Independent film explores America's bumper-sticker theology
Written by Annie Martin
April - May 2008
'Lord, save us from your followers'
||Oregon filmmakers Jeff Martin (pictured) and Dan Merchant interviewed passersby to explore America's "bumper-sticker culture." Thomas Nelson | RNS photo.|
Nestled in a tiny office above a video rental store just south of Portland, Ore., filmmakers Dan Merchant and Jeff Martin are preparing to launch their first movie together.
The two members of Lightning Strikes Entertainment have spent about three years investigating a nationwide disconnect between Christians and their fellow Americans for their documentary "Lord, Save Us From Your Followers." The movie is due in theaters June 13, and a companion book came out on March 11.
The movie explores what Merchant calls America's "bumper-sticker culture" - people tell others what they think but aren't willing to consider conflicting views.
"Clearly we've decided to have the national debate ... on our cars,"
Merchant said. "We won't talk to each other about these issues, but we'll stick the 'God said Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve' or 'Who would Jesus bomb?' on our cars."
The film is named after a bumper sticker Merchant saw in the parking lot of his church, Southlake Foursquare in West Linn, Ore.
"I remember seeing that bumper sticker and laughing and kind of going, 'Yeah, I hate those judgmental so-and-sos, too; they make (Christians) look bad,'" Merchant said. "And I got about one more step toward the sanctuary when I realized that ... I'm one of those followers, too."
He and Martin, who attends Beaverton Foursquare Church, decided to create a film that would represent people of different faiths. Merchant interviewed public figures with various political and religious views, including Al Franken, the radio host and a Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate; Michael Reagan, son of President Reagan and a radio host; and Rick Santorum, a former Republican U.S. senator from Pennsylvania.
Merchant also did person-on-the-street interviews while wearing a body suit covered with bumper stickers representing a range of political and religious views. He asked passersby questions that included their perceptions of Christians and Jesus. To Merchant's surprise, many people did not have a very favorable opinion of Christians.
"It's fascinating that, by and large, people understood Jesus and not Christians," Merchant said. "It just shows that we haven't done the job of representing him that we are supposed to do."
Wanting to discuss the "culture war" from different perspectives created some challenges for the filmmakers, especially financially.
Because the movie isn't told entirely from a Christian perspective, it was hard to gain support from Christian organizations, Martin said.
Likewise, many secular groups wouldn't back the film because of the Christian influence.
People had to believe in the idea or in me and Dan personally," Martin said.
The movie will be released in 10 to 20 cities.
The film also will probably be available to churches that want to show it to their congregations.
"I wanted this film to be welcome in an art house and a church," Merchant said. "I didn't make a movie for church people, and I didn't make a movie to beat up Christians. I wanted everybody to be able to have this conversation."
The filmmakers are hopeful it will be well received. "The thing that happens after you see the movie is people stand around and talk for an hour," Merchant said. "And the whole thing starts to feel more like a movement than just a movie release."