Making a carnival side show of Christianity

Don Feder:

Watching Alexandra Pelosi's documentary Friends of God, showing on HBO all this month, brings to mind the carnival attractions of a bygone era.

Instead of "See the bearded lady and Jo-Jo the dog-faced boy," it's "See the Christian wrestlers and the Goth Christian teens with their nose rings and fuchsia-colored hair, talking about getting a religious 'high.' " Pelosi takes a diverse and dynamic community (estimated at between 50 million and 80 million) and turns it into a cavalcade of the bizarre.

Blue Staters often picture evangelicals as a tribe of shallow and slightly loony fanatics. Pelosi's documentary reinforces these prejudices. With minimal effort, the daughter of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi could have found a few evangelical scientists, stock brokers, dedicated inner-city teachers or counselors at drug rehab centers.

Instead, she offers HBO viewers the Christian Wrestling Federation, Christian miniature golf (where players putt through the empty tomb of the resurrected Jesus), a truck-stop prayer group and a Bible theme park, where an actor in robe and sandals dispenses parables. At a drive-through church, those seeking the spiritual equivalent of fast food can pray with a lady behind a plate glass window from the comfort of their car.

It's the tried-and-true technique of filmmakers with an agenda — find the most embarrassing and absurd examples of whatever you want to lampoon and get them on camera.

Pelosi's piece 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.

A review in The Denver Post notes: "With smug narration and a condescending tone, the filmmaker … finds plenty to gawk at outside her hip metropolitan comfort zone. Nobody sounds more provincial than a New Yorker set adrift in the heartland."

Pelosi follows the trail blazed by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady's 2006 documentary Jesus Camp, about a Pentecostal summer camp for 7- to 12-year-olds in North Dakota. With thousands of Bible camps across the land to choose from, Ewing and Grady found the most extreme and scary.

...

Perhaps we need a documentary on the tin foil hat wearers in the anti war movement. But making Christians scary is pretty hard work since most that I have come in contact with are nice honest people who are the opposite of the venal characterization the left uses on those they perceive as their enemies. There are some who pretend to be Christians for predatory reasons but their victims are always Christians who believe them. They tend to be investment swindlers instead of people with political agendas. Demonizing Christians is an ancient practice and Ms. Pelosi, unfortunately has lots of company.

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