Saturday, February 2, 2008

John Kerry Appears Unexpectedly at ARTICLE VI

D.C. Screening Stimulates Discussion

OK, Kerry wasn't really there. But read on.

The screening of ARTICLE VI at the Heritage Foundation on January 31st was well attended and very exciting. It provided material for many blog entries that we will be sharing over the next few days. I'm personally very grateful for all who attended, and excited by the potential for healthy dialog.

Part of the discussion at the screening, however, stuck in my heart and has been bothering me ever since. At one point, a question was asked whether the Catholic Church, or individual priests or bishops, were right to deny John Kerry Holy Communion or other sacraments because of his public disavowal of the Church's position on abortion. The question struck me as off-topic, but it was followed by some significant discussion so perhaps it wasn't.

One of the speakers, a Catholic, said, "Absolutely!" and offered some further explanation, which I won't try to relate here because I might miss-quote or miss-interpret the response.

However, the answer bothered me then, and it bothered me still more as time passed. And this morning, I'm able to articulate why.

Raised Catholic, I'm personally familiar with the beauty, power, and grace of the Catholic Mass. It's described as "Communion" for a reason - it's a powerful communion with your community and with your God. It's transcendent - or can be.

And if Holy Communion is about experiencing the Grace of God, being in the presence of God, and communing with God, then, for Heaven's sake WHY would a church deny someone they view as "sinner", who nonetheless seeks to be a member of that community, the opportunity to experience God? Isn't the whole point of religion to try to bring us closer to God? And if you really believe that God and God's Grace is present in the experience of Holy Communion, isn't that exactly the kind of experience that a sinner might need to be made whole and come closer to enlightenment?

Now, I'm not a theological expert on Catholicism. I speak only from my experience. But Jesus sat down with the sinners and broke bread. He shared himself with them. And he did so deliberately, to the shock and appall of the religious leaders of his day.

If Holy Communion is a perk you get from being a "member in good standing" in a club, then, sure - deny away.

Humbly, that's not what it was to me.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Shreveport Screening Success

Real People, Reel Perspectives

Last night’s screening in Shreveport was a huge success. The crowd – that overflowed in to the balcony area - was larger than expected and very engaged. After a rousing ovation, the audience hung around for questions for an hour. The makeup of the audience was an interesting mix of students, professors, local leaders, and members of many local area churches. Bryan Hall and I both noticed and commented to each other how many people came up to discuss the substance of the film, and not just the horse race of this political campaign.

As in the other screenings so far, we were swamped with questions about where the film would be in theaters and how people could get copies – questions we love. But, the most wonderful part of the evening was the wonderful southern hospitality – and the chocolate chip cookies!

Reed Dickens

Monday, January 28, 2008

Evangelical? Muslim? Mormon? Athiest?

Which America is Your America?

In this film, we share one man's journey into the world of American politics and American religious views. And because that man (director Bryan Hall) is a Mormon, his perspective includes questions about Mitt Romney and why many evangelical Christians have chosen not to support him.

It’s interesting stuff. But the film doesn’t touch on Romney’s campaign or positions at all, really. Nor does it promote him as a candidate. And in particular, it doesn’t touch on Romney’s "Faith In America" speech.

So at the risk of raising the ire of some, I thought maybe I’d bring it up, and use the topic as an opportunity to ask some honest questions. On December 6th, 2007, Romney spoke about Faith in America.

The first question is, "Why?"

In his opening paragraph, Romney said,
"...when America has faced challenge and peril, Americans rise to the occasion, willing to risk their very lives to defend freedom and preserve our nation."
And then,
"Today, I wish to address a topic which I believe is fundamental to America's greatness: our religious liberty."
Arguably, the religious freedom granted by our founding documents is an essential part of America's greatness, and it is certainly an essential testament to the wisdom of Liberty as a founding principle.

