Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Additional Comments about "God in America"

After the first two segments of "God in America," I was really hooked, perhaps because of the excellent cinematography and the scholarly commentary.

Having now seen the whole documentary, I'm a little disappointed.

I think the project needed at least two or three additional segments.

First, there is nothing about the German and Scandinavian Lutherans. The first Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives was a Lutheran clergyman. Surely that little fact could have been included. The Muhlenberg family and its important role in the early years of the country could have been included. Other religious figures who have served in governmental office could have been discussed. President Carter, for one, was not mentioned, even though his evangelical faith was a focal point during his political campaign and his presidency (e.g., his position with respect to human rights).

Second, there is nothing about the Mormons and the U.S.-grown religions (e.g., Jehovah's Witnesses and their crucial role in religious liberty court cases; Scientology; New Age religions, except at the very end).

Third, there is very little mention of the Social-Gospel movement. Not a single reference to Reinhold Niebuhr. Not much attention to the Women's Movement and its ambiguous relationship to the Christian tradition. The YMCA is missing. The National Council of Churches is absent. Nothing about the modern Ecumenical Movement and its impact on American Christianity.

Fourth, there is no sense about how other moral issues are dividing religious communities in the U. S. today, e.g., homosexuality.

"God in America" is a HUGE topic and a six-hour series just isn't long enough to capture its texture and breadth.

Perhaps folks could petition their local PBS stations to ask for a follow-up. Regular follow-ups. I know, that is a pipe-dream, but it is worth trying.

All of this having been said, I'm glad that PBS devoted six hours this week to the role of religion in American life. I thought the segments on Hutchenson, Winthrop, Whitefield, Lincoln, Graham, and King were especially good. Bottom line for me: the first two segments were better than the final four.

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