‘Friends of God’ portrays church on warpath

Alexandra Pelosi’s new HBO documentary, “Friends of God,” portrays dimensions of evangelical Christianity about which many of us have heard but may have never seen.

Pelosi’s trek across (mainly southern) America is equally amusing and distressing.

The documentary has particular relevance today, given that one of the principal figures in the piece is Ted Haggard, former pastor of New Life Church in Colorado Springs. Before getting caught in a tawdry scandal involving sex and drugs, Haggard availed himself to nearly any media outlet in the country who sought his perspective on God and morality.

“This week, we have HBO with us,” he says, filmed during a worship service. “Last week it was CNN and next week it’s the History Channel or someone else.”

Haggard believed that his open-door media policy and frank approach to proclaiming his beliefs were key to evangelism. Little did he realize that, one year after the taping of this movie, he would be caught violating his very own principles.

“We say moral purity is better than immorality. We say telling the truth is better than telling a lie,” says Haggard. “We are the ones with the role to say there is a moral plumb line and we need to rise up to it. That’s also why secular people are so concerned when the church doesn’t fulfill its own moral stand, like if a pastor falls into corruption or becomes dishonest. Even secular people want godly people to be authentically godly.”

Chalk it up as one more example of religious hypocrisy.

There’s plenty more of interest, not the least of which involves wrestling for Jesus. A group of professional wrestlers tour the country, putting on displays of strength, agility and dramatic violence, followed by a call to commit one’s life to Christ.

The leader of the group, a burly, sweaty man in a spandex unitard, claims that approximately 10 percent of every audience for which they perform is saved. Who knows what he bases his claim on, but he believes what he is doing works.

Hot rodders for Jesus debate the age-old question: “What would Jesus drive?”

Pastors in pith helmets and khakis present arguments to young children about how dinosaurs and people lived side by side, and how the Earth is only a few thousand years old. Behind one minister delivering such a talk, the words, “The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it,” are emblazoned in bold across a giant screen.

Those 10 words summarize the theology of most of the folks portrayed in the film.

One criticism of the film is that it portrays a fringe group of evangelicals that don’t represent the broad spectrum of such Christians in America. However, if only the tens of thousands shown in the film alone share such militaristic sentiments, it’s enough to raise an eyebrow.

Throughout the film, phrases such as “cultural war” meet with seas of nodding heads and enthusiastic applause. Though it can be argued that evangelicals seized the reins of American power in recent years, there is a pervasive sense of dignified martyrdom.

There is, as portrayed by the film, a movement afoot to reclaim the nation which is believed to have been founded on their own principles. One touring concert, called Battlecry, draws five-figure crowds of youth across the country, urging them to fight for what they believe, at any cost.

“This country is the best country in the world,” says one self-proclaimed conservative comedian. “It’s better than Europe; that’s why we left.” Cue the standing ovation.

Still wonder why the rest of the world views Americans as arrogant, self-righteous bullies? Flags and crosses blend into a single amalgam of theocratic fervor, portraying a section of our country that believes it’s their preordained right to press their agenda by any possible means. After all, they’re friends of God; how could they possibly be wrong?

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