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

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

New From Oprah Winfrey: “Belief”

Posted on July 29, 2015 at 3:07 pm

Oprah Winfrey’s seven-chapter series “Belief” starts on October 18, 2015. It follows some of the world’s most fascinating spiritual journeys through the eyes of the believers. Episodes include: the largest peaceful gathering in the history of the world as a group of believers seek redemption along the banks of a holy river; a free climber on the side of a mountain who believes there is no greater power than just being present as he climbs without rope; inside the ceremonies of the past as a 21st century woman seeks to find a miracle cure using ancient ceremonial treatments; the quiet of the night as a culture seeks to hang on to its 50,000 year-old history by searching the stars for insight to share with future generations; and, a courtroom and prison where a grieving mother must grapple with forgiveness as she comes face-to-face with her son’s killer. These stories and others will all lead us to ask: “What do you believe?”

Sunday, October 18 *PREMIERE
“Belief: The Seekers”
Witness stories from around the world united by one of the most basic human needs – a desire to find purpose and meaning in our lives. First, 19-year-old Cha Cha, a devout evangelical Christian college student, hopes to reconnect with her faith after a recent trauma has shaken her to the core. Next, Reshma Thakkar, a young Indian-American Hindu woman from Chicago, travels to the banks of the Ganges River in India for the Kumbh Mela, joining millions at the world’s largest spiritual gathering. Meanwhile, in Budapest, Hungary, 13-year-old Mendel Hurwitz prepares for his Bar Mitzvah, the Jewish transformation from adolescence to adulthood. Mendel’s synagogue in Budapest once faced extinction, and this tiny population of Jews are struggling to keep their culture alive. In the final story, Terry Gandadila, an Aboriginal elder in Australia who is nearing death, passes on the wisdom and knowledge of his tribe to his grandson. Together, they walk the songline, an ancient roadmap that the tribe believes reveals how the world was created and how to live life in accordance with their ancestor spirits.

Monday, October 19
“Belief: Love’s Story”
Journey around the world in search of what it means to love one another. First, in western Pennsylvania, Ian and Larissa Murphy are two evangelical Christians who fell in love during college. Ten months into their relationship, Ian suffered a traumatic brain injury, dramatically changing their relationship while also showing them what it means to love unconditionally. Next, we meet Rena Greenberg and Yermi Udkoff of Brooklyn, New York as they prepare to marry in the Hasidic faith, which believes every person is born with one half of a soul, and only through marriage can the two souls reunite with each other. On the other side of the world, former professional skateboarder Jordan Richter from northern California is embarking on the Hajj, a pilgrimage that is one of the five tenets of his adopted religion, Islam. By joining millions of pilgrims in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Jordan hopes to make peace with his past and cement a promising future. Finally, two leaders in Nigeria who were former enemies 20 years ago, Christian Pastor James Wuye and Muslim Imam Muhammad Ashafa, come together to reconcile and to honor one of the most sacred teachings at the heart of both their faiths: love your enemies.

Tuesday, October 20
“Belief: Acts of Faith”
Our beliefs can be a powerful guiding force to endure and overcome in some of the most difficult situations. In this episode, everyone faces a challenge to overcome, and they find their source of strength in a variety of different ways. In Topeka, Kansas, Judi Bergquist visits her son’s killer in prison with the hope that the act of forgiveness will help them both move forward with their lives. Next, under the blue Guanajuato, Mexico sky, Enedina Cuellar Pacheco is riding on horseback with Christ’s Cowboys in the hopes a miracle heals her son who suffered traumatic injuries in a tragic car accident. Together with thousands of riders, she makes the rigorous trek to the iconic 65-foot-tall statue of Cristo Rey. Finally, on the small Pentecost Island, Vanuatu, in the South Pacific, a young boy, Bebe, will act out a death-defying rite of passage into manhood. Bebe will bravely land dive off a giant wooden tower with just a tree vine tied around his ankles, participating in a sacred ritual that his tribe believes blesses the soil for a bountiful harvest.

Wednesday, October 21
“Belief: A Change Is Gonna Come”
Explore how our beliefs help us change. First, Anju, a young woman in central India, has committed to forgo all of life’s conveniences and permanently sever ties with her family in order to be initiated as a Jain nun. Anju must first pass three tests designed to challenge her commitment. Next, Howard Fallon and his daughter Shane arrive in the Nevada desert for Burning Man, an annual festival that provides an experiment in community art, self-expression and culminates in the ritual burning of a large wooden effigy. Howard and Shane are seeking to reconnect and heal after unimaginable personal loss. In another part of the American desert, Ashly Hines, a member of the Yavapai-Apache Nation, prepares to participate in the Sunrise Ceremony, a spiritual ritual into womanhood. Finally, scientist Marcelo Gleiser stands at the foot of one of the most powerful telescopes in the world. He has journeyed to the heart of the Atacama Desert in Chile to look deep into space for clues as to how the universe was born and how it is changing over time. He finds the more he searches the universe, the more he must embrace the mystery of the unknown.

