***note: I was not given this book by the publisher nor the author, but actually bought it with my own money.***
“Christianity is turning into a bad word in American society…I figured the best way to get to the bottom of this cultural divide was to talk to the people who were already in the midst of it.” And so begins Dan Merchant’s two year record of what he experience while shooting adocumentary also titled Lord Save Us From Your Followers. A journey which included everything from covering his body head to toe in bumper stickers, hanging out with a transvestite nun, and setting up a confessional booth at a Gay Pride Festival to meeting with major media players like Al Franken, Michael Reagan, Ron Luce and Sheila Hamilton.
This book is going to trigger some awesome spiritual conversations for both Christians and non Christians alike. One of its greatest strengths is that while being one of those books that can just wreck your life, really challenge your fundamental assumptions about life, faith and each other, it is very accessible. Weighing in at just over two hundred pages an avid reader can knock it out in a day or two and the rest of us in a few weeks. But the content is rich, poignant and important for all of us to read, share and apply to our lives.
Merchant looks at how Christians tend to dehumanize people. People demonize certain people’s sins and never look at them the way that Christ does, as children whom He loves. Chapter twelve is especially moving and many of the conversations he has are heart wrenching. He sets up the confessional booth at a Gay Pride Festival, but instead of a traditional confessional, he apologizes for the Church turning its back on AIDS victims during the 80’s and for his own prejudice even today (a la Blue Like Jazz). Because of his honesty and humility lots of people who would never darken the doors of a church have open, honest and beautiful conversations about church, God and life; moving many participants (and I would venture to guess many readers, myself included) to tears.
I was especially grateful for the amount of time he spent dealing with the politicization of the Church. One of the great tragedies of the last several decades is that Christians have forgotten the lessons of the disciples. The Jews had been waiting for Messiah to come and challenge the political order and then along comes Jesus. Not only does he not conquer Rome, he allows them to crucify Him. Not the conquering hero they were looking for. Today we forget that Christ came to change our hearts and not the world’s morals or laws. While not taking a side on the left or right, Merchant points out that we really cannot know how Christ would vote and to claim to is the height of hubris and insulting to everyone else on the planet who disagrees with you politically. It is an important reminder that he brings home in a non-threatening and yet poignant way.
While Merchant challenges the Church in a very forthright and serious manner, his love for Her shines through as well. He seems to, like Saint Augustine, believe that, “The Church is a whore, but she’s my mother (quoted in the book in an interview with Tony Campolo).” His heart seems to genuinely break as he hears the hurts and struggles of the people he interviews who have been wronged by those claiming to be Christians. He calls on all of us, Christians and non Christians alike to raise the level of discourse in our nation. He calls all of us to end the partisan bickering, one sided name calling and bumper sticker slogans. He shows an amazing passion for really impacting our culture. When it comes down to it, I think we can all agree that the Church should be seen for Christ’s love, the amazing relief work and social justice missions around the world instead of being known for Jerry Falwell’s claims that 9/11 occurred because of people who are gay and secular humanists and Pat Robertson’s calls for Hugo Chavez’s assassination.
The book takes an honest look at how the world views the Church and what perceptions exist. It should give those consider themselves Christians a desire to truly live as disciples and really look at what that means and how it should manifest itself in culture. It is also a great way for everyone else to get a picture of what Jesus had in mind for the Church, in an engaging, humorous and at times, very emotional way.