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Friends of God Not Friendly to Evangelicals

Friends of God, the new HBO documentary directed by Alexandra Pelosi, purportedly attempts to discover who evangelical Christians really are – but the documentary succeeds only in reinforcing tired and false elitist stereotypes about religious believers. 


Pelosi braves the darkest corners of the Bible belt to showcase fringe elements of the evangelical movement.  She shows us Christian wrestlers following up WWF-style body-slams with salvation messages.  She explores a Bible-oriented miniature golf course where one of the holes is the Empty Tomb, and a Christian theme park in Florida, the Holy Land Experience, where visitors can watch Jesus deliver the Sermon on the Mount.


The documentary features a healthy dose of representative Bible preaching, but Pelosi often uses odd, extreme camera angles which distort the features of the speakers and give them a sinister air. 


Pelosi, daughter of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, devotes much of the film to the aspects of the evangelical movement that most scare Manhattanites: supposed intolerance for diversity, children being indoctrinated with traditional Christian beliefs, and political activism.  Viewers might conclude that Christianity is defined by opposition to evolution, abortion, and gay marriage. 


Never does Pelosi explore the broader social outreach that marks American evangelicalism.  She never discusses the massive church effort that is helping victims rebuild after Hurricane Katrina.  She provides no footage about charity to the poor or efforts at racial reconciliation.

 

The film has its bright moments, to be sure. At a truck stop Pelosi remarks that in New York you'd never see Bible verses on a menu, and you'd never hear an announcement for a Truckers Fellowship meeting over the intercom.  She allows several teenagers to testify to their faith in Jesus, and discuss how they have found in church what so many of their peers are looking for. 


In making the rounds promoting the documentary, Pelosi told interviewers she was changed by her experience in the Bible belt, and she has decided to raise her newborn son in church.  Apparently Pelosi saw something among the Bible-believing Christians that touched her heart.  Her movie, unfortunately, doesn't communicate it.  Friends of God is a selective view of evangelicals that will only feed liberal misconceptions.


Kristen Fyfe is senior writer at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center.  Her work can be seen at www.cultureandmediainstitute.org.