S5, Ep. 12: Rob Reiner and ‘God & Country’ director Dan Partland
Emmy winners Rob Reiner and Dan Partland share what they learned making a film about the dangers of Christian nationalism.
What is the cost of speaking out against Christian nationalism? In this episode, Amanda Tyler talks with Rob Reiner and Dan Partland, two people behind a new film that discusses the dangers of Christian nationalism to the country, to the faith, and to pluralism. They share candidly about what they learned while making “God & Country,” the cost for Christians who are speaking out against the political ideology, and what new conversations they are hoping to create with this film.
Segment 1 (starting at 00:35): Rob Reiner and Dan Partland on Christian nationalism
“God & Country” will be in theaters on February 16. Learn more at GodAndCountryTheMovie.com.
The phrase “separation of church and state” is not in the U.S. Constitution, but the concept is laid out several times, including Article VI’s prohibition on any religious test for office, the First Amendment’s prohibition of a government establishment of religion, and the First Amendment’s guarantee of the free exercise of religion. Read more in Brent Walker’s “Top 5 Myths of the Separation of Church and State.”
Learn more about the Christians Against Christian Nationalism campaign – a project BJC began in 2019 – by visiting ChristiansAgainstChristianNationalism.org.
Segment 2 (starting at 20:58): Post-screening Q&A with Partland and Reiner
BJC and the Freedom From Religion Foundation released a comprehensive report on the role of Christian nationalism in the January 6 attack on the Capitol. You can access it here.
Dan Partland mentioned The Power Worshippers, a book by Katherine Stewart on the rise of religious nationalism. It serves as a basis for the movie.
Segment 3 (starting at 41:18): Closing
Michelle Boorstein covered the screening for The Washington Post in this article: ‘God & Country’ film spotlights Christian nationalism’s threat to democracy
Respecting Religion is made possible by BJC’s generous donors. You can support these conversations with a gift to BJC.
Transcript: Season 5, Episode 13: Rob Reiner and ‘God & Country’ director Dan Partland (some parts of this transcript have been edited for clarity)
Segment 1: Rob Reiner and Dan Partland on Christian nationalism (starting at 00:24)
HOLLY: Welcome to Respecting Religion, a BJC podcast series where we look at religion, the law, and what’s at stake for faith freedom today. I’m Holly Holman, general counsel at BJC.
Today’s show features a conversation with two of the people behind a new documentary that looks at the dangers of Christian nationalism: Rob Reiner and Dan Partland.
This new documentary film is called “God & Country,” and it hits theaters on February 16. The film looks at the impact of Christian nationalism, including how it undermines our constitutional democracy and undermines Christianity itself.
Featuring interviews with a variety of historians and Christian thought leaders, the filmmakers say the movie asks this question: What happens when a faith built on love, sacrifice and forgiveness grows political tentacles, conflating power, money and belief into hypernationalism?
Dan Partland is the director of the movie, and he’s a veteran documentary producer and director for film and television. His work includes several landmark nonfiction features and series over the past three decades, and he’s a two-time Emmy winner for best nonfiction series.
Rob Reiner is a producer of the film. He first came to fame as a two-time Emmy award winning actor in the landmark television series “All in the Family.” He went on to become an acclaimed director of some of the most popular and influential motion pictures in American film history, and he’s a dedicated political activist.
My co-host, Amanda Tyler, spoke to them while they were in D.C. for the first screening of “God & Country,” which was held at the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center. Amanda and I were both at the screening, and after it, Amanda moderated a Q&A with the two of them. We’ll bring you that later in the episode.
But first, Dan Partland and Rob Reiner stopped by our office at BJC to talk with Amanda about the film and what they learned from putting it together. Here’s their conversation:
MS. AMANDA TYLER: So in the film “God & Country,” you feature quite a few Christian leaders who are speaking out against Christian nationalism. And just from your time spent with these people and what you’ve seen as the film has been put together and then has been promoted, what have you seen in terms of the cost of speaking out in the public platform against Christian nationalism?
