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Movie Purgatory
Movie Purgatory

You know a documentary about Christian faith is in trouble when it begins with film clips of and interviews with people from Westboro Baptist, the infamous hate-filled fundamentalist church in Topeka, Kansas.

Director Kevin Miller (right) with angry Wesboro Baptist members

Hellbound?, the directorial debut by Kevin Miller (a writer on Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed and the recent Kirk Cameron-hosted documentary, Monumental), opens with Westboro members protesting at the 10th anniversary 9/11 in New York City. They're carrying signs that say "God Hates Fags," "God's Wrath = 9/11," and so forth, with one protestor—apparently pastor Fred Phelps' daughter—spewing angry lines about 99.99999 percent of people on the planet going to hell.

This is the set-up for a documentary on hell. One can only sigh.

The foolishness does not end there. The documentary—now showing in limited theaters—returns to these protesters two more times in the short film, as if Westboro somehow represents a widespread point of view that needs to be refuted. While I admire the film's attempt to wade into a complex theological subject—hell and universalism—I was stunned by the carelessness evident throughout.

There was a near complete absence of professional theologians—and this in a documentary about theology. We hear from pastors, writers, speakers, and, yes, one biblical scholar (who doesn't believe in a literal hell, but only the hell we make for ourselves when we don't listen to God in our lives), and one conservative theologian who discusses something extraneous. Two cheers for including populist writers and speakers, because they do have a better way ...

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September 2012

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