Pelosi’s piece [Friends of God] is like a Bush supporter making a documentary on the anti-war movement by going to rallies and interviewing geriatric Trotskyites, dudes in dirty dreadlocks carrying signs equating Israel to the Third Reich and transgendered Scientologists. ~Don Feder
So it’s basically just like 95% of pro-war commentary for the last four and a half years?
Seriously, though, other accounts of Pelosi’s documentary give an entirely different picture than one put forward by Feder. Take Michael Linton’s account at First Things:
Black, Hispanic, and Asian Evangelicals are also largely ignored. But Pelosi is also generous with her omissions. She makes no mention of our various financial scandals, the tendency of some of our organizations to become multigenerational family businesses, the Trinity Broadcasting Network, or Ralph Reed.
Although incomplete, it’s a fair picture. Pelosi simply drives around with her camcorder and asks us questions, letting us speak for ourselves. And the portrait she assembles is put together kindly and without malice. I think her documentary is a gift. We all need to see it. It’s a gift from the Lord.
Whether or not Alexandra Pelosi’s documentary has a providential purpose, Linton goes on to say that the documentary was not made with an aim to discredit or mock:
Pelosi isn’t a liberal out to get us. Although from a branch of Catholicism that is incomprehensible to many of us (she describes herself as coming from a religious Catholic family where everyone went to Catholic school but “we were never told gay was wrong, or abortion was wrong, or evolution was wrong”), she told the Advocate, the country’s leading LGBT news outlet, that she has nothing but admiration and respect for Evangelicals [bold mine-DL]. Although part of that admiration comes from her sense of Evangelical leaders’ ability to mobilize large numbers of people for political purposes (I think she still sees us as rather like Bolshevik cells), much of her admiration comes from her growing sense of the importance of faith in her own life.
Rebecca Cusey, in her rather more negative review for National Review, wrote something similar:
Haggard aside, the documentary is as interesting for what it didn’t do as for what it did. Pelosi makes no mention of fundraising, budgets, or requests for offerings, often a method used to criticize the church. She doesn’t film anyone speaking in tongues, being “slain in the spirit,” or any of the other more charismatic expressions of evangelical belief. A gentle swaying and a few tears are as extreme as the worship gets. She asks fair, difficult questions. When the pick-up truck driving evangelist declares, “With Jesus, you’re a winner,” Pelosi asks, “Does that mean that if you don’t believe in Jesus, you’re a loser?” Turns out his answer is yes. She doesn’t do a lot of commentary in voice over, letting the people talk for themselves. Fair and balanced? Perhaps not entirely, but the film gives the impression that Pelosi is genuinely puzzled by the evangelical sub-species and genuinely trying to figure it out.
It may say something for some conservatives’ capacity for reflection and “self-awareness” that the first response of many to a documentary that shows the absurd and silly aspects of evangelical culture is to denounce it as an attack. They might, as Linton does, note that the now-famous scene with the now-disgraced Rev. Haggard reveals something deeply wrong with certain evangelical attitudes:
Of course, Haggard wasn’t thinking. He was feeling. And he was feeling great. And so were the guys with him. And that’s the problem. We, “us,” the Evangelicals with the capital E, have become thoughtless, sensualistic braggarts. For some time, we’ve been accused of being simply thoughtlessâ€“an unfair charge (Jonathan Edwards was an evangelical after all) but a charge with some truth to it. But what doctrinal rigor we might have had has been progressively smothered by sensuality draped with arrogant irresponsibility. We don’t think; we feel. If it feels right, it’s the Lord’s working, and if it’s the Lord’s working, we can be proud of it. Pelosi lays it all out for us to see.
And then there’s Pastor Ted, who thinks (or at least thought) that one of the clearest proofs of the Lord’s blessing is a great sex life. The possibility that it might be deeply indecent for a Christian minister ever to ask a man to reveal the most intimate nature of his relationship with his wife in front of anyone elseâ€“let alone in front of a cameraâ€“is apparently not within his ken. And the idea that these men should protect their wives’ privacy and refuse to answer isn’t in their ken either. They boast about their . . . well, you fill in the blank (we’ve all been in locker rooms). It feels so great. It’s all for the Lord. High fives, everybody.
Of course, it is possible that Feder could also dismiss the members of Haggard’s church as fringe, unrepresentative types, but then we could be even more sure that he was just objecting to the documentary because the filmmaker had the wrong surname.
What is really remarkable is that Ms. Pelosi, even after having seen some of the more extraordinary and bizarre elements of evangelical culture in this country, says that she admires and respects them. Don Feder can barely contain his contempt for the people he sees in the documentary, which tells you something about his low opinion of a lot of real evangelicals. For instance:
Instead of fear and loathing, Pelosi uses the comically absurd to stigmatize evangelicals. Among other oddities, she presents the home-schooling family with 10 children, where the girls are identically attired in calico dresses — The Stepford Wives meets Little House On The Prairie.
For the urban pundit, I suppose Little House On The Prairie is already comically absurd. You can tell that the problem here is not Pelosi’s depiction of evangelicals, but the reality that many evangelicals really do live very differently from the largely secularised pundit class that presumes to speak on behalf of religious conservatives on the national stage, and when these pundits encounter some of these people they run screaming in the other direction.
Incidentally, I presume the dresses in this case are identical because, I would guess, it is easier to make similar clothes for so many children than to make a different kind for each one. Since homeschooling families often do not have the financial means available to two-income households, they cannot afford to pamper their kids with individual styles and the latest fashions (not that they would put much stock in either of these things in any case). Of the homeschooling mother in question, Linton wrote:
And there’s the Mennonite mother with ten children in Tennessee who speaks honestly of being frazzled by the work but still uplifted by the Lord. But in Pelosi’s film, as in our culture, those folks are being pressed to the margins by the other Evangelicalsâ€“the big churches, the big programs, the big visions.
In other words, the people Feder regards as “comically absurd” represent for Linton, an evangelical, the decent, normal evangelicals who are getting pushed to the side by the world of megachurches and celebrity pastors.
Ms. Cusey writes later in her review:
The biggest lesson of the film is that normalcy is in the eye of the beholder. When Pelosi shows thousands of people singing “I am a friend of God,” a club of skateboarders “skating for Christ,” or even an impassioned sermon, those familiar with evangelicalism see nothing odd. However, your average New Yorker or San Franciscan, or even your suburban neighbor who has never walked through the door of a church, sees something very strange indeed.
Perhaps it is strange, but what is remarkable about Feder’s reaction is just how bilious and hostile his response to these things is. What would strike many evangelicals as “nothing odd” seems to him “comically absurd,” and therein he reveals that he has even less sympathy for evangelicals than the liberal daughter of the Speaker of the House.
Call me crazy, but I’ll take the Tennessean evangelical’s assessment of the supposed attack on his kind of Christians over the disgust-filled “defense” of evangelicals penned by Feder. With friends like Feder, evangelicals don’t need to worry about hostile liberal documentary-makers–their own “allies” hate them enough as it is.