FX released The Secrets of Hillsong this month, which takes a closer look at the rise and fall of the global church and it’s leaders.
Watching documentaries about the Church is rarely easy, likely because the topics covered can be wild and unpredictable. Some leave us shocked, others leave us horrified. And some leave us feeling uncomfortable, especially when it hits a bit too close to home.
Sadly, there’s no shortage of documentaries about the Church. Many highlight absurd instances, but there are a few that represent the truth of the modern church in a difficult light. It can be easy to ignore these documentaries, but it might actually be important for believers to engage with these documentaries to understand what those outside of the Church think of God’s kingdom.
Here are six documentaries that will leave you frustrated, upset, maybe even angry — but they’re all still worth the watch.
What it’s about: This Hulu documentary is not just a salacious story about a sex scandal. It is also a film about the power of religion and the dangers of hypocrisy. The film shows how Jerry Falwell Jr. used his position as a religious leader to justify his own behavior, and how his actions lead to major consequences for Liberty University. It also shows how the Falwell family’s fall from grace had a ripple effect on the evangelical community.
Why you should watch it: The Falwell family has had a massive impact on modern evangelicalism, and to a larger extent on American politics. The documentary explores how things came to be, and how it all imploded with Falwell’s scandal.
The Way Down
What it’s about: The HBO Max documentary looks into Remnant Fellowship Church, a Tennessee-based church led by charismatic leader Gwen Shamblin. In the 90s, Shamblin gained popularity for her diet lifestyle book, The Weigh Down. Her success “naturally” led her to starting her own church where she preached “the gospel” of self-control and losing weight. The documentary dives into the consequences of the false gospel, how well-intentioned believers can be misled by a false teachers, the secrets and abuse hidden in a church and so much more.
Why you should watch it: Many former members of the church share their experience with Shamblin and Remnant Fellowship. Through their stories, they warn others how staying connected to The Truth is the best way to steer clear of lies.
What it’s about: Jesus Camp takes a look at a charismatic summer camp for children that teaches young believers to be “the next Billy Graham.” The documentary highlights the language used to encourage kids to interact with Jesus, often pointing out the emotional manipulation that can be used and they way children are taught to be martyrs for Christ at any moment.
Why you should watch it: Watching children be manipulated into having “spiritual moments” is difficult. Children are vulnerable and need to be handled with care, and this documentary shows just how cautious adults need to be. It’s an important warning to be delicate with young believers and lead them to truth, not false moments.
What it’s about: In the 1970s, five men struggling with being gay in their Evangelical church started a Bible study to help each other leave the “homosexual lifestyle.” They quickly received over 25,000 letters from people asking for help and formalized as Exodus International, the largest and most controversial conversion therapy organization in the world. But after years as superstars in the religious right, many of these men and women have disavowed the very movement they helped start.
Why it’s important: Regardless of your stance on homosexuality and the Church, Christians are called to love and care for all people. Conversion therapy has been proven to lead to harm, and even death in many cases. Many states have laws against conversion camps, but it is important for the Church to also take a stance against these harmful practices.
Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God
What it’s about: The Catholic Church sexual abuse is, at this point, a well-documented story. There have been numerous documentaries and films about the abuse, but one of the most important is Mea Maxima Culpa, which translates to “my great fault.” This documentary explores the abuse of power in the Catholic Church through the story of four courageous deaf men, who in the first known case of public protest, set out to expose the priest who abused them.
Why it’s important: The story of uncovering Catholic Church abuse is one of the most difficult ones for the Church to face. But it’s an important part of Church history that cannot be overlooked. Additionally, this HBO documentary challenges Christians to be on the look out for those with disabilities in the Church, ensuring they are being cared for just as much as anyone else.