For ten days each winter filmmakers and film-lovers descend upon Park City, Utah, for a movie-watching frenzy. The Sundance Film Festival has been taking place since 1978 and has evolved into one of the premier independent film festivals in the world. Our man on the scene is David Swanson, associate pastor of Parkview Community Church in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. This week he's attending Sundance with students from Fuller Seminary in conjunction with the Windrider Film Forum to explore the intersection of faith and culture.
After settling in with our host family from Mountain Vineyard Christian Fellowship, a few of us set out to explore the town. On the bus ride into Park City, we interacted with an actress from England, a film music coordinator from New York, and a bunch of high school students from L.A. Later that evening we watched War/Dance, a tragically beautiful and redemptive documentary about refugee children in Uganda.
After a quick night's sleep, we lined up for a 9:00 AM screening of Save Me, a film about a young man's journey through a Christian "ex-gay" 12-step ministry. This was a hard film to see and one I would only recommend sparingly. I left the theatre completely wrecked - my head spinning.
The film portrays the struggles of gay men convinced their behavior is sinful and the attempts to restore them by a husband and wife who believe faith in Jesus is the only way these men will experience wholeness.
One of the things that struck me about this film was how the filmmakers (some who are themselves gay as we learned during the question and answer time following the screening) portrayed the motives and stories of the conservative Christians who lead the ex-gay ministry with tenderness and grace. Is it possible that many in the gay community are more gracious in their understanding of Evangelical Christians than we are towards them?
Even more striking were the numerous men in the theatre who wept during the most poignant moments of the film, usually when the men in the 12-step program described the pain and brokenness in their pasts. How well, I wondered when leaving the theatre, is the church prepared to really understand this type of brokenness and this amount of pain? And how willing are we to acknowledge our own role in much of that painful memory?
At most of the ministry conferences I've attended I've known what to expect, and I usually feel satisfied by the things I've learned. This week is completely different; I have no idea what to expect. I certainly couldn't predict that this post would center on the topic of the church and the gay community! But I will tell you this, despite the lack of sleep, the jet lag, and the heavy film this morning, I feel encouraged.
Here in Park City, in the thick of a sub-culture many of us have written off, I sense the Spirit moving. The stories in the two films we've seen so far are crystal-clear in their themes of redemption, hope, and healing. I think the church knows a little something about these themes. The question is, do we know our culture well enough to tell our story with the grace exhibited by these filmmakers?