HIFF: Armor of Light Highlights Chasm in Political Right

Rob Schenck. Image courtesy of Jeff Hutchen.
Rob Schenck at the river. Jeff Hutchens photo.
Rob Schenck at the river. Jeff Hutchen photo.

By Dawn Watson

In filming “Armor of Light,” Abigail Disney not only made her directorial debut, she became a catalyst in attempting to bridge a deep chasm on the far political right. Her documentary tells the story of an unlikely partnership—that of a pro-life evangelical minister and a distraught Christian mother who became a gun control advocate after her unarmed son was shot and killed.

Rob Schenck. Image courtesy of Jeff Hutchen.
Rob Schenck. Image courtesy of Jeff Hutchen.

“Armor of Light” illuminates the powerful journey undertaken by Reverend Rob Schenck, an anti-abortion activist who begins to question the orthodoxy of how a pro-gun stance can be consistent with a pro-life philosophy, and Lucy McBath, whose son, Jordan Davis, was murdered in Florida, casting a spotlight on the state’s “Stand Your Ground” laws. In introducing the two, Ms. Disney gets the ball rolling and the discussion flowing on the morality of gun culture and the possibility of people crossing deep party lines to find common ground.

“We have a broken political dynamic on this. I wanted to find a way to think freshly about it and I thought the pro-life community would be rich for that,” says Ms. Disney, who is also staunch supporter of a woman’s right to choose. “From my perspective, shooting first is not a pro-life ethic and I wanted to find someone who could explain why it seems like so many Christians are arming up.”

Rob Schenck. Image courtesy of Jeff Hutchen.
Rob Schenck. Image courtesy of Jeff Hutchen.

Finding that person among the conservative apostates and participating in a dialogue with them proved to be a difficult task, admits Ms. Disney. Even among those few who told her privately that they don’t think that guns are the answer, none would agree to speak publically on the issue.

“I was looking for someone—anyone—on the far right who might be willing to entertain the idea that there were some logical and even theological inconsistencies in the positions conservative evangelicals were taking on abortion and guns,” says the filmmaker.

Enter Reverend Schenck, a vocal anti-abortion activist and founding member of Operation Rescue, who agreed to speak with the filmmaker and to examine the issue of gun violence, which he admits had not previously been on his “front burner.” In “Armor of Light,” he ponders whether it is possible to be pro-gun and pro-life. And after deep consideration and prayer, he decides to go public with his belief that the growing gun violence in our culture can no longer be ignored, and to speak out on the topic of the “Stand Your Ground” laws that are backed by a large majority of conservative Christians.

“I realize the significance of the Second Amendment. But I also know it doesn’t trump the Second Commandment,” he says.

Ms. McBath and the filmmaker were less far apart ideologically from the beginning of the project, as both already opposed “Stand Your Ground” laws. In fact, Ms. Disney credits the advocate’s deep convictions as a Christian in moving the reverend “to dig yet deeper for his moral courage” as well as in bringing the three of them closer, allowing them to form surprisingly unlikely friendships.

“We are all driving together through Orlando right now, on the fourth day of our ‘Faith Over Fear’ trip to screen and talk about the film with mostly Christian audiences,” Ms. Disney reported during a telephone interview last week. “We’re quite the dynamic trio.”

In telling the story of “Armor of Light,” the filmmaker and her subjects took a journey far beyond that of the film’s original intent. They learned that a good attitude goes a long way, especially when forming a relationship with someone with whom you disagree.

“I’ve been interested in peace building and conflict resolution since I’ve been making films,” says Ms. Disney. “And I’ve learned that if you approach people with respect and an open heart, they will almost always respond to you in the same way.”

The experienced producer and president of Fork Films says that she hopes that the message of acceptance in “Armor of Light,” which recently won the Best International Feature Documentary at the Galway Film Fleadh in Ireland, has even a fraction of the impact on audiences as it has had on her.

“The point is that we can disagree, and it’s not because we are bad people or stupid people,” she says. “But once we’ve met, generally speaking, there’s been more connection than not. The key is that you need to pay attention to the things you love about each other and that you value your feelings more than you value your differences. Miraculous things can happen.”

“Armor of Light” will screen on Saturday, October 10, at 10:45 a.m., and on Sunday, October 11, at 4:30 p.m. at the Regal East Hampton Cinema UA. Tickets are $15. For more information, visit hamptonsfilmfest.org.