What does it truly mean to be “pro-life”? This is the theological, moral, and philosophical question taken up by Evangelical leader Rev. Rob Schenck in Abigail E. Disney’s documentary, “The Armor of Light.” “Pro-life” has become synonymous with the anti-abortion cause in America, and Rev. Schenck has been an important leader in that movement. But he takes the term “pro-life” literally, and vehemently believes that it extends beyond the birth of a baby. He also finds it contradictory to be “pro-life” with a gun in hand, unlike many of his conservative Christian contemporaries. The film follows his spiritual journey as he attempts to reconcile “pro-life” and “pro-gun,” and it finds that, at least for him, those two stances are not a match made in heaven.
Schenck started to question the true meaning of his pro-life stance in the early ‘90s, when an abortion provider was shot and killed in Buffalo, where Schenck had been a part of non-violent, if fervent, anti-abortion protests. Someone who was ostensibly on his side had ended a life — how could that possibly make sense? It’s this conundrum that Schenck is driven to interrogate, wanting to understand meanings of words, beliefs, and actions, following the theological and moral questions to their rightful ends.
READ MORE: Faith And Firearms In Exclusive Trailer For Provocative Documentary ‘The Armor of Light’
Schenck holds one of the highest leadership positions in Evangelical ministry in the United States, and he leads the Faith and Action Foundation in Washington D.C. He doesn’t look like other filmed depictions of Evangelical Christians. He’s bookish and intellectual, rational and reasonable, and the film portrays him, and his faith, respectfully. Growing up Jewish in upstate New York, he was raised with the memory and images of the Holocaust, which imbued in him the utmost respect for the sanctity of human life. His thoughtfulness and critical thinking about Christianity and gun culture is a stark contrast to some of the members of his community who spout emphatic hypotheticals and clichéd rhetoric about good guys and guns.
As Rev. Schenck embarks on a journey to better understand the relationship of guns to Christian lives, Disney weaves in the story of Lucy McBath, whose son, Jordan Davis, was shot and killed by Michael Dunn in 2012. The two connect over their faith, and their shared respect for life. Her urging pushes Schenck to take a stand on the gun control issue, even though it’s a risk to his career and standing in the conservative Christian community.
“The Armor of Light” skillfully lays out a very delicate argument: that pro-life can never be synonymous with pro-gun. While it’s definitely on one side of the debate, the filmmaking is unobtrusive enough that is never feels pushy, just obvious. Schenck has a real desire to engage with the topic tangibly, and so he goes shooting at a gun range, and patiently listens to everyone with a stance on the subject.
McBath, the daughter of an NAACP civil rights activist, finds her life’s calling in her son’s death. She becomes a vocal opponent of the Stand Your Ground Law that Dunn invoked as his defense in her son’s shooting. A bit later in the film she makes the connection between the NRA and the gun industry, arguing that stoking fear and paranoia, as the NRA does, is good business for gun manufacturers.
Disney’s a veteran documentary producer, but “The Armor of Light” is her directorial feature. The film is confident, and assured, and lets its subjects do the talking. It also resists condemning the average citizens who are gun owners. Even Lucy McBath’s lawyer admits to having a conceal carry permit for self-protection. Rather, “The Armor of Light” condemns the organizations that create cultures of fear in order to line their own pockets, cultures that end up putting human life below profits. A philosophical question that Schenck grapples with is: can bad people do good things, and can good people do bad things? Can good people come together and contribute to bad things? When it comes to the current gun culture in America, the sad but true answer can only be yes. [B+]