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(Check out Chris Reed’s God & Country movie review. The film is in theaters now via Oscilloscope Laboratories. Seen it? Join the conversation with HtN on our Letterboxd Page.)

After an early childhood passed without religion, I became an Episcopalian choirboy at the age of 9, and was shortly thereafter baptized in the faith. For the next 8 years, I spent most Sundays (and other days) in church, singing during services and learning the liturgy more or less by heart (I was also later confirmed in the church as a teen). Though these days I have left such devout Christian beliefs and practices behind, my life has always been informed by these foundational experiences. I think I know a thing or two about what Christianity, at its best, should entail. Its central tenets revolve around love, compassion, and social justice.

In God & Country, the new documentary from director Dan Partland (Unfit: The Psychology of Donald Trump), we plunge headlong into a very different take on Jesus. Welcome to the world of Christian nationalism, a long-simmering movement in the United States that is about as far from the teachings of the New Testament as one can be, currently worshipping a documented conman as its leader. With adherents spread across the land, this upside-down version of the faith I once claimed as my own is hellbent on dominance at all costs.

With methodical precision and a slew of fascinating talking heads, Partland walks the viewer through the rise of this rabid belief system, which has its roots in a racist backlash to the desegregation policies of the 1960s and ‘70s. He deconstructs the myth that what motivates the religious right is abortion, exploring the role of white supremacy among far too many evangelicals.

It’s hard to imagine even the loosest interpretation of Christian teachings supporting the anti-immigrant, anti-poor, and pro-gun rhetoric of these folks, and yet somehow they square that circle, and then some. In today’s world, beyond the outlandishly unrealistic images of their idol Donald Trump dressed as Rambo, they carry flags with a muscular Jesus draped with a bullet-laden bandolier. Reading comprehension does not appear to be their forte.

Then again, the human beast has always been tribal, drawn together in self-identified groups of people who long to be with their own kind. These are the ties that bind. The facts don’t matter. Truth is put in the service of opinion, rather than the other way around.

One of the great strengths of Partland’s film, besides its diversity of voices to explain how we got here, is his series of interviews with conservative commentators and evangelical leaders who have seen the light and refuse to be a part of white Christian nationalism. These include David French, Charlie Sykes, and Reverend Rob Schenck. I may not agree with some of their views, but I applaud their ability to follow their own values to a conclusion that has them reject the hypocrisy of former brethren.

There are many other smart speakers here, among them scholar/TV host Reza Aslan, Bishop William J. Barber II, religious scholar Anthea Butler, author and historian Kristin Kobes Du Mez, attorney and author Andrew Seidel, journalist Katherine Stewart, and author and historian Jemar Tisby. They break down the ins and outs of the dangers we face—minority rule by a radical faction with revenge on their minds—and the difficulties we might have in preventing a takeover of our government by false prophets and their disciples. It’s a scary future, but knowledge is power.

So let’s use what we learn to recognize the perils and fight back. And battle we must, for our freedom and, more importantly, the freedom of all, is at stake. This is no time for false equivalencies or bothsidesism. And if you are Christian, yourself, then reclaim your religion for the values it truly represents. That way lies hope, and hope springs eternal.

– Christopher Llewellyn Reed (@ChrisReedFilm)

Oscilloscope Laboratories; Dan Partland; God and Country 

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Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator. A member of both the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA) and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, he is: lead film critic at Hammer to Nail; editor at Film Festival Today; formerly the host of the award-winning Reel Talk with Christopher Llewellyn Reed, from Dragon Digital Media; and the author of Film Editing: Theory and Practice. In addition, he is one of the founders and former cohosts of The Fog of Truth, a podcast devoted to documentary cinema.

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