MR. ROB REINER: Well, we’ve seen it. I mean, you know, we’ve talked to Phil Vischer. We’ve talked to — you know, I heard Beth Moore — Beth is not in the film; Russell Moore is. But she received a lot of — has received a lot of criticism about her position, and I think a number of people have. They get pushback because they don’t see that this is not in any way bashing Christianity. It’s the opposite.
MS. TYLER: Exactly.
MR. REINER: It’s the opposite. It’s basically saying that this movement, which is essentially a political movement, is damaging Christianity, is actually hurting Christianity. Not only hurting the country but also hurting Christianity, and this is what — and to be able to speak out when you have a movement as virulent and as, you know, and sometimes violent is scary, is dangerous.
MR. DAN PARTLAND: It’s terrible. You know, the Christian conservatives featured in the film especially took just an unimaginable amount of abuse. We dropped — and the film isn’t even out. Right? That’s what’s fascinating, is we dropped the trailer, and the online abuse started. And some of this, it’s real nasty stuff. It’s not to be brushed off. It’s threats, and it’s incredibly vitriolic attacks against them.
And I think that we have to view that as just part of the phenomenon. That is part of the way this movement works, which is that it doesn’t tolerate dissent of any kind. And I think you can see, when you have strong political movements around the world, they can tolerate some criticism. They can tolerate some dissenters, you know.
But I think that it’s ultimately the Christian nationalists are very frightened of losing their authority in this space by having prominent, unimpeachable Christian voices speaking out against the connection between this political ideology and the faith. And it’s because it’s not true to the faith.
MS. TYLER: Yeah. And the criticism is very much acts of intimidation, and I think it shows that we’re — you are on to something. You have —
MR. REINER: For sure.
MS. TYLER: — struck a nerve, but it is also, I think, very frightening in some ways, because we know what those who are most committed to Christian nationalism are willing to do to hold on to their power.
MR. REINER: Right. And if you have a real faith and a real feeling of what you believe and you’re very committed to what you believe, you don’t have to force anybody.
MS. TYLER: Right.
MR. REINER: That’s the whole idea. You just live your life in a certain way. You talk about certain things that you believe in, and people will be drawn to you. That’s what Jesus did. People were drawn to him because of what he was saying and what he was talking about. So people in that Christian nationalist movement, they’re — it’s an insecurity where they feel if they’re not getting their way, they’re willing to do anything to force people to think the way they do.
MS. TYLER: Yeah. And how do you see — these kind of acts of intimidation or threats — how do you see it being felt differently from some of these more conservative Christian voices who are featured in the film versus people of other faiths, people who don’t claim a faith tradition? I know, for instance, Andrew Seidel’s in the film and others.
MR. PARTLAND: Well, I mean, the best example of that is the response that Phil Vischer received versus the response that Skye Jethani received. Right? They are co-equal hosts of a podcast. They speak literally, two talking heads in the same interview, and Phil got absolutely devastating angry notices on social media, and Skye really didn’t get any.
And he didn’t get any, I imagine, because people perceive him — I don’t — I never asked him directly about anything about his politics, but people perceive him as a progressive, and so that’s not — you know, he doesn’t receive the wrath. But obviously, Christian nationalists want to cast their own out as apostates to the faith, although it’s really being apostate to the political point of view, because that’s how you keep people in line. They want everyone to be very frightened about speaking out against this movement.
MS. TYLER: Yeah. Well, as I’ve shared on this podcast before, I am a Baptist Christian. My husband is Jewish, and it’s important to me that our family is free from any kind of government interference into the religious decisions that we’re making for our household, for the way that we’re raising our son.
And I know, Dan, you know, you have discussed how you have multiple generations of interfaith marriage in your family, and so I’m just guessing, you know, from you both, like: How does your background shape your view of religion in American life?
MR. PARTLAND: Yeah. So among my first cousins, we have Catholics and atheists and Jews and Presbyterians and Greek Orthodox. And, you know, I grew up going — we all went to each other’s services, and that worked great. Nobody had any issues with it. To me, it was a big, happy American family. And mostly still is, which is an example of how pluralism works in America.
But I think that the political tensions, which every family has, of course, the political tensions are being inflamed along these lines, and I think it is — even within our family, there have been issues, you know, additional tension related to this political movement.
