Are You a Friend of God?

Alexandra Pelosi’s road excursion into the evangelical subculture premiers tonight (Thursday, January 25) on HBO at 9:00 pm ET.  When I spoke with Alexandra a couple of days ago she indicated to me that her intent was never to paint evangelicals in a bad light.  Friends of God is intended first for the people in her own circle of influence who she describes as having a “coastal attitude” toward evangelcials: a preconceived characiture of evangelicals as somehow strange.  She told me that people with this coastal attitude “talk about evangelicals but you don’t know any and they’re right in your backyard.” She says that the evangelicals she highlights in her documentary are “the people she liked, that she really got along wth, that she really respected.”

Ms. Pelosi told me that her motivation for engaging evangelicals with her camcorder was to “start a conversation about this whole ‘Red vs. Blue’ America that we like to talk about on the cable news shows.”  Alexandra believes – and rightly so – that the people who move in her world on the coasts of this great country – have an inaccurate perception of evangelicals.  I’m not sure how much more accurate their perception will be after watching her documentary.

Alexandra chose to focus on the most abberant variety of evangelicalism.  Her journey begins in what one might consider mainstream evangelicalism – the megachurch, even though the vast majority of church-going evangelicals never step foot inside a megachurch.  Her road trip then descends into the evangelical underground of Christian wrestlers, Christian cruisers, Christian skateboarders, Christian comedians, Christian homeschoolers, antievolution seminars, drivethru prayer chapels, and Teen Mania stadium events where more than 2 million teenagers across the country rocked out the Battle Cry message of Ron Luce.  She told me that the purpose of focusing on such bizzarre evangelical activities was to demonstrate to people outside of evangelicalism that “these people have their own culture.”  The fact that we evangelicals do have our own culture is a problem, not a benefit.

She succeeds in painting a picture of evangelicals as “holy warriors” and anti-culture crusaders, focusing one segment on students at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University who were mobilized in a get out the vote campaign for conservative candidates and ballot initiatives in Virgina, as if students on liberal university campuses across the nation are never mobilized in similar fashion for liberal candidates and liberal ballot initiatives.

Those of us who live and move within evangelical circles understand that this evangelical underground presented in Friends of God is not the real evangelicalism.  Sadly, the HBO audience will not recognize this fact. We also understand that the vast majority of pastors in evangelical churches are not mobilizing a political effort on the scale of the megachurches Alexandra focuses on in her documentary.  The vast majority of evangelicals don’t even worship in a megachurch; they worship in churches of 100 or less in attendance led by a faithful pastor whose name we have never heard of.

That having been said, I do not believe that Ms. Pelosi has an agenda whose priority is to make evangelicals look like a conglomerate of politically powerful mega church pastors and uneducated hicks who blindly accept a literal 6 day creation over the more convential evolutionary theory.  But intentional or not, this is what she has accomplished in 56 minutes of television which, in her defense, she says is “not the encyclopedia of all evangelicals.” She never tells that to her audience, however.

For a look inside the real world of evangelicalism, a good starting place would be your local yellow pages,  under Churches – Southern Baptist. Pick the first one in the list, visit it on a Sunday morning, or even better on a Wednesday night, and you’ll have a much better understanding of the real world of evangelicals.

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About Paul Edwards

Paul is the Executive Director of the Center for the Study of God and Culture in Detroit, Michigan and Founding and Teaching Pastor at Redeemer Church of Waterford, Michigan.