In the wake of the 2004 election — an election which saw an unprecedented Republican get-out-the-vote effort draw 12 million new evangelicals to the polls — a nonplussed liberal media establishment was left with just one question: "Who, exactly, are these evangelical voters?"
So the media got to work. Opinion polls were conducted, focus groups convened and religious experts consulted — all in an effort to answer that seemingly elusive question. Documentary filmmaker Alexandra Pelosi, however, took a rather novel approach. Pelosi, daughter of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, decided to venture into the "red states" in order to, as she put it in a recent interview, "figure out who they [evangelicals] are and what it means to America’s future."
So, like a National Geographic reporter traveling to some third-world hinterland to observe a newly discovered species in its native habitat, Pelosi criss-crossed the heartland to some of evangelical America’s largest mega churches to learn what it is that animates evangelicals.
The product of her labor is the breezy new documentary "Friends of God: A Road Trip with Alexandra Pelosi," which airs through early March on HBO. For an HBO documentary about conservative Christians by a self-described liberal Democrat, "Friends" is surprisingly even-handed. Engaging and good-natured, Pelosi keeps her politics mostly to herself and is respectful toward the film’s subjects, which include Christian pastors, comedians, wrestlers, musicians, skateboarders and more.
Where the film falls short, however, is in accomplishing its stated objective of figuring out who evangelicals really are. Instead, "Friends" provides viewers with an assortment of random snapshots, many of which reinforce some of the less flattering stereotypes of evangelicals. We witness a drive thru church service, a pick-up truck evangelist who informs Pelosi that, "If you don’t believe in Jesus, you’re a big time loser," the Christian Wrestling Federation wrestlers body slamming for Jesus, and a steady stream of roadside billboards announcing, for instance, that "Evolution is from the Devil."
While "Friends of God" fails to offer more than a cursory examination of the lives of evangelicals, a recent interview with Pelosi helps illuminate perhaps the most formidable hurdle facing the Left in its quest to understand evangelicals. In an interview with ABC News, Pelosi was asked whether, after spending more than a year traveling to evangelical churches across America, she thinks liberals can make up ground with evangelical voters. Pelosi response was revealing. She said, "If we [evangelicals and liberals] are able to look past the two most polarized and political issues — abortion and gay rights — then, of course, yeah."
Pelosi’s answer exemplifies a belief gaining popularity in the mainstream media: that if evangelicals would only look beyond "wedge issues" like abortion and same-sex marriage, some common ground might be found.
This view suggests that these are merely a few among a laundry list of important public policy questions. But, for the vast majority of evangelicals, the right to life and the definition of marriage are fundamentally and inescapably moral theological issues. Take the right to life, whose importance is rooted in the Christian belief that all human beings are made in the image and likeness of God. The centrality of the human person to the Christian worldview helps evangelicals think about and prioritize every political issue that arises, with those policies and laws that pose the gravest threat to human life placed at the top of the agenda. It also helps explain why evangelicals will never be able to "move past" abortion, as Pelosi and many others on the Left hope. The same can be said for issues relating to marriage, family and, of course, the role of religion in public life.
In the end, Ms. Pelosi’s film represents a missed opportunity to delve more deeply into what this burgeoning force in American life really believes and what it means for the country’s future. Instead, the film offers two distinct messages to two very different audiences. For coastal liberals, the film is a reaffirmation of their most deeply entrenched biases against conservative people of faith as bizarre and out of touch with mainstream America. For evangelicals, it serves as yet another reminder that the liberal media establishment still doesn’t understand them.