It’s a straightforward question few in America seems to want to ask: Why must we have such readily accessible guns? Those curious to hear your answer are an unlikely lineup of candidates ranging from a pro-life pastor to the mother of a gun-violence victim. The cast of Abigail Disney and Kathleen Hughes’ The Armor of Light poses that loaded question to some members of our society who hold their Second Amendment rights sacred: conservative Christians.
Pastor Rob Schenck is an evangelical Christian with a history of fighting a woman’s right to an abortion. He made the leap from stomping in front of clinics to lobbying in Washington on behalf of his conservative constituents. Rev. Schenck learned the hard way that not everyone in his flock followed the gospel of passive resistance when a congregation member murdered a local abortion doctor. But it was only after the Navy Yard shooting in his neighborhood that Rev. Schenck heard the call to ask fellow Christians if it was theologically sound to take the life of another.
Enter Lucy McBath, poised and collected, who recalls raising her son alone until sending him to live with his father in Jacksonville while she recovered from cancer treatment. A holiday phone call from her estranged husband broke the news that her 17-year-old son, Jordan Davis, was shot and killed while out with friends by a man who says he felt threatened by the carful of kids. Thanks to Florida’s lax gun laws, he almost got away with it too.
The unlikely duo explores the issue in their faith-based communities in a way that isn’t condescending or judgmental; it’s understanding. Schenck is careful to pose the question as a discussion that is at first shot down politely, then aggressively at another dinner table. It’s not unlike the awkward exchanges you can come home to from college during winter break. He carefully tiptoes yet prods the discussion until a temperamental flare-up sees his eyes retreat to his lap, biding time around the aggressor.
That kind of palpable anger toward the mere suggestion of gun control feels intensified on the grounds of the annual NRA convention. Disney and Hughes go further than Michael Moore without ever going in front of the camera. They capture highlights of several keynote speakers, including Tea Party favorite Sarah Palin, and feature some of the wares and sales to score on the show floor. Schenck bounds in on his sociological experiment, absorbing the sights and sounds as they come. It’s gun culture’s high holiday, a pep rally for a largely white crowd fearful of the government and arming themselves against the theoretical bad guy they all are assured will break into their house one night.
Infuriatingly, this racial divide isn’t addressed until near the end of the movie, when Rev. Schenck deems it the “elephant in the room.” The few black Christians he does speak with on camera don’t see eye to eye with many of their white brethren. It’s unfortunate this conversation is so limited, since McBath’s son was killed because his presence in a car filled a white stranger with enough fear and anger to take his life. While Rev. Schenck is obviously disturbed by the increase of mass shootings on school grounds, he doesn’t posit too much thought on the trend other than the culprit being readily accessible high-powered machine guns. After all, it wasn’t until a mass shooting occurred in his own backyard that Schenck gave it the same weight as Lucy McBath had given it her entire life when raising her son.
The Armor of Light seems almost too distant, yet the story threads intertwine seamlessly, from an anti-abortion pastor to the grieving mother of a victim of Florida’s infamous “Stand Your Ground” Law. It’s slickly filmed, making great use of the good pastor’s stained glass windows and framing the difficult conversations beautifully. It makes you wonder if, had the pastor never agitated the dialogue with his parishioners and clergy, we would be hearing Jordan Davis’ story in the same light.
Directors: Abigail Disney, Kathleen Hughes
Writer: Abigail Disney
Release Date: October 30, 2015
Monica Castillo is a freelance film critic and writer based in Brooklyn. You can usually find her outside of a movie theater excitedly talking about the film she just saw or on Twitter.