MR. REINER: I mean, you just said that you’re married to a Jewish guy, and to me that is the perfect example of what’s great about this country, that we are a pluralistic society, that we do believe in freedom of religion and that we do believe that people of different religious beliefs can come together, can, you know, allow each other to have the freedom of praying however they want. That to me is what’s great about this country.
And so the whole idea of Christian nationalism is “my way or the highway.” And, you know, if we’re not a white Christian nation, then anybody else, get out; you know, “you’re not welcome here.” That to me is totally antithetical to the teachings of Jesus, from what I understand.
MS. TYLER: Yeah. Absolutely. And also separate and apart from the teachings of Jesus, what the Constitution was written and framed to be.
MR. REINER: Yes, yes.
MS. TYLER: Right? That our belonging is equal, no matter how we worship or how we identify religiously.
MR. REINER: Right. And if you look at, you know, Christian nationalists, they’ll tell you that there is no separation of church and state in the Constitution, which is just wrong.
MS. TYLER: Right.
MR. REINER: It’s just not true. I mean, it’s mentioned three times in the Constitution, and that is the beauty of what the founding fathers had in mind, which is there is no test for religion, they will make no religion. They left, you know, Europe because they were persecuted, and they don’t want to have that replicated here in America. So that one area, the separation of church and state, to me is critical, because it strengthens not only the country and the government, but it strengthens religion.
MS. TYLER: Yeah.
MR. REINER: It does strengthen religion.
MS. TYLER: Yeah. And you’re touching on that point, I noted, in the film. I think that you went into ReAwaken America Tour, and as have I, by the way, although I did not interview people for a project. I was there really more just to understand more about what was going on. And they in the film say this very thing: There’s no separation of church and state. We are a Christian nation.
I’m curious about your takeaways from talking to people there. I’ll say one of my takeaways was that the people who were there really have bought in to what is being sold on that tour, to these myths, to these lies in many cases. And I felt a sense of, you know, almost tenderness for them. At the same time, the leaders of the movement, of course, are peddling all of these lies to them.
MR. PARTLAND: Yeah. Well, I’m glad you brought that up. I would love to — you know, the thing that I think comes across in the film that we were interested in showing has a lot to do with the fervor — right? — the deep commitment to these ideas. What’s hard to reflect in the film or just would send a complicating note that I think is really important for people to understand if you want to think more compassionately about where it all comes from is how warm these events also are.
MS. TYLER: Right.
MR. PARTLAND: Right? I mean, and I had the same experience going to Trump rallies, that the price of admission, as it were, is that you share these beliefs. People are disarmed. They’re very comfortable, and they think like, we’re all on the same team; we’re brothers in this political ideology.
And so I think that’s an important piece of it, is that there’s a lot of social pressure and comfort if the people in your community and in your media bubble are all saying the same thing and doing the same thing, such that it isn’t being questioned anymore.
And so what I found as I immersed myself really deeply in those communities is that I found how easy it was to begin to accept the premises of those communities. They quote a lot of American history, and like a lot of good disinformation, there’s a kernel of truth in each of the points that they make.
And I started to think, well, you know, that’s true that the Declaration does say “endowed by their creator,” and, you know —
MR. REINER: But it doesn’t talk about a specific religion.
MR. PARTLAND: And the true — right. And the truer, you know, discussion of the Declaration is that, you know, we know that we have an earlier draft where it said “God” and that it was taken out because it was perceived that that sounded like a Christian God and we wanted something broader than that.
MS. TYLER: Right.
MR. PARTLAND: But people aren’t going to do the work, you know. They heard from what they thought of as a reasonable authority that, you know, a bunch of cherry-picked stuff out of the Constitution, out of our heritage — it’s true that the expression, the “wall of separation between church and state,” is not in the Constitution. That is true.
MR. REINER: Those words.
MR. PARTLAND: Those words are not there. The concept is there, but those words did come from a letter. They came from a letter that, you know, Jefferson wrote to —
MS. TYLER: To Baptists.
MR. PARTLAND: — Danbury Baptist congregation. So, you know, the quote that that’s not in the Constitution, it’s in a letter, but they’ll neglect the fact that the concept is abundantly reflected.
