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The Armor of Light: New Documentary Makes the Evangelical Case for Gun Control

StoryOctober 28, 2015
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A new documentary opening this week focuses on two individuals who form an unlikely alliance to address gun violence in the United States. “The Armor of Light,” by Abigail Disney, follows the evangelical minister Rev. Rob Schenck, an evangelical known for his anti-choice activism, and Lucia McBath, the mother of Jordan Davis, the African-American teenager who was shot to death by a middle-aged white man in a gas station parking lot in 2012 after a dispute over loud music. The shooter, Michael Dunn, was later sentenced to life without parole. Schenck describes how McBath inspired him to begin speaking out about gun violence. “It was her passion in the wake of that pain and horror of losing a son to murder that was really what pulled me across the threshold of decision to start speaking to this, even though for me it is at great personal risk,” Schenck says. “In our community, when you break with a kind of orthodoxy on social issues — guns being one of them — you are seen as a renegade or as a defector.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We turn now to the new documentary, The Armor of Light, about an evangelical minister who begins preaching about the toll of gun violence.

REV. ROB SCHENCK: I’m an evangelical minister. That goes to the core of my identity. My constituency would be conservative—very conservative.

SARAH PALIN: Thank you, NRA! Thank you!

REV. ROB SCHENCK: In my community, we talk about the sanctity of life, the value of every human life.

LUCIA McBATH: When I would hear about shootings, I would pray for the people. But I never thought it would ever happen to us. We have replaced God with our guns.

It’s so important that you help. They will listen to you.

REV. ROB SCHENCK: As a Christian, what are your feelings when I say the phrase, “Christian and guns”?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN 1: The Bible is very plain about a man who don’t protect his wife and kids, is worse than an infidel.

REV. ROB SCHENCK: Is that a pro-life ethic?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN 2: The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN 3: Let’s pray. Father, we know there’s a lot of people in this country that would like to register guns and take them away.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: If we take guns away, people will are just going kill people with something else.

REV. ROB SCHENCK: So what we need is Jesus and the gospel—and a side arm.

This doesn’t speak to that.

When faith becomes inseparably linked to a political position, we become vulnerable to selling our souls.

LUCIA McBATH: That’s what this is all about: fighting for life.

REV. ROB SCHENCK: I’m taking a big risk. I could lose my career.

I am here today to challenge my fellow clergy.

Let us cast off the works of darkness—fear, ignorance, hatred, vengeance—and put on the armor of light. Let’s pray.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That’s the trailer to The Armor of Light, a new documentary by Abigail Disney opening this week about guns in America. The film focuses on two individuals: the evangelical minister Reverend Robert Schenck and Lucia McBath, the mother of Jordan Davis, the Florida teenager who was killed in 2012 by a middle-aged man in a gas station dispute over loud rap music. The incident began after four teenagers pulled into a Florida gas station to buy gum and cigarettes. They were soon confronted by Michael Dunn, a middle-aged white man who pulled in next to them in the parking lot. Dunn demanded the boys turn down the music they were playing, and became angry when they refused. He pulled his gun from his glove box and shot at their car 10 times, even as they tried to drive away from the danger. The shots rang out three-and-a-half minutes after Dunn had arrived. In the hail of bullets, Jordan Davis was killed. After the shooting, Dunn fled the scene, went to a hotel with his girlfriend and ordered pizza. He never called the police. Dunn was later sentenced to life without parole.

AMY GOODMAN: Reverend Schenck is a well-known conservative minister who heads Faith and Action in Washington, D.C. He’s the president of the National Clergy Council. A longtime anti-choice activist, Reverend Schenck first made national headlines protesting outside abortion clinics as a member of Operation Rescue. Today he’s making headlines for a different reason: his criticism of the NRA and the pro-gun message of many conservatives.

The documentary The Armor of Light chronicles how Reverend Schenck and Lucia McBath began working together to push for gun reform after the killing of Jordan in 2012. Reverend Schenck and Lucia McBath join us in our studio today, along with Abigail Disney, the director of The Armor of Light.

We welcome you all. It is a fascinating documentary. Talk about your first meeting. I mean, Reverend Schenck, this is a true reversal on your part. You espoused gun rights and the importance of gun, God and country. What changed you?

REV. ROB SCHENCK: Well, a number of things. Of course, a change of that magnitude happens over time, and this happened over a lot of time. And I had a growing concern about the attitudes I saw in our evangelical community that held life less than sacred. And that was always our cause. In the pro-life movement, we talk about the sanctity of all human life, every human life, and that’s born and unborn. And when you take a gun in your possession to use for self-defense, you do so with the intention of perhaps killing another human being. I thought we had to address that. But I kind of put it in a sort of closet in my mental space. And it’s a very volatile issue in our community, and so I kind of just secreted it away.

Then a number of events occurred, and then Abigail Disney proposed that maybe I air some of those concerns on camera. That was a little scary, took me a while to say yes to that. And during the course of the film, I met Lucy. And when I met her, in our literal prayer garden, which is a space behind our ministry house on Capitol Hill, her personal experience of tremendous loss, and her being a person of faith—she is—I think you call yourself an evangelical. I think so.


REV. ROB SCHENCK: We’re in the same camp that way, so we spoke a common language. But it was her passion in the wake of that pain and horror of losing a son to murder that was really what pulled me across the threshold of decision to start speaking to this, even though for me it is at great personal risk. But—

AMY GOODMAN: Why risk?

