Men, women and children killed in the name of God. Slavery and civil rights clashes. The history of Christianity is not free of atrocity or scandal. But a bold documentary crew is tackling the bad – and good – of Christian history in an upfront way.
The team from the Centre for Public Christianity has conducted more than 40 interviews in Britain and the United States, including filming at Martin Luther King Jr’s house in Alabama. They also have shot location footage in Jerusalem, Athens and Rome, for its upcoming documentary on the impact of Christianity on the West. For the Love of God: How the Church is Better and Worse Than You Ever Imagined is due for release next year.
According to CPX director Simon Smart, the documentary has three aims: to acknowledge that some of the criticisms of the church are valid; to correct some popular misconceptions; and, to tell a forgotten story about the way Christianity has shaped the world.
“I think it helped that we were telling the story of the terrible excesses of the First Crusade” – Allan Dowthwaite
Scenes shot in Jerusalem, about the First Crusade in 1099, illustrate one of the most appalling chapters of Christian history. After arriving in Jerusalem, the Crusaders not only slaughtered thousands of men, women and children that they had promised sanctuary to, but they held a service afterwards to give thanks to God for their victory.
“That is hard to marry up with the followers of the Prince of Peace, and you’re left with legitimate questions and challenges – how those claiming Christian faith could be so caught up in the violence,” says Smart.
Director Allan Dowthwaite was thrilled when permission was granted to film inside the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. “I think it helped that we were telling the story of the terrible excesses of the First Crusade,” he says. CPX believes it is important to be honest and to give a full picture of the big themes of Christian history. Dowthwaite says that rather than whitewashing the terrible chapters, the documentary handles the interplay of the good and bad by using a metaphor of the beautiful composition of music that Christ provides for us.
“Over the centuries, sometimes followers have played that tune really badly and discordantly. The end result has not been good,” he says. “But right from the beginning, many of his followers played it beautifully. Either way, you judge the composition on its best performance, not its worst.
“We have an important and beautiful story to tell about the way Christianity has shaped the world in a way everyone, not just believers, can be glad of.”