MR. REINER: Reflected in the Constitution.
MS. TYLER: Yeah. Exactly.
MR. REINER: But you said something that was interesting, which is, you know, people who go to those rallies — we have to separate them out a little bit from the leaders —
MR. PARTLAND: Definitely.
MR. REINER: — because people are — if they’re confused or hungry or they’re feeling disconnected and, you know, not being heard, they can be drawn in by a charismatic leader. And we have to be very careful to be able to accept them and love them when a movement like this may dissipate, because we have to allow them to say, “I was drawn in,” and to love them. You know, it’s like what Jesus teaches.
So you can’t dismiss the whole group, just because they’re all fervently saying, you know, “This is what we believe.” It’s a difference between the man up on the stage and the people in the audience. And sometimes the man up on the stage will — they feed off of each other, but he’s taking advantage — that man or woman is taking advantage, I think, of the people in the theater.
MS. TYLER: Yeah. And that’s why I think the film is so important, because I think this is about calling attention to this growing movement, this growing phenomenon, I believe, in hopes that we will be alert to it and then to inspire people to take action in their communities to do what they can to work to dismantle Christian nationalism.
MR. REINER: Right, right. And not in a violent way.
MS. TYLER: Exactly. Right.
MR. REINER: Not in a violent way.
MS. TYLER: By ways of building community.
MR. REINER: Right. Sure.
MS. TYLER: That’s the word — there is community at these —
MR. PARTLAND: Community.
MS. TYLER: — at these ReAwaken America Tour events. How can we provide an alternative kind of community that isn’t such an urgent threat to our democracy and to the Christian faith?
So how have you seen minds changed in the course of this project? What have been some effective strategies or lines of reasoning or just human relationship that you think kind of provide some basis to build on to do the hard work of dismantling Christian nationalism?
MR. REINER: Well, I mean, if you look at the film, you know, we definitely, you know, shine a very bright spotlight on the dangers of Christian nationalism. But the end of the film is very hopeful where we have Reverend Barber talking about if we can return to the honest and true teachings of Jesus, we can have a great country, can have a great world.
And the film hasn’t been seen yet. Tonight we’re having the first screening, so we don’t know yet what the effects are going to be on the greater population.
MR. PARTLAND: I think we have to be — you know, all activism probably has to be realistic about what any one instrument can do. I think that, you know, you’re doing this podcast. We made this film. People are talking about it.
In trying to bring the best arguments forward so that people will share them, I think that the film has — a film has a great ability to take people on an emotional journey. It helps them connect some of the dots.
In 90 minutes, we can give really a very dense experience that walks you through a lot of history of Christian nationalism, that walks you through the current state of affairs, that talks about important American principles and important Christian principles, and talks about the connection between Christian nationalism and the January 6 insurrection, because in the end, is there a better manifestation of how far this movement has gone than we actually had a violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol?
Not everybody there was a Christian nationalist. Nobody ever said that.
But, yes. It was a Christian nationalist uprising that was the driving force and what Andrew Seidel calls the “permission structure” for attacking the seat of American government. So is this a crisis? We don’t want to be fearmongering, but I’m going to say when we have a violent insurrection at the United States Capitol, we have a crisis.
MS. TYLER: Yeah. I say, I’m not an alarmist, and I’m alarmed.
MR. REINER: Yeah.
MS. TYLER: And so I think it’s so important that the first screening is happening at the U.S. Capitol, that members of Congress and their staffs can really grapple and face this, because one of the great travesties of the January 6 Committee is that they did not include Christian nationalism in their final report.
MR. REINER: And I understand why, because it is a third — it’s a flash point. I mean, you run the danger of getting people to discount what you say if you go down that road. That’s what this film does and very clearly does. But they had a bigger problem.
And if you look at what they did, they had only Republicans testifying. They wanted to make it as clear as possible what happened. But if they’d gone down the road of pinning it on Christian nationalism, I think they would have turned off a lot of people.
And I suspect we will turn off some people. Hopefully not, because there are some very respected conservative Christian voices in this film that will talk specifically about the danger of Christian nationalism.
