Although already having been available on DVD, Lord, Save Us from Your Followers is being theatrically released in selected cities. A recent screening of the film was followed by a fifty-minute panel discussion featuring the filmmaker, Dan Merchant; Michael Levine of Levine Communications and author of Guerilla PR; Dr. Everett Piper, President of Oklahoma Wesleyan University; and Bill Lobdell, author of Losing My Religion: How I Lost My Faith Reporting on Religion in America and Found Unexpected Peace. The panel was moderated by Mark Joseph, founder of BullyPulpit.com. This report represents an abridged version of the discussion.
The film looks at the way Christians (especially evangelical Christians) engage the world. It calls for Christians to be in dialogue with people of other beliefs in constructive ways.
When asked to comment on the “culture war,” Levine began by asking the audience how many identified themselves as committed Christians, then how many believed that he was going to hell because he was not a Christian. He estimated the hands raised to be about 99% and 80% respectively.
Levine: If you believe that is a very good way of inspiring interfaith dialogue—we differ. But I deeply admire your willingness to tell the truth. I love it.
There are two groups of people, right? And one of the two groups (you can imagine which of the groups I’m referring to) believes definitionally that the other group, no matter what they say [or do] is going to hell. That’s a conversation breaker, right? It’s not great. . . . That’s something to think about.
Merchant: I think Michael hits it on the head. That’s the conversation breaker. It’s not like you sit down for a blind date and go, “OK, here are the things. If you’re not a Yankees fan, you haven’t seen the Rolling Stones live, if you don’t think Paul is the best of the Beatles, then I’m sorry, this dinner’s over.” You don’t set up a blind date like that, do you? You probe and you talk and you get to know who someone is.
Joseph: I think what Michael is saying is that he’s uncomfortable with the conversation as long as you hold to that belief.
Levine: It doesn’t engender a kind of authentic, vulnerable, transparent dialogue.
Merchant: I think one of the things that’s fascinating is that when we Christians run to that place I think we’re completely missing the boat. There is explaining what we believe and why we believe it—and the discussions of hell in the Bible are fascinating and limited, and there’s so much about how we’re supposed to treat each other. If you look at the demonstrations of Christ’s Gospel—if we’re obedient to Christ—then I meet Michael and I’m looking to understand who he is and let him get to know me. And within the context of that relationship the conversation may be very different. I may learn things about him and he may learn things about me, and frankly to me the conversation is: you know what, Michael, we’ll sort it out at the pearly gates. I take a very different position. If I’m a Christian—if I believe this stuff—my job is to be obedient to it. I’m afraid Bill is more right than I wish he were [referring to his comments about most Americans being cultural Christians] in the respect that—let’s go back to the red letters in the Gospels. Jesus lays out some pretty tall stuff that he expects from us. Most of us don’t do it, because it demands something from us. It’s very difficult.
Lobdell: Don’t you think as a Christian after you get to know Michael and love him up and everything, you have a responsibility to try to get him to accept Christ to avoid hell?
Merchant: You know, the way I personally would look at it is I would hope that that conversation comes up because Michael brings it up, not because I would bring it up to him. Then Michal would see—“Wow! What this thing about how you seem to be more patient than everyone?” Then it becomes his choice.