For context see Andrew Klager’s review, Documentary: J.E.S.U.S.A., and Confessions of a Catechumen and Ex-Marine.
Before we get to the special offer regarding my new feature-length documentary, I want to let you in on a little secret. The original title of my film was not J.E.S.U.S.A. In fact, its original title started off as a joke, a riff on one of the most popular movies of the early 1990s that is still referenced in so many ways today: The Silence of the Lambs.
I know; considering The Silence of the Lambs is about an FBI agent who teams up with a cannibal to hunt for a serial killer who is making a full-body suit out of his victims’ flesh, it seems an odd choice to inspire the title of a documentary about non-violence, right? Well, perhaps not if you hear our alternate version. All we did was take away one little letter. This is what we got: The Silence of the Lamb. Get that? Lamb, singular.
We knew it might be seen as derivative, but we also thought it did a perfect job of articulating the central question the film confronts, which is this: why has the peace-bringing Lamb of God been silent in the Church for so many centuries? Or, to put it another way, why has the Lamb of God been silenced throughout most of the Church’s history? In light of Christ’s universally admired teachings about loving our enemies, turning the other cheek, and doing good to those who hurt us, why do so many Christians, of all people, regard pacifists and those committed to creative non-violence—i.e., those who are committed to putting Jesus’ ethics into practice—as suspicious, possibly seditious, or at best impossibly naïve? Why are Christians—of all people!—often among the first to line up and baptize state violence, whether it be war, torture, or other less tangible acts of aggression and oppression?
Unable to come up with something better, the film’s working title stuck with us midway through production. Then two important things happened. The first was when I interviewed Neo-Anabaptist pastor and theologian Gregory A. Boyd. The moment he heard the title of the film, he launched into his impersonation of Hannibal Lecter, and I knew the title had to go. I never wanted to see that again.
The second (and more serious) development was a growing feeling I had that the problem of violence within Christianity had its roots in the faith’s complicated relationship with the state. This isn’t just true in America, of course. It’s a problem Christians have faced throughout history: how to prevent their commitment to the state and its interests from trumping (no pun intended) their commitment to Jesus, particularly when it comes to state violence. As Evangelical pastor and author Brian Zahnd says in the film, “Every line on the map tells a bloody tale.” States are founded on violence and sacrifice of the other. If so, how are Christians to live as good citizens of such states when their highest commitment is (or should be) to self-sacrifice on behalf of the other?
The idea of addressing this problem by combining the word “Jesus” with “U.S.A.” struck me one morning as we were preparing to head out to that day’s shoot in Washington, DC. The two terms came together in my head, and J.E.S.U.S.A. was born. I did a quick Google search to see if anyone had come up with that idea before, thinking it was far too obvious not to have been done a dozen times, but to my surprise, I found nothing. That’s when I quickly hit up Google again, this time to register a URL.
Like the film’s previous title, all I did was change one little letter, this time adding an “A” at the end of “Jesus.” However, also like the previous title, it seemed to do a perfect job of conveying one of the central problems that the film identifies, namely, the “unholy” combination of Christianity and the state and the violence that often results from it. Even better, no more bad impersonations from Greg Boyd.
While this film starts by focusing on the most recent manifestation of this problem in America, it quickly moves on to take a much broader view, looking back through time to see how the earliest Christians tackled the sticky issue of how to live as citizens of an earthly kingdom in a violent world while reserving their highest loyalty to God and the path of non-violence modeled by Jesus. This conflict rears its head not only in terms of the state but also in regard to individual self-preservation. While the film does touch on some of the typical “what if” scenarios put forward whenever someone brings up the question of non-violence, it’s more focused on helping Christians (and all people) rediscover Christianity’s much broader and truly revolutionary agenda. Ultimately, I’d like it to help shift the burden of proof from pacifists to those Christians who seek to justify their contravention of Christ’s commitment to nonviolence.
Which brings me back to our special offer. Although I am not an Orthodox Christian, some of my key mentors in the faith are. I have tremendous respect for this stream of Christianity and have learned so much from it (which may raise the question of why I’m not an Orthodox Christian, but that is a matter for another day). At the same time, I recognize that members of the Orthodox faith aren’t immune to the problems that J.E.S.U.S.A. addresses. While it’s easy to point to American Evangelicals as some of the worst sinners in this regard, one doesn’t have to look too far afield before one encounters Orthodox Christians making some of the same mistakes in terms of compromising their beliefs in favor of national interests. Therefore, I think we can all benefit from meditating on the difficult and complicated topics that this film addresses.
I can say with complete honesty that if the people who made this film could afford to give it away for free, they would. That’s how much they believe in the message. However, like the rest of us, they need to pay their bills, so they would at least like to recoup their investment in this project, which is significant. At the same time, we want to make the film as accessible as possible. So, here’s our offer:
Any reader of this website who buys or rents a copy of this film, please contact us here, and we will give you a coupon code that allows you to gift the film—a rental if you rented, a purchase if you purchased—to one other person for free.This way, we hope not only to pay it forward but also create a multiplier effect.
In addition, if you’d like to bring me in via Zoom or some other platform to do a Q&A session following a group screening of the film, I’d be happy to do that, too.
Currently, J.E.S.U.S.A. is available on Vimeo-on-Demand, but it will soon be available on other platforms as well, including Amazon, iTunes/Apple TV, and Google Play.
Follow the J.E.S.U.S.A. Twitter account @JESUSAFilm.
Kevin Miller is an award-winning filmmaker and author. Over the past 25 years, he has applied his craft to a wide range of projects, including feature films, documentaries, novels, non-fiction books, and comic books. Past projects include Hellbound?,The Chicken Manure Incident, and his best-selling Milligan Creek Series of novels for middle-grade readers.You can read more about him at Kevin Miller.