The Armor of Light

Cinema Faith Grade

Weekdays as I exit the freeway on my way home from work, I frequently find myself at the stoplight behind a car that boasts a bumper sticker reading: “God, Guns and Guts Made America Great!” The first time I saw it I just shook my head in disbelief. Now, whenever I find myself behind this particular vehicle it makes me a little angry, and very sad that this is what many of us have come to believe as a culture.

It seems as though lately not a day goes by without the news of someone being the victim of gun violence shaking the internet or interrupting our regularly scheduled programming. Malicious and insane mass shootings, accidental wounds inflicted by children, citizens perceiving threat and “standing their ground” no matter the cost, and fiery rhetoric spewing from all sides of the issue. It is into this climate that Abigail Disney offers up her documentary The Armor of Light.

Pro-Life?

Disney chronicles the journey of Reverend Rob Schenck, an evangelical minister and anti-abortion activist, in his wrestling with the place of gun use and gun violence in the Christian community – specifically the segment of Christianity that would self identify as being “pro-life.”

Schenck’s inner turmoil is apparent as he seeks to reconcile his conservative evangelical constituents strong and increasingly vocal posturing to outlaw abortion, matched only by their emphatic insistence to protect the Second Amendment. A right to life, and a right to end it on the same platform. Early on in the film, Schenck muses: “When is a Christian permitted to use a weapon with lethal force?” A soul-splintering question to drop into a culture which has answered the question “when is lethal force justified?” with things like:

  • “When you walk home with skittles and iced tea in your pockets and your hood
    up.”
  • “When you’re homeless and freaking the Starbucks employees out a little bit.”
  • “When you’re playing your music too loud at a gas station.”

I grew up a child of the pro-life movement. Some of my earliest memories are of “going for a walk” with my parents on the weekend with picket signs advocating for an end to abortion. It was instilled in me from a very young age that life inside the womb mattered – and it mattered a lot. As I got older though, it became clear to me that the life seemed to depreciate in value according to the movement I found myself in. The system of depreciation of life loosely followed this trajectory:

  • Unborn life: utmost value, worthy of picketing and protesting and fighting for in all circumstances.
  • Infant life: very valuable, worthy of putting “baby on board” signs in car windows.
  • Child life: pretty important, tragic when ended abruptly, but certainly nothing worth protesting over.
  • Innocent adult life: How sad. Here’s a casserole.
  • Convicted adult life: They deserve whatever they get.

This depreciation of the value of life has only seemed to become more extreme over the last several years, or maybe I’m just becoming increasingly aware of what has always existed. “We’re deceived into believing we’re powerful. We’ve replaced God with our guns as protector,” Schenck observes in his wrestling.

Or, as my neighbor at the stoplight notes on their bumper, “God made us great, but guns are a close second.”

Amendments and Commandments

“The greatest temptation is to rely on simple answers. Simple answers are like heroine in the veins,” observes Schenck midway through the film. True to his observation, The Armor of Light offers no simple answers. Rather, the film is an invitation into conversation. A space being chiseled out in the midst of a well-defined and notable political movement to re-imagine what exactly might be included (or excluded) under the banner of “pro-life.”

“In upholding the Second Amendment, don’t violate the Second Commandment” Schenck admonishes in the film. In a culture increasingly littered with innocent lives cut short by gun violence, we would be wise to join Schenck in his wrestling. May we refuse to bow to the almighty gun, and instead humbly seek a truly Almighty God.

  • DocRLS

    Such a thoughtful documentary. It depresses me that so few have seen it. I admire Rev. Schenck and his independent but Biblically based questioning. I liked how Disney portrayed all sides with respect.

    I live in a very rural area and am surrounded by and rub shoulders with NRA-member
    Christians… they are my brothers and sisters in Christ that I love. But the way corporate, for -profit motives have taken over the NRA and made a boogeyman of any rational attempt to control the ownership and propagation of weaponry in this country is a sin and it is sad for me when I see some of our leading Christians, and my brothers and sisters in Christ, embrace this mindset. We as Christians must not be that easily lead by the nose out of some sense of “us against them.”

    Great job, Megan. I loved your “system of depreciation.” Very excellent review.

    • Megan Westra

      Thank you so much for reading!

  • The question at the heart of the politically conservative segment of christians I always ask is: Why embrace violence? To what end? Abortion is horrific violence, but so is state-sponsored violence (war, death penalty), so is violence born of aggression (murder, assault). The most absurd hair-splitting about violence I’ve seen comes in the form of “self-defense”. I’ve heard christians use it justify everything from Trayvon’s murder to the American Revolution. I side with Tertullian who famously said ‘Christ, in disarming Peter, disarmed every soldier.’ We are called to serve the victims and the victimizers equally in love.

    • Megan Westra

      Amen.

  • Just an FYI for the baby on board signs (I didn’t know this until recently either) — the baby on board sign is actually for emergency responders to be made aware that a person unable to unbuckle themselves and/or speak may require extra assistance prior to giving a vehicle the all clear.

  • DocRLS

    Just an FYI that “The Armor of Light” is available for both rental/download at Amazon and iTunes. iTunes has 76 documentaries, including “Armor” on special 99 cents rental and considerable discounts on purchase. So its cost is $0.99 rental /$7.99 purchase compared to $5.99/$12.99 at Amazon. (Also check out “A Brave Heart: The Lizzie Velasquez Story” — same low prices at iTunes. My family saw her in person at the Traverse City Film Festival and we will not soon forget her inspirational fight against bullying and exclusion.)

  • DocRLS

    This excellent film is being shown on most PBS stations tonight 5/10/16 followed by a discussion.