MS. TYLER: Yeah. And I think part of American democracy is all of us playing our role in raising these issues, and so you and your team behind this film have absolutely played an important role, I think, in raising the issue of Christian nationalism and the role that it played and that often Congress is responsive, should be responsive to the will of the people. And so if more and more people see the film and have conversations, then perhaps we’ll see Congress following.
MR. REINER: Hopefully, hopefully.
MR. PARTLAND: I think so. And I think — but as Rob is saying, I don’t think it was the job of the January 6 Committee to do that. And I think that that’s the role of a free press, also contained in the other part of the First Amendment that we don’t talk about in the film. So, yeah. We’re contributing that piece, and it’s an important piece.
But, you know, we also have, for the people, you know, who are willing to come and see what it was all about, we have their attention for 90 minutes, and we can walk through what some of these things are that isn’t really that well done in a quick news hit or a commercial or anything like that, because you just — just explaining what Christian nationalism is is very difficult. People think they might know. They’ve heard it used, but we really try to explain that, and it’s a complicated thing to explain.
MS. TYLER: Well, thank you both for the film, for your time sitting down, and for your ongoing partnership as we work in this much larger community of people who are committed to taking on Christian nationalism.
MR. PARTLAND: Thank you, Amanda.
MR. REINER: Thanks for having us.
MR. PARTLAND: And thanks to BJC. Fabulous.
MS. TYLER: Thank you.
Segment 2: Post-screening Q&A with Partland and Reiner (starting at 20:58)
HOLLY: For this segment of the podcast, we’ll bring you a conversation from later that same day. You heard them say no audience has seen the film yet, but that changed hours later as the first screening of “God & Country” was held in the U.S. Capitol Visitors Center.
A large portion of the movie addresses the Christian nationalism that we saw on display during the January 6 attack on the Capitol, and I can say that watching the movie in that same building was really remarkable, because it reminded us of what we saw take place in those same halls, remarkable for the horror that we remembered of all the injury and death that happened that day, but also the important hopefulness that the insurrectionists failed in their attempt to stop our democracy.
This Q&A covers some different ground than her earlier conversation with the director and producer, including an audience question about what Norman Lear thought about the film. This session has been condensed and edited slightly for this podcast. Here’s Amanda again with Dan Partland and Rob Reiner, this time at the Capitol after the very first screening of “God & Country.”
MS. TYLER: So, Dan, first question for you is just: Why this film now?
MR. PARTLAND: Well, you know, I’ve been very concerned about the state of American democracy. I think we’ve got a lot — you know, the extreme polarization that’s going on and dysfunction. And so, you know, when I began, you know, Rob actually, you know, recommended a book to me that we both read and became very focused on this.
What I saw was, yeah, we’ve been talking about the threat to democracy, but, yes, this Christian nationalist movement seems like it is a — it’s been really driving a lot of culture war battles, kind of on every front. When you really look point by point at the different things Americans are fighting about right now, it’s been a driving force to that.
The deeper look brought me to this other thought also, though, that I really hadn’t been tracking, which is the threat that it represents also to Christianity itself.
MS. TYLER: And that gets me to my question for you, Rob: You know, so many Christian voices in this film and you are Jewish, so what kind of brought you to want to make this film about Christians and their grappling with Christian nationalism and some of your personal story about that?
MR. REINER: Well, you know, I became aware of this during the time of “All in the Family,” and when Norman Lear launched an organization called People For the American Way, because it was a pushback against this kind of dogma of Christian nationalism and trying to force a way of thinking on the rest of us and was totally antithetical to the precepts of democracy, which is this pluralism and that we’re all free to worship how we want.
Now, as a Jewish person, I was raised in a secular household. It was not a religious household, so I wasn’t indoctrinated with any kind of Jewish teachings in that way. But I went through a very tough time in my life where, you know, they call the dark soul-searching part of your life, and during that period, I read everything I could get my hands on. I read about Buddhism and Islam and Christianity, Judaism.
And in reading all of this, what came to me — and this is a funny thing, because they always — in school, they always say, you know, if you’re doing a math problem, they don’t want the answer, just the answer. They want to show how you did the work. How did you get to that answer? So I went through a long process of thinking, What do I believe, you know?
