Friends, Faith and a Feud
You know the adage about never discussing religion, politics or sex in polite company? Craig Detweiler and John Marks never got that memo.
To understand where Detweiler, a filmmaker and professor at Fuller Theological Seminary, and Marks, a journalist, author and former 60 Minutes producer, are coming from, we must first go back to 1982 when the two roomed together at Davidson College.
It was Detweiler's first year as a Christian. It was Marks' last.
Twenty-five years later, Marks wrote a book about leaving his faith behind, Reasons to Believe. His first interviewee was his old college roommate. Similarly inspired, Detweiler decided to film their conversations, four in all, over the course of a year. Those sessions became the narrative thread for Purple State of Mind, a candid, thorny and relentlessly funny dialogue between two men who are just as unyielding in their divergent principles as they are the critical importance of their friendship.
Detweiler, reflecting the Hollywood styles where he lives, shows up in hip suits and a warm, radiant smile, speaking most often in colors and shades, an artist most comfortable with the language of beauty and emotions. Marks always seems to be dressed down, confronting each issue like the journalist he is, dissecting facts and figures with the burnished instruments of logic and reason.
Detweiler and Marks see America as a nation of speechmakers. More often than not, they contend, all we ever do is stand across a gulf and shout at one another, hurling salvo after salvo in a culture war that has left countless dead and wounded on both sides. Detweiler and Marks yearn for the day when the culture war negotiates a truce and embarks instead on a legitimate conversation that allows people with divergent views to learn from each other.
They don't pretend it's going to be easy. While Detweiler and Marks see the film as "a model for what's possible in a world that's becoming a shooting match," their conversations are infused with very real, often very raw emotions. Conversation does not preclude conviction. But it does necessitate empathy. There are times that both men appear to be working out their salvation (or lack thereof) with the utmost fear and trembling.
Though the film's title—pointing to an ideal in which red and blue state values are fused—would indicate that politics is the prime mover of the debate, it acts more as a metaphor for a greater conversation in which men who occupy two separate worlds come together to find common ground.
Detweiler and Marks begin politely enough, delving into their shared pasts, their mutual distaste of politicized religion, the seasons abroad that altered their established polarities, the tragedies still raw enough to coax tears, the families that fuel them, and the disagreements that fundamentally separate their worldviews.
As a person of faith, Detweiler is deeply disturbed that Christians are known more for what they are against than what they are for. He is baffled that his Savior, a friend of the outcast, a defender of the defenseless, and a champion of the downtrodden, could have been perverted into a standard-bearer for judgmentalism, hypocrisy and hate. "This is the tension I live with," he admits. "How do I own my own people who so make me cringe on a regular basis."
The murder of Matthew Shepard, the gay college student whose brutal slaying was praised by some claiming the name of Christ, was the moment at which Detweiler withdrew from the culture war. "Call me crazy. Call me chicken. Call me 'liberal,' 'communist' or 'gay,'" he says, "but please, do not call me Christian."