You could feel the tension in the air long before the pot boiled over during our screening of Porter Speakman Jr.’s provocative and powerful documentary, “With God on Our Side.” The new film critiques Christian Zionism, the at times unqualified and un-nuanced support evangelicals give to Israel as a nation-state–largely at the expense of our forgotten Palestinian brothers and sisters in Christ. In Speakman’s excellent introduction, he shared candidly that his 80-minute film was not comprehensive in scope and in fact is only “one side of the story.” The reason he felt compelled to document this side (as have I in my preaching and writing) is that it’s the side that Christians in America almost never hear. As our church has supported the work founded by Sister Margaret Gaines in a small Palestinian community, we have learned much about how neglected the Arab Church really is. And it has caused us–it has caused me–to become passionate about the pursuit of peace and reconciliation in this conflict as opposed to simply supporting one side over another.
In a packed house of people who largely came in not knowing what to think, critics also came out in full force. There were several rows of folks from outside Renovatus who heckled the film while it was being shown. During the Q and A with the filmmakers following the screening, one young man from another Church interrupted the session with a passionate diatribe against the film. We weren’t angry or rattled at this brother in Christ (though disappointed in his unfortunate choice of rhetoric towards our guests), but rather pleased we were plunging into the kind of robust dialog the Church urgently needs in these times. Porter, who has become a friend, said it was the only time on their American tour that they had been interrupted by an audience.
It was uncomfortable for us all (no matter what convictions we brought with us into the screening)–but the experience was important for us all. At Renovatus, part of our manifesto is that we will “reach out without dumbing down…,” we will unapologetically force people to think hard about God, the Church, and culture. 2 years ago, a night like that would have given me an ulcer. That night, I went home and slept like a baby–understanding that provoking, prodding and inciting in areas where the Church hasn’t wanted to be provoked is part of our job, part of our calling. It was about our care for Christian neighbors around the world, to be sure. But it was also a part of a larger experience of getting comfortable in our skin as a renovation movement, getting accustomed to being in the middle of complex and emotionally charged issues because we believe Christ is in the middle of them as well. The conversations that followed that night and in our community afterward was the sound of a people a growing up.