Idol Chatter

Filmmaker Alexandra Pelosi’s HBO documentary “Friends of God,” which premieres tonight, promises a behind-the-scenes look at the “broad tent” that is evangelicalism in this country, but instead, the film simply follows the same unimaginative formula of other documentaries, like “Jesus Camp.” The formula goes like this: After stating that you are going to provide a thoughtful and fair-minded look at the millions of Christians in the U.S., you show extensive footage of Ted Haggard and Jerry Falwell interwined with interviews with Southerners who have various Jesus slogans on their vehicles and t-shirts and who homeschool their children. For good measure, in case anyone misses your point, you make sure you edit your film footage to show these people in the most unattractive way possible.

Such a static treatment of Christians is frustrating, but it is not even remotely the most annoying part of this documentary. Even if I give Pelosi (daughter of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi) the benefit of the doubt and assume that more moderate, socially-conscious evangelicals like Jim Wallis, Rick Warren, or Rob Bell were wisely unavailable for comment, that doesn’t excuse Pelosi’s simplistic interviewing skills. “Friends of God” doesn’t give any insight into Christianity in our culture, but it sure does give us a good glimpse at Pelosi’s lack of professionalism as a journalist.

When she attends a church service in Texas, she approaches three young men in amazement, asking them what a group of “swingers” like them are doing in a church on a Saturday night. That’s the extent of the interview, but then she moves on to chatting with motivatinal speaker/pastor Joel Osteen. She asks Olsteen in mock astonishment how he could possibly fill a stadium with Christians. And that’s as far as that interview goes.

But then there is the most uncomfortable moment of the show, when she talks with Ted Haggard–who had not yet been enmeshed in his very-public sex scandal–about sex. He and a few of his parishoners tell her that evangelicals actually have better sex lives than other people–and she giggles, saying she had no idea she was with a such a group of “studs.” In between listening to all of these fascinating soundbytes, I tried counting how many times Pelosi says in sarcastic bemusement, “Wow, we don’t have that in New York” whenever she is talking to a Christian or looking at a Jesus slogan on a billboard, but I eventually lost track.

But just in case any Idol Chatter readers think I am responding to one bias with a bias of my own, the national trade paper Variety also criticizes the way Pelosi treats her subject matter, saying she displays “thinly veiled condescension” of Christians. The Variety article goes on to wisely suggest it is foolish to lump all evangelicals into one mold and to assume there is no common ground. Variety defending Christians against a New York liberal? Now that’s what I call progress.

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