Biblical Inerrancy. Subordination of Women. Teaching Evolution. Perfectionsim. King James Version vs. New International Version. People could spend days, weeks...even years trying to hash out the intricacies of topics like those. It took student filmmakers Adrian James and Albert Sabaté just over 80 minutes.
James, a senior psychology/philosophy major at La Sierra University and Sabaté, who is pursuing a master's degree in broadcast journalism at USC, have hit the road with a story that has become increasingly relevant in the two years since they started filming.
Their debut project, The Last Generation, follows members of Finish the Work Ministries, a small SoCal cohort that meets the criteria for the film's definition of "fundamentalist."
To define fundamentalism, the film's implicit metanarrative, James and Sabaté turn to The Psychology of Religious Fundamentalism, which describes fundamentalism this way: "any belief system that adheres to one unique set of texts, which are considered to be inerrant, universally applicable, and fully authoritative in constructing a worldview."
LSU Professor Maury Jackson interviews James and Sabaté at the film's La Sierra University screening
Finish the Work Ministries brings us along to small, rural churches for revival meetings, inside classrooms at La Sierra University for debates over what should be taught in Adventist schools, and onto the stage of the first Generation of Youth for Christ (GYC) meetings.
Young members of Finish the Work provide candid interviews in which they reveal the group's attitudes toward the Bible (inerrant, KJV is best), women (should not be pastors but should obey their husbands), moral perfection (not only possible but also necessary), and education (must be distinct from "worldly" institutions).
Some who saw the film's online extended preview, which was screened at the 2009 SonScreen Film Festival, thought it was a hack job. See for instance the comments on Last Gen's website. "Garbage"..."Michael Moore" (intended as a slight) ..."biased"..."joke"...
What the anonymous commenters and other premature critics miss is that the film does not attack anybody. It presents people fairly, in their own words. It is balanced. James and Sabaté did well to offer contrasting visions.
Loma Linda University professor of Religion Johnny Ramirez cleverly, hilariously deconstructs the King James myth. The KJV, Ramirez points out, is a money Bible with political undergirding. James was a bankroller, a money man. The KJV is like a "Coca-Cola Bible," Ramirez says.
La Sierra's John Jones points out the foibles in biblical inerrancy, and Kendra Haloviak (also LSU) points out that every reading of Scripture relies on what the reader brings to the text. Every reading is necessarily interpretive.
The film brings a twist. Some of the Finish the Work devotees renege on their commitments to the group. They feel...hypocritical? ...unkind? ...legalistic?
When theological abstractions about attainable perfection and idealizations (for some) about the role of women crash into the cinder-block wall of the Real World--the world of friends and parents and letdowns, fundamentalism feels a bit less exciting. I know. I was there as a teenager too.
La Sierra University's School of Religion Student Forum provided Last Gen its first venue on the film's screening tour. It hits PUC this week, then Loma Linda University, followed by a screening in San Diego, TBA.
LSU student Diedre Raymond asks the filmmakers a question at La Sierra's Hole Memorial Auditorium
At La Sierra, a large audience in Hole Memorial Auditorium peppered the filmmakers with questions after the credits rolled.
Questions about inspiration for the film (the intriguing story of high school friends who left home over religious beliefs), similarities between GYC and Finish the Work (some of the same leaders, same ideology, same Bible studies), the appropriateness of the use of "fundamentalist" (both GYC and Finish the Work fit the textbook definition), and alternate visions of church involvement for a younger generation (the film is not to suggest alternatives, just to document).
As fundamentalist* Adventism gains momentum and clout, The Last Generation film is more timely than ever. Its makers are looking to bring it to a venue near you, and DVDs are available at each screening for fifteen bucks.
The Last Generation is not the last word on Adventist fundamentalism; it is a good place to start the conversation! See more at www.thelastgenerationfilm.com.
Article Extras: Photos, courtesy Emily Peterson
*See conversation on "Fundamentalist" vs. "Tea Party" in comments section below.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/2155