Abigail Disney Takes Aim at the NRA While Wearing The Armor of Light
(from Sag Harbor Express Online 7/1/16)
By Danny Peary
As the debate about gun violence in America is becoming even more heated, Abigail Disney’s powerful documentary, The Armor of Light, premieres on Netflix this Friday. Don’t miss it! It tackles the sensitive topic in a novel, persuasive way. The publicist’s synopsis: “What price conscience? Abigail Disney’s directorial debut…follows the journey of an Evangelical minister trying to find the courage to preach about the growing toll of gun violence in America. The film tracks Reverend Rob Schenck, anti-abortion activist and fixture on the political far right, who breaks with orthodoxy by questioning whether being pro-gun is consistent with being pro-life. Reverend Schenck is shocked and perplexed by the reactions of his long-time friends and colleagues who warn him away from this complex, politically explosive issue. Along the way, Rev. Schenck meets Lucy McBath, the mother of Jordan Davis, an unarmed teenager who was murdered in Florida and whose story has cast a spotlight on “Stand Your Ground” laws. McBath, also a Christian, decides to work with Schenck even though she is pro-choice. Lucy is on a difficult journey of her own, trying to make sense of her devastating loss while using her grief to effect some kind of viable and effective political action-where so many before her have failed. Armor follows these unlikely allies through their trials of conscience, heartbreak and rejection, as they bravely attempt to make others consider America’s gun culture through a moral lens. The film is also a courageous look at our fractured political culture and an assertion that it is, indeed, possible for people to come together across deep party lines to find common ground.”
Last October, Dawn Watson wrote about the movie for the Sag Harbor Express (http://sagharboronline.com/hiff-armor-of-light-highlights-chasm-in-political-right/) when it played at the Hamptons International Film Festival. I had seen it several months before at the Tribeca Film Festival and stayed for the following, brief but enlightening audience Q&A after the screening. I was able to ask one question. Abigail Disney (whose politics, it is well known, are well to the left) introduced “the beautiful, magnificent, wonderful Lucy McBath, who I would follow anywhere, and my wonderful friend Rob Schenck.
Q: Abby, was this something you were covering all along in real time and did you know what their decisions were going to be?
Abigail Disney: We were following them all the way through and didn’t know what their decisions would be. Rob and I did have a series of conversations along the way, so I was in on what his thinking was, but this is all Rob’s journey and everybody’s journey unfolding in front of us.
Q: Rob, are you going to change your mind, politically, and vote Democrat now?
Rob Schenk (laughing): It’s all a wildcard now. One of the things I have to say is to the people I’ve been engaging in conversation over this is that we need to focus on principles and not party labels. For our community, we need to ask the hard questions, about convictions, about personal principles. So sometimes that can go in one direction or the other, but the one conclusion I have come to is that it could be a Democrat! That’s a long way from where I was.
Q: Was there tension between you and your followers in the church?
RS: Some tension. I thought I might lose my seat as chairman of the Evangelical Church Alliance. There was a moment when that was in doubt. But The Armor of Light is an invitation to a conversation, that’s my contribution to this. So as we engaged in that contribution, some of those tensions relaxed and I was unanimously reelected so I have a seat of influence to expand this conversation.
Q: I was the chairman of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence for many years. I cofounded an organization called Faiths United to Prevent Gun Violence. I have lived this issue since the late ‘90s. So I have seen, I have read, I have dreamt everything that could be done about this issue. And I would like the jury in particular and everyone here to understand that this is the single most powerful most insightful and particularly the most constructive communication of any kind that has been done on this issue.
AD: Thank you for that. This is the hardest issue I can think of to talk about other than abortion and Israel/Palestine. But yeah, it was my firm belief that if we didn’t just step outside of everything that’s ever been done before, and look at it with very fresh eyes and open hearts, and humility, we would never push it forward in any way. What I really dreamed for the film is that people of all political stripes walk into it and just take the chip off their shoulders long enough to watch it. No matter about Rob’s political past or my political beliefs might be, just listen on the merits, that’s my wish.
Q: In one scene, we see Rob and three other religious men with the same principles sitting in a room and arguing about essentially the same issue, and perhaps you’d think half of those people have been brainwashed by the NRA. So my question is; have those people shunned you, and can you still have a reasonable conversation with them, since you all have the same principles?
RS: The short answer is yes, we still are in conversation. And we still have a relationship, and I would say a meaningful one. I think sometimes people are surprised by what they themselves say, they hear their own words and that I’ve noticed will give people pause. So sometimes it’s just getting it out of them, getting them to actually verbalize, to use their words and sometimes surprise themselves. But we’ve seen some very encouraging signs. I had one gentleman approach me and tell me had had a whole arsenal at home, and he’s always been a booster of the second amendment, but he said “For the first time, even though I strenuously disagree with you in our conversation, I’m going home and pausing to look at it in a different light.” So if we can get that far I think we’re making progress. But I’m going to do everything I can to preserve those relationships.
Danny Peary: Lucy, do you feel like you’re the embodiment of what Rob preaches now?
Lucy McBath: I would pray that I could be that in every sense. I am absolutely human and am absolutely flawed, but I do believe that God has given me a measure of faith that I never had before. What happened to my son and my family—to really walk out making sure that it doesn’t happen to anyone else, making sure that everyone is able to live in this country without fear, making sure that I extend the same love and acceptance and forgiveness that Jesus has given me. I know that I have been given that commission, to extend that to others. And I have even forgiven Michael Dunn for gunning down my child. So I know if I can forgive Michael Dunn for gunning down my child, I can extend love, acceptance and forgiveness to anyone. So this is my freedom of extending love, acceptance and forgiveness to others by trying to really prevent these kinds of things from happening to anyone else. And I don’t care what your religious creed is, the color of your skin. I truly believe that what we see in the country now is not what God intended for his people. I know with every fiber of my being that the violence that we’re seeing here is not what he intended for us. So for those of us who are believers, and not just believers in God, but who have a true relationship with him, we are responsible for everyone else, and we are not to turn a blind eye to what is happening in the country. We can not turn a blind eye and call ourselves Christian.
RS: Indulge me in some evangelical idiosyncratic parlance here, just to say that it was Lucy’s beautiful testimony, as we call it, not the formal type at the witness stand, but her living out her faith so beautifully that helped shape my preaching and I might scandalize dear Abby, magnificent director and genius behind this film, but you were preaching, too, to me. You may not have intended to do so, but it helped shape my message, the one that I carry now, so thank you both.
Q: Abby, how are you going to get the film out to people and how are you going to not be preaching to the chorus?
AD: As you can probably tell from the film, it’s my deepest wish not to be preaching to the chorus. If none of my liberal friends ever see it, I’m totally fine with that. But I kind of realize now that my liberal friends have been elevated a lot by watching the film, too, I think they’ve set aside a lot of political prejudices, and that’s been an incredibly valuable thing. So that’s been a really nice accidental side effect. But we really want to get this film out into churches as broadly as we can. We’re speaking to people who specialize in Christian distribution, we’re speaking to all the networks. Rob is very well connected with networks of pastors and so forth. Right now we’re just working every relationship and network that we can think of and lay our hands on. It’s a scrappy, grass-roots, heavy touch kind of work, to just make the phone calls and emails and get in touch with everybody to get it to happen. So it’s gonna be a scrappy campaign. But hopefully it’ll be broadly seen in churches across the country in rural areas, and ultimately a national broadcast, we hope, in about a year.