Friday, February 16, 2007

"Friends of God"

At First Things, Michael Linton reviews the HBO documentary "Friends of God." He thinks it is something Evangelicals need to see, and that what we see should motivate some serious reflection. Excerpts from the review:
Although incomplete, it’s a fair picture. Pelosi simply drives around with her camcorder and asks us questions, letting us speak for ourselves. And the portrait she assembles is put together kindly and without malice. I think her documentary is a gift. We all need to see it. It’s a gift from the Lord.

But it’s a deeply painful gift. Here’s a scene that appears fairly early in the film. Pelosi has been interviewing Ted Haggard at his church in Colorado Springs. After some initial conversations and views of worship, Pelosi includes this scene shot in the church parking lot. Haggard is with two other men, both apparently in their late twenties. Pelosi is off-camera.
Haggard (to Pelosi): You know, all the surveys say that Evangelicals have the best sex life of any other group.
Pelosi: Oh, come on.
Haggard: Oh yeah.
Pelosi: No way.
Haggard: Oh yeah. Well, let’s just find out. (turning to Man #1) How often do you have sex with your wife?
Man #1: Every day, twice a day.
Haggard: OK, twice a day sometimes. ’K. (turning to Man #2) How about you?
Man #2: Every day.
Haggard: OK. Every day. (to Man #2) Let’s say, out of one hundred times when you have sex, what percentage does she climax?
Man #2: Every one.
Haggard: Every one. (turning to Man #1) How about you?
Man #1: Definitely, yeah, every one.
Pelosi: These guys, who would have thought these are a bunch of studs? Look at ’em.
Man #1: That’s right.
Pelosi: Look at that. We got to join this church. There’s a lot of love in this place!
Haggard: There’s a lot of love in this place. And you don’t think that these babies just come out of nowhere do you? (Haggard smiles broadly and laughs)
.... For us to watch it in any context is disquieting. Watching it knowing what we now know about Haggard’s adultery is heart wrenching. What was he thinking? What were they thinking?

Of course, Haggard wasn’t thinking. He was feeling. And he was feeling great. And so were the guys with him. And that’s the problem. We, “us,” the Evangelicals with the capital E, have become thoughtless, sensualistic braggarts. For some time, we’ve been accused of being simply thoughtless–an unfair charge (Jonathan Edwards was an evangelical after all) but a charge with some truth to it. But what doctrinal rigor we might have had has been progressively smothered by sensuality draped with arrogant irresponsibility. We don’t think; we feel. If it feels right, it’s the Lord’s working, and if it’s the Lord’s working, we can be proud of it. Pelosi lays it all out for us to see. ....

... The possibility that it might be deeply indecent for a Christian minister ever to ask a man to reveal the most intimate nature of his relationship with his wife in front of anyone else–let alone in front of a camera–is apparently not within his ken. And the idea that these men should protect their wives’ privacy and refuse to answer isn’t in their ken either. ... It feels so great. It’s all for the Lord. High fives, everybody. ....

.... I want to go back to the hymn Pelosi begins her documentary with, sung (and swayed to) by worshippers at Joel Osteens’ Lakewood Church. Here are the lyrics:

Who am I that You are mindful of me
That You hear me when I call
Is it true that You are thinking of me
How You love me, it’s amazing.

I am a friend of God
I am a friend of God
I am a friend of God
He calls me friend.


God Almighty,
Lord of Glory,
You have called me friend.


He calls me friend.
[repeated, a lot]
It’s a scene familiar to any Evangelical. ...The tune is infectious, the words few and easily memorized, and the message upbeat; you feel great singing it. And it’s kinda scriptural.

Kinda. James 3:23b quotes Jehoshaphat’s plea for the Lord’s intervention (2 Chron. 20:7), where the king calls the people of Israel “the descendants of Abraham thy friend.” In his high priestly prayer, Jesus calls his disciples “friends,” but his salutation is conditional: “You are my friends if you do what I command you,” and it’s delivered within the context of the Lord’s preparation for his crucifixion; friendship requires obedience and sacrifice (John 15:14).

But the king’s startling honorific for Abraham is for the patriarch alone. The title was peculiar to him and based upon his obedience. Jesus’ invitation to friendship is open to all, but it, too, is based on obedience and, in the context of John, obedience even until death. The scriptural formula appears to be obedience, suffering, then friendship. And that pattern has been an important teaching Evangelicals have shared with other Christians (look at all those “cross” hymns we used to sing). But there’s not a hint of that pattern in this song. Instead, there’s the suggestion that friendship with God is our right simply by being human. By only referencing the scriptural pattern in part, the song distorts it in whole. And, at least in Evangelical circles, distorting the Bible is supposed to be a big problem.

But while the song distorts the Bible, it’s true to the way we tend to live. I am a friend of God. I am a friend of God. I am. I am. I am.

The Tetragrammatron, the Name of God, made into a mantra, applied to us. I am. I am. The blasphemy is an accident of thoughtlessness, but, like the Freudian slip, it reveals to us an aspect of our character. I love how I feel about God. I love the great sex I have because of God. I love the power I yield in God’s name. I adore “the me” that God made. I am . . . ....
Source: First Things: Friends of God

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