Releasing nationwide to select theaters on Friday, September 25, 2009, is the groundbreaking documentary Lord, Save Us From Your Followers, produced, written and directed by Dan Merchant, a longtime member of Beaverton Foursquare Church in Oregon. The film, which has been highlighted on NBC's Today Show (click to see the interview) and covered in newspapers and magazines across the country, has received numerous awards, including Beliefnet's "Best Spiritual Documentary of 2008."
Foursquare.org interviewed Dan—who is sometimes referred to as the Christian Michael Moore—to find out more about why he made the film, the impact it is already having, and his background in Foursquare.
FOURSQUARE.ORG: What is the film about?
DM: Lord, Save Us From Your Followers is a documentary film—albeit a funny and moving one—that examines the collision of faith and culture in America. I wouldn't call the film a "Christian" movie; it is for everyone and examines the issues as fairly as I could. The distinction between [this film] and other documentaries on this topic [is that it is] made by a Christian who loves the church, endeavors to follow and grow in the Gospels, and is concerned by much of what he sees.
FOURSQUARE.ORG: What prompted you to make it?
DM: After a trip to Africa, I found my faith challenged by the depth of those I met in Ethiopia. There was an extra dimension to how they spoke about God, how they behaved, and how they reacted to hardship that really left a deep impression on me. The contrast between the Ethiopian Christians I met and the generally lukewarm/negative perception of Christians in the public square in America left me scratching my head.
Of particular concern were the believers in America who were dominating the airwaves with strident, divisive political rhetoric. Of course, when I looked in the mirror I realized I had more in common with the guys with the microphones and than I did the lovely believers I met in Ethiopia. That "rug pull" realization was the catalyst for the journey that became [the film].
FOURSQUARE.ORG: You tackle some tough issues head-on in this film. How have people responded?
DM: The thrilling thing about the response the film is receiving is the broad appeal and the depth of the reaction. Christians are challenged, affirmed, provoked and liberated by the movie—and so are those outside the faith or outside any faith.
I was invited to screen [the film] at the Sedona International Film Festival, and I've never been hugged by so many non-Christians in my life. That told me that the gospel of Jesus' love, when illustrated, is absolutely recognized by people who have been hurt by the church. These people clearly desired a connection to God and to faith, but had been hurt or driven away or turned off by the church and, somehow, this movie allowed them a glimpse at the truth.
FOURSQUARE.ORG: Tell us about the film's release and how churches are getting involved.
DM: The movie is releasing nationally in select theaters on September 25, [then] expanding to more cities on October 2, and even more on October 9 and 16. I am so humbled and thrilled by how churches are using the film as a tool to foster conversation and understanding.
As one pastor put it: "The movie theater is a neutral venue. We have friends who won't visit our church, but they'll go out to the movies with us. To be able to enjoy an entertaining film that prompts this kind of deep and meaningful conversation is a gift." This church is encouraging each member of the congregation to go to the film with friends who don't go to church.
The conversation has to start somewhere, and talking over a movie—a movie that explores important and complicated topics—is a non-threatening way for people who don't necessarily agree with each other to begin to share. ... We all know that the "us vs. them" thing is antithetical to the Gospels, but what are we doing about it? The country is searching for answers, and the church can be there to listen, serve and respond to those who need us—if we want the job.
FOURSQUARE.ORG: How did you and your family get involved with Foursquare?
DM: A couple of years after my wife, Kara, and I were married, we were searching for a church. We had both grown up in the church, but as adults and as a couple, we really hadn't found our home.
My father-in-law had attended Beaverton Foursquare and just wouldn't stop talking about Ron Mehl. From the very first sermon, I felt connected to the Word of God in a relevant way, a way that made sense in my life, and a new chapter in my faith journey began.
As a kid I had always been around church—all kinds of church—but with Pastor Mehl, it didn't feel like "church"; it felt like an important part of my life. Obviously, we've grown considerably in those 20 years, and I am grateful for Pastor Randy Remington and the wealth of pastors who have continued to enrich my life and that of the entire congregation.
For more information about Lord, Save Us From Your Followers, visit lordsaveusthemovie.com.
By: Marcia Graham, editor of Foursquare.org, and Bill Shepson, a Los Angeles-area freelance writer