REV. ROB SCHENCK: Well, in our community, when you break with a kind of orthodoxy on social issues—guns being one of them—you’re seen as a renegade or as a defector. And this may be of surprise to some people, but Christians are not always the kindest people. And you can be punished for that. And so I have been by a few, but I’ve also been surprised at the number of supporters that have emerged.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And why do you say that this is a volatile issue, that—what is this, from your sense, this connection between the evangelical movement and guns in America?

REV. ROB SCHENCK: Well, a lot of it is driven by fear—I think very unfounded fear. And in fact, I believe that fear is a failure of faith. So it’s really a theological as well as moral crisis in our community. And that fear is based on a lot of—a lot of factors, including fear of government persecution. There’s a lot of call for arms to defend our community against a tyrannical government. I think we live in the freest environment in terms of religious expression on Earth. I’ve been to 41 countries. I’ve never seen any that compare quite to the extent of the liberty we have. So these are, I think, unrealistic, unfounded fears, but nonetheless very real and very powerful.

AMY GOODMAN: Lucia McBath, were you afraid to meet with Reverend Schenck? Here you are, you’re an evangelical, you’re pro-choice, you’re anti-gun. You lost your son to gun violence and racism. You knew Reverend Schenck’s reputation. Talk about that moment where you met.

LUCIA McBATH: Well, I don’t even really think I knew the extent of his reputation. Only information I had is what I read about him in Wikipedia and the little bit of information that I had. But I guess maybe the fear for me was really stepping out in the faith that I had been talking about. And there wasn’t any fear beyond that, but maybe more the fear of not really being heard, not really being heard from the evangelical white conservative community. That was probably the only fear that I had. But despite that, I knew that if he was interested in even beginning discussions about what he was feeling, the stirrings that he had spiritually based upon what’s been happening in the country, then I was really excited to speak with him.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Abigail Disney, your decision to try to make this film, to bring these folks together and to tell the story as a way of getting America to deal with gun violence?

ABIGAIL DISNEY: You know, I really have watched this issue for a really long time. It’s a broken, dysfunctional political dynamic. The harder you push on your side, the harder they push on their side. We get frozen in this. And so, I’ve been for years trying to figure out what would be a way to talk about it that would actually make a difference. The facts don’t make a difference. Statistics just don’t persuade anybody. This is a heart issue, and this is about our consciences. And I don’t think we’ve brought the best of our consciences to any of this discussion. So I wanted to kind of elevate it to a place above politics, where we could go back to what we claim our values are around the sanctity of human life and then legislate from there. So, all I’m trying to do is start a conversation.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s fascinating to see you making very different kinds of films than your grandfather, Roy Disney. Reverend Schenck, you talked about the risk you’re taking and the fears you have of becoming a sort of pariah in your own community. So, what’s happened? You are speaking out. The film has come out. How have evangelicals, white evangelicals, responded to you?

REV. ROB SCHENCK: On the whole, very polite. We are a consummately polite people, sometimes maddeningly so because sometimes I’d like to know how people really feel. And there has been a mixed response, although I’ve had a number of supporters of my own organization in Washington, D.C. I had a nonprofit, religiously oriented nonprofit. And a few have notified me, “If you’re going to go down this road, we’re not going with you,” and have withdrawn their financial support. And that can be very punishing to a small nonprofit. So I felt that pain. I’ve been called a moron and a fraud. Some feel that I am betraying them.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you think is the best way to reach evangelicals, considering they had your mindset not—I mean, what you were thinking not so long ago?

REV. ROB SCHENCK: Well, I like to start with Jesus. And I do often wonder aloud what Jesus would do with a gun. And I think most—most evangelicals know deep inside that somehow this is in contradiction to the model and teaching of Christ. And so I raise those questions. For me, this is a moral, ethical and even theological exploration. And I think that’s, you know, arguably—the founder of evangelicalism, John Wesley of the Methodist Church, said that evangelical Christianity is a religion of the heart. So, I think Abby is just—I call her Abby. She’s director Abigail Disney, but I call her Abby, and we have a great friendship. And I think Abby did just the right thing with this film in aiming for the heart rather than the head on this one. I think Lucy’s story, spirituality in general, but specifically biblical spirituality, will win the day—with my camp, anyway—whereas statistics don’t go over very well.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Lucy McBath, we have less than a minute, but what has this meant you, the making of this film, after the loss of your son and your efforts to try to affect the nation on gun control and gun violence?

LUCIA McBATH: I think it’s a way to be able to scream to the nation, “Please, as a victim, I know firsthand, you know, the devastation that these kinds of crimes and gun violence are causing in the country. We have to morally and ethically really address what’s happening and not see these cases and incidents as statistics and numbers. And morally, we are accountable to one another.”

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to have to leave it there. I also want to encourage people to see our hour with Lucia McBath in Sundance, the film that was made about her story, 3 1/2 Minutes, and encourage you to see this film. It’s a different Disney film, The Armor of [Light]. The documentary filmmaker Abigail Disney made it. And, Reverend Schenck, thanks very much for joining us in our studio.

REV. ROB SCHENCK: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: That does it for our show. We have a job opening at Democracy Now! It’s development director. Check our website at democracynow.org.

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