Jesus specifically say we are to do and be and do you really believe that your line of thinking is in line with the moral precepts of Jesus?’ I try to push them and challenge them to think morally about gun violence and not so much through fear.”

Fear is something both McBath and Schenck try to address. Schenck said, “Faith it is a certain antidote to fear and I do think in many cases this is a failure of faith. And of course I include myself in that. I mean I’m not finger-wagging because there are many, many occasions when I fail in faith and when I experience fear, not so much over this kind of question of physical safety. I don’t experience much of that fear but other kinds of fear. So this is really a challenge to faith and I think it is one of the reasons why pastors are key players in this. The pulpit is a place where faith is fostered and gun shops are places where fear is fostered. So I think pastors or spiritual communities in general need to play a key role but it may be the most important for our evangelical community because research shows over and over again that the pulpit, the pastor and the preaching that occurs within the evangelical community is really the most persuasive and important source for that. And one of the problems is of course pastors have been largely silent on this question of gun ownership use, self-defense, all of the questions that surround this gun violence. And that creates the vacuum that I addressed in the film. I’ve always spent a lot of time on is the crisis of fear within the Christian community.”

Though her views on politics and faith have little overlap with McBath and Schenck, Disney said working with them was “Such a pleasure. When I first met Rob of course I was expecting cloven hoofs but I obviously encountered a lovely human being who’s eloquent and intelligent and well read. Shame on me for assuming otherwise. So it was pretty quickly that we were able to put aside differences. It was a conscious decision from the onset. I said, “We could fight or we could just take that and put it aside and choose to inhabit everything else,” and it turns out there’s a lot else. And generally when you choose to inhabit everything but your political differences you find your way up above politics. And because I came from a different kind of childhood than adulthood I live in I’m used that. I think of it as being politically bilingual. I always refer to Thanksgiving dinner because everybody knows about the Thanksgiving dinner. So you still love people, even with the most violent deep disagreements about politics but your values are never all that far apart. So I definitely tapped into my experience growing up at odds almost all the time with my family to sort of discipline myself to remember that I love people and we are different. So it’s been good for me because I have been living in Manhattan for a long time with all the fellow travelers stuck on one island together reinforcing each other’s point of view. It took some discipline for me to kind of not engage sometimes and I wanted to fight about an issue. There were a couple times that I didn’t hit someone over the head but it has been such a pleasure.”

She went on: “First and foremost I wanted to reach people who weren’t already on the same page with me about everything violence related. I mean this is not about guns; it’s about violence and the particular American relationship with violence which is unlike I think another country and any other time. It’s a particular problem and I don’t think we look at it or frankly address it very often and so I wanted all stripes politically and socially to sit down and have a frank conversation about it. So we’re looking to engage with Christians in part because evangelicals are the group of people most likely to want guns and most likely to say that they are pro life but the depth of the inconsistency between those positions is profound and troubling to me. But I also want to engage liberals too because I think my liberal friends have a smugness that needs to be challenged and they’re quite certain about how bad other people are on the other side of the fence or so forth or so stupid or the rest of it and I really want to challenge us on that too because I’m uncomfortable with people being too comfortable. So I just wanted to stir it up.” They are making some screenings of the film free to NRA members.

McBath, whose father was an example of activism through his work with Martin Luther King in the Civil Rights movement, reaches out to the faith community on gun violence. “I just knew as a woman of deep faith that that had to be part of the culture of gun violence prevention specifically from the lobbyist of view, from an activist point of view, that if this was not incorporated in a spiritual way in faith that they were never going to be successful. That’s a huge element that has to be addressed because it is the evangelical and the white conservative Christian community that so entrenched in this gun culture and so specifically in faith. So that’s how I kind of evolved into the faith and community outreach leader in every town. I kind of created my own position.” While she did not always understand as a child what her father was working on, “I knew what that he was doing was important. I did understand from my father the urgency to always make sure that people were protected civilly and humanely protected. I understood from my father very early on that prejudice was wrong and that a segregated country was wrong and that it always had to be addressed, always had to be watched. We always had to continue to fight because my father did teach us that to remain free you always have to be very diligent and protecting that freedom. I know that it’s my role to specifically make sure that the work of God is deeply incorporated in this work. It has to be, there is no other way to do it.” She is working with Everytown and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.

