In early October, a handful of UCC congregations will be among the dozens of churches nationally hosting preview screenings of "The Ground Truth," a new documentary that reflects on the Iraq War from soldiers' perspectives.
Now, UCC leaders - including the denomination's chief military liaison - are hoping more UCC churches will sign up to show the film, which is scheduled to be released by mid-month on DVD, shortly after its major theatrical release.
"'The Ground Truth' in no way dishonors service members or veterans," says the Rev. John F. Gundlach, a retired Navy chaplain who now serves as the UCC's minister for government chaplaincies. "To the contrary, it lifts up the true nature of their service and sacrifices in a way that we rarely, if ever, see in the popular media."
Director/producer Patricia Foulkroad says her film is not about the right or the left, or about blue or red states.
"It is about the hundreds of thousands of U.S. soldiers who have been released by the military after serving in Iraq, and the truth they hope to share with their fellow citizens," she said in June. "I produced and directed 'The Ground Truth' because I felt it was time to stop hiding behind the politics. . It became clear, while filming, that the broken hearts and shattered lives that I was seeing were profound and pervasive, whether the soldiers and their families were for or against the Iraq War."
Gundlach, who was asked to preview the film before it was recommended to UCC audiences, told United Church News, "I found this to be an accurate representation of military recruiting and training practices and an honest portrayal of the lasting effects of combat on those who have experienced it."
Church of the Savior UCC in Knoxville, Tenn., Pilgrim UCC in Carlsbad, Calif., Plymouth Congregational UCC in Milwaukee, Wis., and New York City's Riverside Church (UCC/American Baptist) are among those churches scheduled to host pre-release screenings, according to the Rev. Ron Stief, who directs the UCC's Justice and Ministries office in Washington, D.C.
Focus Films is the documentary's distributor, the same company that oversaw distribution of Brokeback Mountain, says Stief. The movie already is receiving widespread attention, he says.
Stief and the Rev. Loey Powell, along with other JWM staff, are working to promote the film's use, especially because they say it's a balanced tool that can inform church members' conversations about the Iraq and the war's effects on those who are actually fighting on the ground.
"This is a perspective from the veterans," Stief said. "We want the veterans to be able to speak for themselves, whether we should get out [of Iraq] or not."
To learn more or to order the DVD, visit thegroundtruth.org.