And I looked at all these comparative religions. Essentially there’s a unifying idea in all of them which is the teachings of Jesus, which is do unto others, you know, as you would have — you know, love thy neighbor as thyself. And my father used to tell me that if we all could espouse that, if we could all embrace that one thing, you could do away with the Ten Commandments, because that applies to everything.
And so that’s something I started to think about and strive towards. And, you know, we fall short, but we keep trying. And the tough thing as was mentioned by Reverend Barber in there is that this needs to be reintroduced, this whole idea of the precepts of Christianity needs to be reintroduced, because it’s been coopted. It’s been coopted.
And it’s a scary time now, because Christian nationalism, as we say in the film, has always been there, and it’s kind of bubbled up, you know, started in ’54, Brown v. Board of Education. There was Roe v. Wade in ’72, ’73. But it’s never had the kind of dynamic voice that it has now with Donald Trump. Being funneled through Donald Trump makes it — puts this well-funded and well-organized machine on steroids.
And we saw already what that can do. We saw this building being overtaken by his followers. Now, he says he’s going to do — he already announced what he wants to do. So that’s very scary, and even though, as Dan has pointed out, not every person who stormed the Capitol is a Christian nationalist, but it is the organizing foundation for what we saw on January 6, and it is dangerous. It is very dangerous.
So, you know, we all — this is a very scary time. And as a person who is Jewish, I do certainly know the history of the Jews, and this summer we went to Auschwitz where my wife’s mother and her entire family were — her mother was the only one who survived. The rest of her family were murdered at Auschwitz. And you see what nationalism can do. You see the results of it.
And so for us who are Jewish by birth, we know what the dangers are, and hopefully this film can at least be a little bit of a teaching tool to everybody. We tried to — Dan did an amazing job, because we jammed a lot of stuff into 90 minutes, you know. But I think it gives people a good basic understanding of what Christian nationalism is.
MS. TYLER: Well, and we have a unique opportunity with you here tonight to hear a little bit more about how the film came about, too. I’d love to hear about that.
MR. PARTLAND: Well, I was just thinking —- because Rob talked about jamming stuff in, and it certainly felt like that.
MR. REINER: Hey, Dan, before you say something —
MR. PARTLAND: Yeah.
MR. REINER: Do you have any diseases?
MR. PARTLAND: No. Let’s share that water. None that I know of –- [laughter]
MR. REINER: Because I could, you know – [laughter]
MR. PARTLAND: None that I know of. You know, it was, first of all, wonderful to see — thank you for your kind attention — wonderful to see it with an audience, you know, because as a filmmaker, we’ve had only small groups, and then you really kind of feel where the audience is at and where they’re enjoying it and reacting and stuff like that, which is always really, really valuable.
I was thinking, because my wife said, Oh, my God, you know, the film is so scary; it’s so stressful; did you have to make it so scary and stressful. And I said, Well, I just couldn’t think of the funny version. Right?
MR. PARTLAND: You know, and that’s the problem, of course. I mean, you want to — I mean, we’re trying to find a way to talk about these things that also — you know, that informs people. You know, I don’t like to say, educates. It isn’t really that. I mean, we all lived through that.
I do think, you know, we had an ambitious — we went after an ambitious idea that we could connect like a lot of different dots that tried to explain like how we came to this moment, and to do that and to really try to do it fairly, because I was certainly very concerned that anything that talks about Christian nationalism be viewed as an anti-Christian thing.
The real break in the process of making the film, I think, was just that we found so many really great Christian voices who were so ready to speak out about it. And the insights that they provide are what really gives it life for me, because we really need to sort of serve both things.
We need to try to tell this story to people from the outside who are not necessarily, you know, in part of a Christian community, but also we need to be speaking to Christians themselves, you know, who are sharing this concern.
MS. TYLER: So I have started to get some audience questions, and as predicted, they’re really great. And so I want to start getting to some of these.
For Rob, your dear friend Norman Lear recently passed away, and our audience would love to hear what you think Norman would think of this film.
