Friends of God: A Trip with Alexandra Pelosi
PG
Entertainment: +2
Acceptability: +3

FILM SYNOPSIS: An HBO exclusive, this documentary focuses attention on a portion of the estimated 50 to 80 million evangelical Christians living in America. Evangelicals have become a group the political Left views as a formidable force that threatens culture and democracy. But the evangelical movement is a big tent. To try and get a better understanding of the range and diversity of this community, filmmaker Alexandra Pelosi hit the road to meet some evangelicals and learn about what their influence may mean for the future of the country.

Pelosi ventures out over a year-long period for up-close encounters with some influential members of the evangelical community who embody a wide range of evangelical experiences. Among them areJoel Osteen, the most-watched TV minister in America; pastor Ron Luce, the founder of Battle Cry, a concert tour that has drawn more than two million young people to its events nationwide; Pastor Ted Haggard, who recently stepped down as president of the 30-million strong National Association of Evangelicals the largest evangelical group in the U.S.; and Rev. Jerry Falwell, leader of the Moral Majority. Friends of God premiered Thursday, January 25th on HBO, and will air other days throughout February.

PREVIEW REVIEW: Hoisted on their own petard seems to be the intent of this 60-minute cable special. By showcasing wrestlers for Christ, an amusement park with a biblical theme, and a drive-through church where a stranger asks for prayer requests before sending the driver on his merry way, an entire religious movement comes across as silly. One guy drives around in a pickup truck decorated with scripture and warns that youre a loser if you dont have Christ, while another disciple builds huge crosses around the South at a personal cost of thousands of dollars.

Alexandra Pelosi (whose previous HBO credits include 2000s Emmy-winning Journeys with George) has sought out representatives, including children who seem brainwashed, who represent Christianity as culturally destructive rather than morally cultivating. Her professional efforts succeed at giving viewers a lively, entertaining, yet somewhat jaundiced view of those who believe the Bible to be the inerrant Word of God. Those dismissive of church-going will enjoy the apparent silliness of attending mega churches, some held in areas where the night before they could have attended a football game. Others who believe Jesus is the Son of God will scratch their heads, wondering why their more reverent denomination goes overlooked. But even they might find the glib presentation involving.

Truth is, a documentarian can portray any subject matter to look concerned, thoughtful and redemptive. Or, he can demonize that same topic. In the 1930s, Leni Riefenstahl made Hitler look like the savior of a nation in Triumph of the Will. Years later, director Davis Guggenheim made Al Gore seem like the lone statesman concerned with the worlds future in An Inconvenient Truth. Depending on your views of global warming, youll either find the ex-VP qualified and factual, or find the film merely a project bent on retooling a political dead fish. Nearly everyone can be a martyr or a saint, depending on the filmmakers approach and the audiences receptiveness.

Traditionalists, those who are still uplifted by the hymns of Fanny Crosby or meditate without bouncing, will not find their congregation represented in this documentary. Still, while I prefer not to bounce when I praise, I realize that there are sincere ministries that appear absurd but manage to reach those who cannot relate to a staid church service, amid those wearing suits and ties. As I viewed a group of Christian wrestlers in this film, I first shook my head. A packed stadium like youd see turn out for the World Federation of Wrestling enjoyed the antics of pudgy combatants with scripture written across their bottoms. But as the head of the group indicated that around 10% of each attending audience made a decision for Christ by the end of their presentation, I remembered the axiom, God works in mysterious ways.

There has been a rash of recent docudramas that dwell on the shortcomings of the Christian hierarchy, or view with apprehension and/or disdain the Religious Rights input in the political arena. One cannot help but surmise that these artists believe that every group or minority has an obligation to get involved in politics, except Christians. A confused perception of the separation of church and state becomes a mandate these dwellers of Tinseltown cling to in order to remove religious conservative values from the moral makeup of our countrys laws, education and entertainment.

Is there any group that could be portrayed in a documentary without feeling nervous about their future well-being? Snide and covert, this effort only lacks the drawings of its characters with horns and a tail. That said, its worth viewing in order to get a view of the media concerning outreaches that just seem out-there.

Preview Reviewer: Phil Boatwright
Distributor: HBO

Summary
Crude Language: None
Obscene Language: None
Profanity: None
Violence: None
Sexual Intercourse: None
Nudity: None
Homosexual Conduct: None
Sexually Suggestive Action/Dialog: None
Drug Abuse: None
Other: None
Running Time: 60 minutes
Intended Audience: Adults

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