Arguably, as well, Americans need to rise to the occasion, on this occasion, and defend religious liberty in America. A group of scholars and pastors have offered a first defense, in the form of a statement they've entitled "Keeping Faith: Principles to Protect Religion on the Campaign Trail", published by the organization Faith in Public Life, which offers three key points:
  1. Avoid using religious or doctrinal differences to marginalize or disparage each other
  2. Acknowledge that no single faith has an exclusive claim to moral values; and
  3. Recognize that policy positions should reflect the best interests of all citizens regardless of religious belief.
It's interesting that they believe these points are important to protecting religion. In the body of their statement is a very important paragraph:
"Exclusionary religious rhetoric by candidates and constant scrutiny of the minutiae of their faiths undermine religion's valuable role in public life... History is replete with examples of religion compromised by its collusion with power, and the role of religion in the current campaign raises concern that it is once again being misused." [emphasis added]
I would like to believe that this is what Romney meant when he opened his remarks by alluding to great sacrifice in defense of liberty. I'm not sure, though, because many of his ensuing remarks seemed to drive in a different direction -- where religion is essential, belief in God is essential, and government acknowledgment of God is fundamental. And more directly,
"Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom."
Romney was criticized by many (including me) who wondered, "Where is the role for the atheist and agnostic in his vision?" Or, those for whom religious expression is private, even as it calls for public action? Is there an implicit assumption in his perspective that morality (only) comes from a belief in God or from religious doctrine? Or that America must publicly profess a belief in the divine to be a moral, honorable people? Is there something un-American with the "religion of secularism", as he put it?

The ecumenical statement by Faith in Public Life asserts that no single faith has an exclusive claim to moral values. Many would argue that moral values need not stem from a belief in God at all, as we have traditionally understood it.

Dr. Michael Ruffin, pastor of The Hill Baptist Church in Augusta, GA, wrote an excellent column in the Augusta Chronicle, decrying the divisions that religion is creating in our politics. In summarizing, he wrote:
"I'm worried. I'm worried that the religious pluralism that has developed from our cherished freedom of, and from, religion is becoming a source of division. I'm worried that too many of us will vote for or against this or that presidential candidate mainly because of his or her religious affiliation. I'm worried that too many candidates are playing to this or that religious constituency in order to get elected.

And I'm worried that we'll forget that whoever is elected has to be the president of all Americans."
Me too.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Obama Plays Huckabee’s Hand?

Candidate Appeals to Doctrine in South Carolina Swing
"I believe in the redemptive death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I believe that that faith gives me a path to be cleansed of sin and have eternal life."
So said Barak Obama this week in an interview with Christianity Today.

Why does this statement matter? Is Barak Obama trying to make people aware of his faith because so many think he's a Muslim, or make himself more appealing to some based on his religious beliefs? Is he trying to illuminate his life or is he trying to insinuate himself into the Christian Evangelical community? Does it matter either way?

The New York Times political blog wrote about Obama’s Christian Campaign today, and it sounded a lot like Mike Huckabee’s campaign – appealing to Christian voters by appealing to their doctrine, in their houses of worship, rather than just their issues. Like Mike Huckabee’s TV ad in December citing him as a "Christian Leader", Obama has a pamphlet with "Committed Christian" in large font.

What does this say to the Hindus, Jews, Muslims, and other minority faiths, about Obama as a candidate and as a leader? What comes out of that approach? What gets reinforced?

From the Times story:
"Christianity is the basis of all human beings," said Lanette Battle, a manicurist who came to Wednesday night’s event in Dillon wearing a large beaded cross alongside a "Hot Chicks Love Obama" button.
Perhaps Lanette was misquoted. Perhaps what she meant to say was, "The basic tenets of Christianity; that is, love, compassion, forgiveness, and charity, are essential human characteristics, essential to positive human relationships, essential to peace and harmony and progressive culture."

But that’s not the message that came out.

Looking at his candidacy objectively, Obama has a rich platform of ideas and initiatives (that you may or may not agree with...). He has positions and passion. So why would a candidate engage in what appears to be identity politics, a path that inevitably leads to division and disdain? What drives this behavior? As I read Obama's Call To Renewal speech, I don't perceive any of this identity politics, but rather a rejection of it. I don't think that's what Obama is about.

And yet, again from the Times story:
Brittnay Davis, a former air force pilot trying to decide between Mr. Obama and Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, seemed annoyed at the overtly religious appeals. "This is not good," she said, gesturing at a leaflet depicting Mr. Obama staring soulfully from a pulpit, a large cross and a stained-glass window behind him. "I want to know something other than that."
Honestly, so do I.

Friday, January 18, 2008

ARTICLE VI Draws Diverse Viewers

ARTICLE VI, Ben, Sally, and the Papal Nuncio

Our online event today has been a very interesting one, and has drawn some delightfully diverse commentary.

Salley Morem offered the following comment:
I watched your trailer and it made a number of excellent points about the dangers of applying a religious test to candidates for high office in America.

I'll be even more impressed when avowed atheists and agnostics can run for high office without being attacked speciously for "having no morals."