MR. REINER: Well, he saw the film. I played this at his — you know, he was 101 when he died, and this was very shortly before he passed away. We had a screening for him at his house, and he was knocked out by it because this is the work that he had been doing for all these years with People For the American Way. And here we were able to put in a 90-minute film all of those ideas that he was trying to get across in so many years. So he was absolutely thrilled by it.
MS. TYLER: And, you know, speaking to that idea that there’s so much in this film, I think some of the themes that came out were, one, this sense of the emotions that drive Christian nationalism, the fear, the persecution story that’s being told. But then you, I think, very effectively show the profit, the power, how really money is driving so much of this.
And so, I guess, what can that teach us about how to actually engage with people who are buying into Christian nationalism? Does that create some kind of opportunity for listening or empathy with them?
MR. PARTLAND: Well, look, I definitely think empathy with them is a place that we want to lead from, because I think that — first of all, I think it’s the first step for all of us is to understand it a little bit, and understanding, I think, the way some of particularly the Christian voices in the film talked about how the belief that their faith is under threat, about how close that hits, that really helped me to understand why it has so much intensity.
But, you know — so understanding is a good place to be. I think it’s also really important for those of us who are trying to push back on it to not just devolve into anger and to try to keep the conversation in a constructive place. That’s really hard to do. But, yeah. I think understanding how personal, how intimate this issue is for a lot of people because of their relationship with their faith.
MR. REINER: And I think that at a certain point hopefully, the power of it diminishes, and Christian people get back to, you know, the basis of their religion in a much more honest way. Then you have to look at people who are drawn in to this, because for whatever reasons, they’re feeling depressed, they’re feeling disenfranchised, they’re feeling like they’ve been left behind, they’re feeling disconnected, and they latch on to some preacher who tells them, you know, I alone can fix it, or Come here and I’ll make it all right for you, and then realize that they’re not being served the way they like to be served.
We have to be generous to those people. We have to be loving and accepting of them back into the world of the, as we say, Earth-One, you know, because that’s what we as, you know, people who, you know, are reaching out, we want to not besmirch them. We want to make them feel comfortable to come back.
And especially, you know, preachers throughout the country who are feeling, you know, assaulted by this whole movement, they feel like they’re hamstrung and they don’t know how to, you know, get the flock back in on a basis of the honest teachings of Jesus.
MR. PARTLAND: Yeah. I mean, that’s the thing that we certainly hear about a lot, the pressure. You know, you were talking about sort of “follow the money” idea. Like, of course, there is a whole system here that is wired in a certain way, and it needs to be fed, and that’s part of what we’re seeing.
But, yeah. You’re seeing it here in these arena-sized ministries that are very, very profitable on their own. But you’re not seeing it actually on another level. You know, congregations all over the country are subject to the same pressures, because the pastor, you know, at the local church is feeling led by the flock. Right?
The flock is saying like if we don’t hear the message that we want to hear coming from the pulpit, we’re going to go elsewhere. And so, you know, I think a lot of those pastors are struggling to hold on to their congregation and can’t figure out how to navigate it either, because this — these ideas have gathered so much momentum.
MS. TYLER: I think when we think about the origin of the film, too, and your own personal commitment here, you know, obviously the January 6 insurrection figured very largely in the film, and our audience — one member of our audience — I’m sure others, too — would like to know just kind of where you were during the insurrection, any stories or reflections to share about what that meant for you.
MR. PARTLAND: Yeah. I’ll do that one. Rob will have a better one. So what I was doing on January 6 was I had read this book, The Power Worshippers, at Rob’s behest. I’d read that over the holiday break that January. And what I was doing on January 6 was I was prepping notes for a Zoom meeting with Rob and Michelle and the author.
And I had the proceedings, the congressional proceedings, up on another monitor, as I took notes, thinking about, you know, what kind of brilliant things I would say to these folks about what kind of a film we could do. And so I felt especially — I felt like an insider, frankly, because I felt like the framework that I had just read, I had just spent the break immersing myself in thinking about these issues, made it jump off the page.
