Many movies bring tears to my eyes. But no film has ever made me utterly and completely lose it – until now.
The film I refer to is The Armor of Light, which I was privileged to see at its mid-October Los Angeles premiere at the Directors Guild of America. I had first learned of the film when it screened at the Tribeca Film Festival in April, and I was very much drawn to its central question: can someone be both pro-life and pro-gun? After corresponding for several months with director Abigail Disney and Rev. Rob Schenck, the film’s central figure, I finally got to meet them in person and see the documentary for myself.
Abby is, as you can guess by her family name, part of the famous Disney family. But though she is Walt Disney’s grandniece, she doesn’t share her family’s conservative politics. Instead, her path as an award-winning, independent filmmaker has reflected her progressive and activist sensibilities. My connection to her came via the nonprofit I work for, Man Up Campaign, of which she’s been a longtime supporter. It was a delight to finally meet, chat, and take the requisite selfie (below left):
— Eugene Hung (@eughung) October 15, 2015
Rob is, as the film explains, an ordained minister and a longtime prominent pro-life activist with connections to a Who’s Who of conservative leaders. (The film shows photos of Rob with Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, former Alaska governor Sarah Palin, and Texas senator Ted Cruz.) Yet as a former clergyman myself, with over a dozen years of full-time church service under my belt, and as a fellow evangelical Christian, I guessed that he and I would have a lot in common, and we indeed hit it off. And of course, there was another selfie to be had (above right).
The film itself, as I’ve said, is beyond moving. One pivotal moment in Rob’s journey of questioning the conservative orthodoxy of unfettered gun rights comes when he meets an African-American woman, Lucy McBath, whose teenage son Jordan was murdered in Florida. (Similarly to George Zimmerman, who is infamous for killing Trayvon Martin, Jordan’s white killer claimed the right to use lethal force based on the state’s stand-your-ground law.) As a viewer, it’s gut-wrenching to hear her talk about the incredible pain she has endured. Lucy’s deeply heartfelt plea for Rob to use his leadership position among evangelicals to speak out on gun issues is also powerful and gripping.
But the moment that absolutely tore my heart out comes when Rob describes his conversation with Richard Martinez, the father of one of the mass shooting victims in the UC-Santa Barbara area last year. You may remember him from his heart-rending declaration to the press that “irresponsible politicians and the NRA” (i.e., the National Rifle Association) killed his 20-year-old son Chris. Over the phone with Rob, Richard had said:
“Where the hell are the clergy?”
It was all I could do at that point to muffle my weeping in the packed theater.
You see, I’ve long felt that we evangelical ministers, with the exception of our African American brothers and sisters, have largely failed to help our congregations look critically at, and think biblically about, a wide spectrum of key social issues. There are many reasons for this, and it would take numerous additional columns to enumerate and explore them substantively. But in my view, this has been one of our greatest failings as Christian leaders.
I believe that as a consequence of this silence of the clergy, and the dominance in Christian broadcasting and publishing by political conservatives, many evangelicals have bought into the conservative agenda wholesale, way beyond the pro-life concerns that often first led them to align with the Right. (In fact, before Ronald Reagan ran for president in 1980, most evangelicals actually leaned toward the Democratic party.) The silence of the clergy, then, contributes to the strong evangelical support for what are morally and biblically questionable – if not outright un-Christlike and unbiblical – views on gun rights, immigration, civil rights, race relations, poverty, climate change, and war, just to name a few. And at least on the question of gun rights, evangelical support helps the NRA maintain its stranglehold on gun reform in this country.
And in the meantime, more Americans keep dying. Every day.
You can bet that the NRA won’t want Americans, and especially evangelicals, to see The Armor of Light. It will definitely provoke pro-life, pro-gun Christians to question the consistency of their beliefs. I have no doubt that many of these evangelicals will come to change their stance significantly.
The film will also give viewers of all religious and political stripes hope – hope that good people, though they may disagree strongly on some matters, can transcend the demonizing, contempt-filled rhetoric from politicians and pundits on both the Right and Left. Without ignoring their differences, they can forge productive partnerships in addressing society’s ills and even genuine friendships, as I’ve seen and heard Abby and Rob speak of in interviews.
Richard Martinez asked, “Where the hell are the clergy?” This film shows Rob Schenck’s personal answer, that he will no longer be silent, despite what it begins to cost him personally.
And though I don’t currently have a pulpit, I am blessed to have platforms from which to speak. Like Rob, I am determined that, so help me God, I also will not be silent.
The Armor of Light opens in select cities on Friday, October 30. To see where it will be showing, visit the movie’s official website. A feminist dad, Eugene Hung writes the Raising Asian American Daughters blog here at Asiance Magazine. He serves as the lead organizer for Man Up Campaign in the greater Los Angeles area, as well as its social media manager. Interact with him on Twitter via @eughung.