Reverend Schenck is working with the pastor community to bring the message to their congregations through an online forum called Narrow the Road. “Evangelicals brag about the fact that we don’t have a structured hierarchy to the church, we don’t have bishops and archbishops but then again we have very influential personalities who others will almost obediently follow. Yesterday we met with one of the leading evangelicals in America. He is at the top tier of influence. We received a relatively warm welcome and he indicated the willingness to talk about, to really seriously examine the issue but at this point privately, quietly not publicly, behind closed doors. Well, that’s progress because we hope that we can get to a place where he feels strong enough about it to actually venture his convictions as they emerge in the public setting so that’s one way.” But he has lost friends and supporters over this issue. “Right now is a pretty lonely road for me. So that’s costly and there will be other pastors who will face the same consequences. I hope maybe I can be literally an encouragement to them, I hope I can give them courage, and we can give each other courage and then a create a critical mass where there is strength in numbers and eventually I hope a small group of us can come out and thereby encourage as many many other pastors who in turn have influence on their congregations.”

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Directors Interview

Armor of Light

Posted on October 29, 2015 at 5:00 pm

Copyright Jeff Hutchens 2015
Copyright Jeff Hutchens 2015
What does it truly mean to be “pro-life?” For many who consider themselves conservatives, it means to be anti-abortion. For many who consider themselves liberals, it means to be against gun violence. One leading evangelical minister, a founder of the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue, begins to grapple with this dichotomy in “Armor of Light,” a new documentary from Abigail Disney. While she considers herself liberal, she specifically went in search of someone who would be willing to explore what it truly means to be “pro-life,” and that led her to Rob Schenck, of Faith and Action, which says: “Our purpose is to affect the hearts and minds of America’s public policy makers with Christ’s mandate in the two Greatest Commandments: Love the Lord Your God with All Your Heart, Soul, Strength, and Mind, and Love Your Neighbor as Yourself….ur mission—to challenge our nation’s leaders with biblical truth.”

Disney says: “I have found this to be true: if you approach people with respect and an open heart, they will almost always respond to you in the same way. So Rob and I formed the most unlikely of friendships and it was in that spirit that we went forward on this journey together, poking into the darkest of political corners, asking the hardest, most sensitive of questions and pushing back on some of the most dearly held American creeds.”

It was not until gun violence came literally almost to Schenck’s own doorstep that he felt he had to act. The second-deadliest shooting on a US Army base occurred in Washington DC’s Navy Yard, just steps from Schenck’s home. He knows that most of the people who provide financial support for his efforts and many of his friends and faith community are passionate advocates for the right to own guns in any quantity and of any kind. The movie shows him listening with great compassion and patience to some of his closest colleagues and friends. They explain that they see the Biblical imperative as protecting their families, and the only way to achieve that is through unlimited access to guns.

The movie also tells the story of Lucy McBath, whose teenage son’s tragic death is also the subject of another excellent documentary, “3 1/2 Minutes, Ten Bullets.” McBath’s son Jordan stopped at a gas station with his friends the day after Thanksgiving 2012. Another customer, Michael Dunn, shot and killed him, and then tried to defend himself under the “Stand Your Ground” law, which allows the use of force if the shooter “perceives” a threat. He was later convicted and is serving a life sentence. McBath is now devoting her life to working with the faith community to combat gun violence.

Disney’s sympathetic camera allows both Schenck and McBath to tell their stories in a personal and compelling manner. She explores Schenck’s Jewish upbringing, and his finding in evangelical Christianity a faith that would help him make sense of the Holocaust genocide and a purpose in trying to protect life. And McBath is the daughter of a man who worked with Martin Luther King in the civil rights movement. She ties her passion for justice to his example. This is a powerful film, all the more so because it struggles with its subjects to find common cause and because it shows compassion and respect for the sincerity and good will of all.

Parents should know that violence is a theme of the film and there are references to tragic deaths and gun violence, as well as brief strong language.

Family discussion: What do you think “pro-life” means? What arguments are most persuasive on gun violence and why? The title of the film is taken from Romans 13:12 — what does it mean?

If you like this, try: “3 1/2 Minutes, Ten Bullets” and “Guns, Culture, and Crime in the US” and read my interview with the director and subjects of the film

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