And I was kind of watching the news, couldn’t believe that there was no comment on the abundant Christian nationalist imagery and themes. And so we had the first Zoom meeting on the 7th or the 8th or the 9th or something, within a couple of days. And they said, you know, Well, what do you think. And I said, I think we just saw a Christian nationalist uprising in America now.
MR. REINER: It’s interesting, because if you look at the January 6 report that came out of the committee, there’s no mention of Christian nationalism. And I understand why. I do understand why, because it’s — you know, there can be a knee-jerk reaction to people saying, It’s Christians doing this.
But we’re not saying that. The film’s not saying that. The leaders in the film are not saying that. But you could see how congresspeople would be reticent to put that in there, because they don’t want to turn people off of what happened that day, so — but we know it’s there. We can see it’s there.
MS. TYLER: What is your hope for this film? How do you hope that the audience responds to it, and how might this contribute to more critical thinking or more engagement in the democracy in order to save it?
MR. REINER: Well, hopefully it will — it’s a clarion call to say, you know, we’re on the precipice here. And we’ll get into the discussions of how do we better set up the wall between church and state, what are the things we can do to strengthen that. But like I say, it’s in the Constitution. But before we get to that, we have to first and foremost preserve the democracy.
MS. TYLER: And, Dan, what is your hope for this film and what it does?
MR. PARTLAND: Well, you know, I’ve — I mean, of course, I hope everybody sees it and starts a conversation and starts things going on. I think it needs to become safe for people to talk about it. That’s the first thing.
I think that the title is so problematic, the title of this — not of the film, “God & Country,” but the title of the movement or the idea: Christian nationalism. It just makes it very, very hard to talk about, because it immediately is going to get people’s back up that this is something that’s going to attack a faith.
So first thing is we have to have people understand what Christian nationalism is, and that’s a hard task in itself. But then, you know, I hate to say it. This is what a filmmaker always says, is what I want people to get from the film. It’s like I want them to — that whole thing, what we just said.
MR. REINER: Yeah.
MR. PARTLAND: That’s what I want people to get.
MR. REINER: Yeah.
MR. PARTLAND: But, you know, the thing is I’m so — at this point I’m so steeped in this content, I’m so used to talking about it, I know it from so many different angles. And if I ended up at Thanksgiving with a relative who was, you know, sliding or fully into this thing, I don’t think I could take it on. Really, really hard to talk about.
So one of the grand ambitions of the film is just that people would use it just that way, that they would say to a friend or a loved one who they felt like needed to hear some of this stuff. They’d say, Hey, I know about this film; would you watch this for me, because I think it will —
At the very least, it’ll start a conversation, and you’ll get to hear some really important ideas from some really great and credible voices, so it’s not just me at the Thanksgiving table saying what I think about American democracy or what I think about Christianity. So, yeah. Getting people to share it and getting the conversation started, I think, is kind of the biggest ambition for the film.
MR. REINER: And having a Thanksgiving where there’s not too much screaming at each other.
MR. PARTLAND: Yeah. Maybe Thanksgiving won’t be the introduction to the idea, but maybe we can actually take it to the next —
MR. REINER: Hopefully before that.
MR. PARTLAND: Yeah. Hopefully before — that’s late, Thanksgiving. [laughter]
MR. REINER: Thanksgiving, it’s already over.
MR. PARTLAND: Easter dinner. Easter dinner.
Segment 3: Closing (starting at 41:18)
HOLLY: We want to thank Rob Reiner and Dan Partland for joining us on Respecting Religion and for making this film to show some of the dangers of Christian nationalism. We’ll share additional information on the “God & Country” film in our show notes.
And as we’ve mentioned before, BJC started the Christians Against Christian Nationalism campaign in 2019 to help raise awareness about and combat the dangers of that ideology, and we encourage you to check out our website for resources, study guides and more.
That brings us to the close of this episode of Respecting Religion. Thanks for joining us. For more information on the film “God & Country,” including articles about the screening, visit our website at RespectingReligion.org for show notes and a transcript of this program.
This episode of Respecting Religion is produced and edited by Cherilyn Guy with editorial assistance from Guthrie Graves-Fitzsimmons. Learn more about our work at BJC, defending faith freedom for all, by visiting our website at BJConline.org.
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