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Films of the Fringe

Dr. James Emery White | Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary | Friday, March 2, 2007

Films of the Fringe

The New York Times recently reported that when “Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West,” a documentary that shows Muslims urging attacks on the United States and Europe, was screened recently at the University of California, Los Angeles, it drew an audience of more than 300 – and also dozens of protesters.

Arguing it could spur hate crimes, administrators at Pace University in New York, and State University of New York at Stony Brook cancelled the film.  In truth, it plays into the often bitter campus debate over the Middle East by showing “clips from Arab television rarely shown in the West, including scenes of suicide bombers being recruited and inducted.”

Its critics call it incendiary.  One Palestinian-American student at U.C.L.A. said it was disheartening to see “a film like that take the people who have hijacked the religion and focuses on them.”

The same day of The New York Times article, USA Today ran an opinion piece by Don Feder titled “Target: Evangelicals” on another film: “Friends of God,” Alexandra Pelosi’s documentary (yes, the daughter of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi) on evangelical Christians.

“Instead of ‘See the bearded lady and Jo-Jo the dog-faced boy,’ it’s ‘See the Christian wrestlers and the Goth Christian teens with their nose rings and fuchsia-colored hair,” writes Feder.  “Pelosi takes a diverse and dynamic community…and turned it into a cavalcade of the bizarre.”

Airbrushed from the evangelical mosaic are the evangelical scientists, academics, stock brokers, dedicated inner-city teachers or counselors at drug rehab centers.  Instead, she offers HBO viewers the Christian Wrestling Federation, Christian miniature golf (where players putt through the empty tomb of the resurrected Jesus), a truck-stop prayer group, a Bible theme park (where an actor in robe and sandals dispenses parables), and a drive-through church.

“It’s the tried and true technique of filmmakers with an agenda,” observes Feder.  “Find the most embarrassing and absurd examples of whatever you want to lampoon and get them on camera.” 

Pelosi is far from alone.  Consider Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady’s 2006 Jesus Camp which examined a Pentecostal summer camp for 7-12-year-olds in North Dakota where kids weep uncontrollably, are taught to speak in tongues, pass around plastic replicas of aborted fetuses, crush ceramic cups to release Satan’s hold on government, call on the name of Jesus for “strikes” in bowling alleys, and pray over cardboard cut-outs of George Bush.

The founder of the camp “comes across as a Pentecostal version of Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader who ran Afghanistan before the 2001 U.S. invasion…As reviewers noted, all that was missing here were the AK-47s and dynamite belts.”

“With thousands of Bible camps across the land to choose from, [the directors] found the most extreme and scary.”  

While “Obsession” is being denounced for not addressing Islam in general, the history of Islam and the schisms within the faith and being cancelled for screenings, Pelosi’s film will air throughout the month on HBO. 

And if you watched the Oscars last week, you may have noted that Jesus Camp was nominated for an Oscar.

For best documentary.

James Emery White


“Film’s View of Islam Stirs Anger On Campuses,” Karen W. Arenson, The New York Times, Monday, February 26, 2007, p. B1 and B10.

“Target: Evangelicals,” Don Feder, USA Today, Monday, February 26, 2007, p. 11A.

On “Obsession: Radical Islam’s War On the West,” see www.ObsessionTheMovie.com

On “Friends of God,” see http://www.hbo.com/docs/programs/friends_of_god/index.html.

On “Jesus Camp,” see http://www.jesuscampthemovie.com/.

Films of the Fringe