What do a Jewish bisexual woman and a born-again Christian man living on a farm in Alaska have in common? They're brother and sister. Brother Born Again (available on Netflix) is the documentary film that Julia makes as she tries to understand her brother Marc and his decision to leave his culture and family in his quest to know Jesus.
I watched this film expecting to be critical of Marc. As a Christian, I cringed at the sound of a radically separate community, at a brother who had lost touch with his mother and sister. Where was the Great Commission, I wondered, in which Jesus sends his followers out to all the earth to make disciples? And I was worried that Marc and other members of his community would reject Julia categorically, that they would fixate on her sexuality or scorn her for her atheism.
But then Julia visits the farm, and Marc gets to explain himself in his own words. He explains that what he's doing isn't about separation from the rest of the world as much as it's about following the will of God. Julia doesn't get it, but I was reminded of a long Christian history of individuals called to separate from culture–John the Baptist through the desert fathers through the monastaries and convents of the Catholic Church. Perhaps this farm is just one way of declaring a love for God. It's separate, yes, but it's also a community that is open to outsiders who come and visit, a community that welcomes Julia and her film crew.
I also worried that Marc and his friends would condemn Julia. She's worried about that too, and she keeps pressing Marc to say that his way is right for him but her way is right for her. She sees herself as tolerant and her brother as intolerant, and yet her own reasoning turns against her. She can't tolerate his conviction that God's way is clear and that she isn't living with God. Marc doesn't seem upset about her sexuality, but he does seem concerned for the state of her soul. Julia seems concerned that her brother has become a bigot. She can't tolerate what she sees as his intolerance.
I ended up with great respect for Marc, and for Julia too. For her courage in reaching out to him and allowing him to speak for himself, for her compassion in listening and trying to understand, for her love in continuing to rebuild their relationship even as she realizes that fundamental and permanent disagreements remain.
My favorite scene was the two of propped up against pillows, leaning against one another, as they must have when they were kids. Christian and Jewish, Bible-believing and atheist, straight and bisexual, brother and sister. Julia doesn't come to Christ, and Marc doesn't become a feminist. But their love for each other is evident, and healing begins to happen in their family. Julia would probably disagree with me, but I finished the film with gratitude and conviction that God was present in their story.