Right now, the Orlando shooting is still on everyone's mind. But, inevitably, most of us will move on.
That's how it was for Rob Schenck, an evangelical pastor at the center of "The Armor of Light," a new documentary that premiered on Netflix last Friday. After witnessing a spate of mass shootings, Schenck found himself moved, but not in a way that he thought he could personally do anything about.
But after the 2013 Washington D.C. Navy Yard shooting happened just a few blocks from his apartment, his outlook started to change.
"There were at least twelve people [killed from] gunshot wounds in my neighborhood and I realized I have to address it," he says in the film.
"The Armor of Light" follows Schenck from this moment, focusing on an uncomfortable question that the pastor slowly builds up the nerve to ask of his fellow believers: Can an evangelical Christian really consider themselves both pro-life and pro-gun?
What follows is less the kind of political statement or self-affirming exercise that we have come to expect from the documentary genre and more of an exploration of what it is to try to be a moral person.
Rev. Schenck, as presented in the film, is a likeable man. He fits the archetypal mold of a preacher, from the thick-set glasses and close-cropped haircut to the firm, yet calm tone of voice. He speaks his beliefs with the conviction of someone you just have to agree to disagree with, if that's your inclination. Proclaiming to be both pro-life and pro-gun just doesn't make sense from a theological, turn-the-other-cheek sense, he argues to fellow evangelicals in this voice.
"There is a certain irreconcilable difference between these two positions, and yet we're trying to hold them together like two opposing magnets," he says at one point.
But how did we get here? How did a question of life or death come to be politicized along partisan lines, even among evangelicals, who claim to put the Bible above all else? Lines from the Bible get pitted against the Second Amendment of the Constitution, and vice-versa. Tempers flare, heads nod. Rev. Schenck loses friends and gains allies.
Schenck's challenge is formidable. White evangelical Christians were found to be the religious group most likely to live in a household with at least one gun, according to a 2013 Public Religion Research Institute survey. And unlike other religious groups that also identify as pro-life, evangelicals' pro-life stance was found to correlate with pro-gun opinions. Catholics, on the other hand, tend to consider themselves pro-life, while being more supportive of gun control laws.
As a group, evangelicals have been closely aligned with the political right since the rise of President Ronald Reagan. Conservative politicians have depended on evangelical votes for the advancement of conservative causes, including anti-abortion and pro-gun stances. So a pastor breaking with the politics of the group on religious grounds is bound to find himself in the ugly crossfire—which is what happened to Schenck.
The film plays as a "coming out" narrative, which also provides the tension it needs to make us care about Schenck's struggle. Speaking out about his true thoughts is politically risky, and he fears it might make him an outcast in his own circle.
Looming just outside the center of the film is the story of Lucy McBath. McBath is the mother of Jordan Davis, a black teenager who was killed at a Florida gas station after an argument about loud music. Michael Dunn, the white man who shot Davis, said he felt threatened for his life when he attacked. He cited Florida's controversial Stand Your Ground defense, which maintains that people don't have a duty to retreat from a situation if they fear for their lives. They can just shoot now and ask questions later. (The court didn't buy it.)
Over time, McBath's public struggle convinces Rev. Schenck to go public with his views. The two meet in person and connect over both their opposition to guns and their faith.
"We're deceived into believing that we're so powerful because we have some thing that will protect me. Instead of looking to God righteously as the protector, we have replaced God with the guns," McBath tells Rev. Schenck at one point.
To be clear, nothing is completely resolved by the end, but filmmakers Abigail Disney and Kathleen Hughes do an admirable job giving room to those who speak and leaving us to put the pieces back together.
At one point in the film, Rev. Schenck visits an NRA convention and is taken aback at the sight of his fellow Christians all but drooling over the guns on display. Fear-peddling speeches justifying the armament of America are given, as he reflects on the national crisis of gun violence. A speaker leads a prayer for the protection of the Second Amendment.
"Can good people come together and yet contribute to bad outcomes?" asks Rev. Schenck. "Of course."
Daniel Rivero is a producer/reporter for Fusion who focuses on police and justice issues. He also skateboards, does a bunch of arts related things on his off time, and likes Cuban coffee.