Friday, January 26, 2007

Pastors, creationism teachers, Christian stand-up comics and rockers

By ALESSANDRA STANLEY January 25, 2007
The French writer Bernard-Henri Lévy took a more self-serious tour of evangelical Christianity when he retraveled the road taken by Alexis de Tocqueville in his study of the modern American psyche, “American Vertigo.” (Mr. Lévy found New World religiosity a little less admirable than his predecessor did.)
“Friends of God” is not intended as a satire or even an exposé; Mr. Haggard’s fall from grace occurred after the filming was complete and is summed up in a postscript.
The documentary is a good-natured travelogue: it glances on the more intolerant and grotesque manifestations of Christian fundamentalism and also the faith’s vast following and political clout. Ms. Pelosi’s film doesn’t go deep; it doesn’t even explore why so many televangelists seem to follow the trajectory of Elmer Gantry. But it doesn’t snicker. “Friends of God” serves as a breezy, colorful reminder of how George W. Bush became president, why Fox News has the highest ratings of any 24-hour cable news network and why Democrats didn’t win an even greater landslide in the 2006 elections.
Ms. Pelosi is the daughter of the newly elected House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, and this is her third HBO film, and the one furthest afield from her natural habitats of Washington, New York and San Francisco. The first documentary, “Journeys With George,” was a mischievous, camcorder-look inside the world of the presidential campaign. (Ms. Pelosi was an NBC News producer on Mr. Bush’s press plane.) Her second, “Diary of a Political Tourist,” a smart-alecky, first-person tour of the Democratic primary process, was less winning.
Ms. Pelosi stays off camera and out of the way in “Friends of God,” and we only occasionally hear her voice. “So explain to me the concept of this Biblical mini golf,” the filmmaker says to a man who putts on a paper-and-glue parted Red Sea. (The ninth hole is a papier-mâché miniature of the Holy Sepulchre.)
Mostly, Ms. Pelosi lets pastors, creationism teachers, Christian stand-up comics and rockers and the founder of the Christian Wrestling Federation speak for themselves.
“So we do have a public relations problem; we always have — they killed Jesus if you’ll recall,” Mr. Haggard tells her. “And the church has always had this problem because we are the ones with the role to say, ‘There is a moral plumb line, and we need to rise up to it.’ ” At this point, the disgraced minister seems almost to foreshadow his own fate.
“And that’s also why secular people are so concerned when the church doesn’t fulfill its own moral standard,” he said. “Like if a pastor falls into corruption or becomes dishonest or greedy: it’s heartbreaking because even secular people want godly people to be authentically godly.”
FRIENDS OF GOD A Road Trip With Alexandra Pelosi HBO, tonight at 9, Eastern and Pacific times; 8, Central time. Written, directed and produced by Alexandra Pelosi; Lisa Heller, supervising producer; Sheila Nevins, executive producer.

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