Thursday, October 22
“Belief: God Help Us”
When tragedy, illness or loss feel overwhelming and relief seem beyond our reach, many believers appeal to their faith for strength. First, Karen Cavanagh, a Catholic from Slingerlands, New York is called to the Sufi path as a way of healing from a traumatic brain injury. Karen travels to Konya, Turkey to combine her Catholic faith with the practice of becoming a Whirling Dervish, a group who worships through meditative dance. Next, in Lima, Peru, a teenager, Beto, prays to the Lord of Miracles, a painting of Christ on the cross that is revered throughout the country. Beto is selected to march in an annual procession honoring the icon, bringing pride to his family. Then, in Lebanon, 13-year-old Walid, a Syrian refugee whose family fled their home in war torn Syria, still finds a way to participate in Ramadan, the Islamic faith’s month of personal and spiritual reflection observed with fasting and prayer. Finally, in Indonesia, 19-year-old Buddhist monk Bodhi Cahyno believes meditation can help him find a source of inner strength after enduring a challenging childhood. Guided by his mentor and teacher, Bodhi travels to the holy site of Borobudur in Indonesia – the world’s largest Buddhist temple – to celebrate Vesak, an annual ritual that commemorates the birth, enlightenment and death of the Buddha.

Friday, October 23
“Belief: The Practice”
For many people, committing to a spiritual life through study, practice and compassion reveals faith. First, Shi Yan Fei is a young Buddhist monk at the Shaolin Monastery in Dengfeng, China, who came to the monastery because of his passion for Kung Fu. While Shi Yan Fei has nearly mastered Kung Fu’s physical movements, he has encountered difficulty mastering the spiritual element. Next, 65-year-old John Davie is hoping to reconnect with his Catholic faith as he embarks on the “Way of Saint James,” a 500-mile trek through the countryside of France and Spain. For a thousand years, Christian pilgrims have walked the “Camino,” which culminates at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain. Then, Mohamed El Haskouri, a teenage boy in Morocco studies diligently to perfect his recitation of the 80,000 words of the Qur’an in an ancient art called Tajweed. Finally, two teenage girls in Israel, 18-year-old Jewish cellist Hagit and 17-year-old Muslim flutist Mais find common ground and friendship in their shared love of performing classical music with the Polyphony Orchestra.

Saturday, October 24
“Belief: A Good Life”
Explore how beliefs help us face the fear of death and the mystery of what happens after we die. In this episode, we witness how death can also be a powerful call to action – to embrace life and those we love. In the shadows of Mt. Everest, Lekshey Choedhar, a young Buddhist monk at the Pema Tsal Sakka Monastery, learns a valuable lesson about the fleeting nature of life. There, Buddhist monks make devotional works of art called sand mandalas, which they then destroy in a ritual that symbolizes the impermanence of existence. Next, atheist Alex Honnold walks the edge between life and death as a world-renowned free-solo climber. He faces his mortality and finds meaning in his life as he climbs — with no ropes or harnesses — up a towering cliff in the Moab desert in eastern Utah. Then Donna Winzenreid, a military wife and mother of three in Colorado Springs, Colorado who has been diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer, fights for her life by holding on to her Methodist faith. Next, India is home to more than a billion people and one of the world’s largest religions, Hinduism. Once a year, on the first day of spring, Hindus from all walks of life unite to celebrate the festival of colors – Holi. Gopesh Goswami, a Hindu priest, celebrates Holi as an opportunity to set aside daily responsibilities and experience joy, togetherness and the essence of a good life. Finally, from a space shuttle orbiting Earth, astronaut Jeff Hoffman stares out at a pale blue dot suspended in the vast expanse of the universe. He describes it as a transcendent experience, an overwhelming feeling that human beings are all truly connected.

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Spiritual films Television

Where is the Faith in “American Sniper” and “Unbroken?”

Posted on January 19, 2015 at 3:37 pm

Two U.S. military heroes wrote books about their lives that became movies released in the last few weeks.  Both men wrote movingly about the way faith anchored their lives and guided their actions.  And yet there was little mention of their faith in the two films, “Unbroken,” the story of WWII soldier Louis Zamperini, and “American Sniper,” the story of Iraqi veteran Chris Kyle.

Sarah Pulliam Bailey wrote in the Washington Post:

Both stories focus on the dramatic stories of warriors who died before the movie versions of their lives came out. Both “American Sniper” and “Unbroken” include an early scene of their families sitting in church. Both men struggle with substance abuse after returning from war.

And both films largely skirt the faith that Kyle and Zamperini said were key to their identity — and their survival.


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Understanding Media and Pop Culture

Trailer: Little Hope Was Arson, Story of Church Burnings

Posted on October 23, 2014 at 1:00 pm

Available in select theaters and nationwide VOD beginning Nov 21! For more info, please visit:

January 2010: In the buckle of the Bible Belt, 10 churches burn to the ground in just over a month igniting the largest criminal investigation in East Texas history. No stone is left unturned and even Satan himself is considered a suspect in this gripping investigation of a community terrorized from the inside-out. Families are torn apart and communities of faith struggle with forgiveness and justice in this incredible true story.

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Trailers, Previews, and Clips

Featurette: “The Good Lie” the Faith of the Lost Boys of Sudan

Posted on October 7, 2014 at 11:37 am

The Good Lie” is a moving, inspiring story of Lost Boys (and a girl) from Sudan to immigrate to the US, a must-see for middle and high schoolers and their families.  This featurette takes us behind the scenes and focuses on the role that faith plays in the lives of these courageous survivors.

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Drama Inspired by a true story Spiritual films
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