Congratulations on your movie.
I decided to follow the link to Sally's site, to learn more about her. She's a secular humanist, with a variety of essays posted on her site. I checked out this one: The Curious Case of America, Benjamin Franklin, and the Papal Nuncio

(Sally, I'm going to pull a few choice sections from your essay, to illustrate a point. If you object, let me know.)

Her essay relates the story of how the papal nuncio (the Pope's diplomatic representative in France) was prepared for difficult and detailed negotiations with our government, as it had been compelled to do across Europe and across the centuries, regarding how the Catholic Church would be allowed to operate in the newly formed United States. According to Sally,
...the Nuncio asked Franklin, "What would be the best way to approach your Congress so that we may discuss the organization of the Catholic Church in America at this time of great change? I'm sure you agree this is a matter of some concern to the Church and to Americans." (I'm paraphrasing here.)

Franklin looked at him somewhat curiously and asked, "Why would Congress care about that? Do what you want." (I'm paraphrasing here again.)

The distance of time does not permit us to know exactly how the Nuncio reacted to such an astounding statement. But we may reasonably assume that his mouth dropped open in stunned shock.

...The nonchalant, almost unthinking way in which Franklin brushed off the Nuncio's concerns indicates that Franklin inherited a long-held American assumption that governments didn't meddle in church affairs and vice versa.
Sally goes on to point to the presence of Article VI of the Constitution as an indication of that assumption, and describes its roots in American self-reliance. She concludes that we've got a peculiarly secular national fabric in a country of deeply religious people.

Coincidence? I think not. In fact, we interviewed Randall Balmer, professor of religious studies at Columbia University, and he believes that
"Religious life has flourished in America as nowhere else, precisely because of Religious disestablishment."
We rarely think of irony as something beautiful, but in this instance, I think it really is. And it's a fundamental part of what has made our country beautiful.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

ARTICLE VI premieres in Atlanta, Orange County, Salt Lake City

Audiences Share Their Perspectives

On Monday and Tuesday of this week, we shared "ARTICLE VI: Faith. Politics. America." with audiences in Atlanta, Newport Beach, and Salt Lake City. I attended the latter two screenings.

As film makers, we were unsure how a large audience would take the film. As artists, we were nervous, but grateful for the large crowds. In Newport Beach, the beautiful old Lido Theater was stunning, and before the showing it seemed cavernously large. But by showtime, all three theaters were full, assuring us that people cared about the topic we hoped to illuminate.

As it turned out, the audiences appreciated the film, and many seemed genuinely moved. One gentleman said,
"We were just out to dinner, and we looked at the theater and said, 'It sure doesn't look like they're showing Juno...' so we said what the heck, let's check it out. And after seeing the film, I think it should be shown in high schools as a civic lesson, a history lesson, and a lesson in tolerance."

At another screening, a woman stood up and shared a tender analogy in accented English:
"I don't know how many of you are familiar with quilting, but quilting starts with a single piece of cloth, not much by itself. But after you put it together, a beautiful thing emerges. As an immigrant, I am very aware of how beautiful this quilt of a country is, and after seeing this film I'm reminded again."

Many shared that they thought the film was thought-provoking for them as individuals and for us as a country.

We couldn't have asked for a warmer, more sincere welcome for this project.

We thank everyone for their kind thoughts and comments about our film. We sincerely hope that those of you who are interested in this topic will take a moment to stop by our website, engage in this important debate, and if you feel so inclined, see and share the film.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

ARTICLE VI: Faith. Politics. America

Have you ever wondered if we're asking the right questions?

We have.

Let's start with a reality check: It is unrealistic to pretend that religion will be kept separate from politics, because both speak to morality, community, and action.

Across the globe and throughout history, we can cite many examples of the wrong way for religion to interact with politics.

So, what is the right way? It is our earnest hope that through this film, we can raise the level of inquiry about the role of faith in politics, and catalyze what will be an energizing, provocative, and, yes, combustible debate. Because it's a necessary debate, perhaps never more so than right now.

In the end, my faith (or yours) is irrelevant to this story. What matters is how America can express her spiritual and moral values in our political process without relying on, focusing on, or forcing those values into a straight-jacket of a particular religion or religious expression.

It matters to me because I am a patriot: because I love my country, and the ideals it represents.
I believe in the ability of the Constitution of the United States to serve as a guide to the American people in exercising their moral prerogatives and obligations in governing themselves.

ARTICLE VI is where I take a stand to defend it, and how I choose to serve my country.

I invite you to join me.

John Carosella
Executive Producer,