This week, I was listening to a Tim Keller sermon about the relationship between the church and the world, and the inherent tension between the two. Rather than swing to the poles of separation/sectarianism or accommodation/syncretism, Christians are called to live as “resident aliens” within a culture, serving and loving the world with grace while also practicing remarkably counter-cultural values. The documentary The Armor of Light gives us a practical example of living this tension between the poles, finding oneself not only caught in the middle of opposite political/religious factions, but personally wrestling with one’s own identity and principles.
The Armor of Light mainly focuses on evangelical pastor Rob Schenck, a staunch conservative and outspoken pro-life advocate. This man is serious about being pro-life. The minister activist literally has set up his office across the street from the judicial powers in Washington, D.C. After a series of mass shootings in the US, including one just down the street in D.C., Schenck began to explore the gun policy debate in America, and the role of evangelicalism within the gun culture. Is it possible to be both pro-life and pro-gun? Is it okay to be a Christian while also owning a gun with the intent of self-defense? In his wrestlings, Schenck meets Lucy McBath, a mother whose unarmed teenage son was gunned down in Florida, sparking further debate’s about Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” laws. The documentary follows Schenck and McBath as they navigate the tension which arise when evangelical Americans are asked about their guns.
The Armor of Light does an excellent job of presenting a diverse and intellectual evangelicalism. Schenck is thoughtful, articulate, and honest about both his beliefs and his failings. The tone of the film is neither pro- or anti-Christian, but maintains a neutrality in such a volatile subject. It looks at the history behind the political marriage of evangelicals, the Republican party, and the National Rifle Association (which finds its roots in Ronald Reagan), and asks tough questions about Christian beliefs and Second Amendment rights. Some key scenes in the film occur at the 2014 NRA convention, where key speakers include Franklin Graham and Sarah Palin, both of who openly refer to their faith both in God and guns, to the nods and cheers of the masses. One other scene stands out both formally and due to its provoking content: a round table discussion between four evangelical leaders, Schenck’s friends and compatriots in the political and religious sectors. The conversation is instantly heated as Schenck broaches the subject–one wonders how much the rhetoric is for the documentary cameras in the room–and the dialogue becomes a polarized debate. A repeated phrase in defense of Christians owning guns: “The best way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” Another mantra: “Guns don’t kill people; people kill people.”
What’s interesting to me is that filmmaker Abigail Disney is pro-choice feminist who has sparked up a genuine friendship with Schenck. Their very friendship is indicative that this issue of gun laws and mass shootings requires moving beyond staying in our religious and political camps. The film itself models the sort of dialogue that needs to be fostered, and as such, is an invaluable film for any and every American evangelical to watch. Evangelical pastors: find, view, and discuss this movie.
As I write this review, my social media feed is filled with the latest headlines about five Black Lives Matters protesters who have been shot in Minneapolis. A few weeks ago, the state of Oregon was rocked by the mass shooting in Roseburg at a community college. We still grieve these tragedies. The Armor of Light dares to directly ask evangelicals what their response will be regarding gun laws, gun ownership, and the continued shootings that occur almost weekly. The documentary also addresses the question of race–groups of white Christians and black Christians have very different perspectives on gun laws and Second Amendment rights. How does a Christian reconcile their faith in Jesus with owning and carrying a handgun intended to kill another person in self-defense? How does a Christian combat systemic violence, racism, and hatred with a weapon at their side? What are the contradictions between our faith and our political leanings? The Armor of Light doesn’t offer didactic, simplistic answers to these complex questions, but it also doesn’t shy away from them. It invites critical thinking, personal reflection, and dialogue within faith communities about our posture towards guns, violence, and politics.
If that conversation sounds uncomfortable, it is. But let’s not let discomfort stop us from the pursuit of justice and a more robust public faith. Let’s have the conversation. Comments are open on this review. Ask your questions, share your stories, and let’s dialogue with honesty and grace.
The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. (Romans 13:12)
IMDB Listing: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4506722/