Mormon filmmaker's journey helps him make peace with religious critics

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 7 2012 6:00 p.m. MST

"For while this year it may be a Catholic against whom the finger of suspicion is pointed, in other years it has been, and may someday be again, a Jew — or a Quaker or a Unitarian or a Baptist," Kennedy told the Greater Houston Ministerial Association. "It was Virginia's harassment of Baptist preachers, for example, that helped lead to Jefferson's statute of religious freedom. Today I may be the victim, but tomorrow it may be you — until the whole fabric of our harmonious society is ripped at a time of great national peril."

One of the first working titles of the film was "Article VI," a reference to the constitutional amendment that prohibits a religious test for public office. An early cut of the movie, which villainized the Christian right as intolerant of any faith but its own, made it into the hands of Richard Land, a top leader at the time for the Southern Baptist Convention, Hall said in an interview.

Land called up Hall to explain that Jeffress doesn't speak for all Southern Baptists, and they arranged for an interview. Land, who endorses the current version of the film as something "every good Christian should see," explained that Christianity is a strictly held doctrine for evangelical Protestants and not just a name or attitude. An evangelical's claim that Mormons aren't Christians is based on doctrinal differences and not on the character or good intentions of Mormons, Land said. But he also acknowledged that labeling other faiths as "cults" faiths isn't an effective way to build bridges and can call into question an evangelical's Christian attitude.

That made sense to Hall, who went back into production. "There's no question that (Land) played a role in opening my heart to understanding the position of conservative Christians," Hall said.

The next cut of his film shows Hall's change of heart through footage of him eating and socializing with his interviewees and their families after formal shooting.

Personal vs. politics

Those moments of unguarded reconciliation were what caught Paul's attention when he got a copy of the film from someone who had been working with Hall.

"I had never met Randall before he came to the studio and started to talk to us about" reproducing the movie into something the foundation could use, said Hall, who admitted he was a bit leery of Paul's exuberance at first. But Hall needed resources distributing his film, so they worked out a deal where the foundation purchased the rights to the film and hired consultants, including veteran documentary film producer Wilder Knight II, to remake the film to emphasize the message Paul was seeking.

"We wanted to make it into more of a personal journey than a political message," Paul said, explaining why it doesn't mention Romney's successful quest to become the GOP nominee in 2012 with prominent evangelical support.

They also changed the title to reflect the foundation's messaging that unresolvable differences over something as difficult as defining the kingdom of God on earth are inevitable, but they are not insurmountable obstacles to different faith traditions working together.

Despite Paul's intentions to play up Hall's personal journey and tone down the political angle of the film, the idea that Romney's foray into presidential politics created a religious debate that derailed his first effort to secure the GOP nomination will remain a strong central theme, considering the film's release coming right after the 2012 presidential election.

Romney largely won over evangelicals who voted in 2012, with exit polls showing that he captured more than 80 percent of that voting bloc. One of the legacies of his run will be how it exposed Mormonism to a larger audience, breaking down misconceptions and misunderstandings about his faith. The Rev. Billy Graham removed it from his list of cults, and Land now describes it as a fourth Abrahamic religion along with Judaism, Islam and Christianity.

While Romney's presidential run may not have produced many evangelical converts to Mormonism, it did cause many to reconsider their reasons for choosing a political candidate. Even Jeffress said he would vote for Romney, and many other evangelical leaders reminded their followers that they were voting for a commander-in-chief, not a pastor-in-chief.

"(The film) puts the message of a (religious) test in this country out there" for all faith traditions to come to terms with before future elections, said John H. Morehead, an evangelical and FRD board member. "What will happen when an atheist or a pagan runs for president?"

Upcoming screenings for 'Unresolvable'

WEDNESDAY NOV. 14, 2012 at 7 p.m.

Utah Valley University, Room SC 209a

FRIDAY NOV. 16, 2012 at 7:30 p.m.

The Leonardo Museum

209 E. 500 South, Salt Lake City

TUESDAY NOV. 27, 2012 at 6:30 p.m.

University of Utah

Ray Olpin Student Union Theater

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