'Praying for Armageddon' exposes the power, influence of U.S. fundamentalist evangelicals
"The issue of the power of the U.S. fundamentalist evangelicals is maybe one of the most important issues of today," Tonje Hessen Schei said
Following the release of the powerful film on artificial intelligence, iHuman, filmmaker Tonje Hessen Schei's new political thriller, Praying for Armageddon, exposes the influence of U.S. fundamentalist evangelicals on politics and democracy, with the aim to fulfill the biblical Armageddon prophecy.
“For me, the issue of the power of the U.S. fundamentalist evangelicals is maybe one of the most important issues of today,” Schei told Yahoo Canada.
“Seeing the immense power they have from the grassroots, through megachurch empires, all the way up to the political system in Washington, D.C., is just very concerning to me, especially as they're threatening democracy and also influencing U.S. foreign policy.”
In Praying for Armageddon, Schei and co-director Michael Rowley are largely guided by journalist Lee Fang, reporter with The Intercept, working to investigate evangelical power and how it directly influences U.S. foreign policy, specifically the country's relationship to Israel.
“In the tradition of Christianity, there is no single view of the end times," former evangelical preacher, Frank Schaeffer, explains in the documentary. "But the American evangelical community has latched on to one."
"Generally, they believe that believers on earth will be raptured to heaven before things get really bad. And that’s the promise to the evangelical, that they will not taste death if Jesus comes back and the rapture occurs in their lifetime.”
From American preachers, like Gary Burd with the Mission M25 biker ministry, to chronicling the function of organizations like Christians Unite For Israel (CUFI), led by John Hagee, Praying for Armageddon is clearly sounding the alarm on the dangers of this influential group.
“Getting access has been a long process,” Schei said. “We've been working on this film for eight years, so getting access, doing research, definitely takes a lot of patience, and it takes time to build trust.”
“We've been talking to Gary since 2016. My U.S. co-director, Michael Rowley, comes from an evangelical background himself, from the same area that Gary was from. So that worked out beautifully and the two of them became very close during the production of the film.”
A particularly interesting moment in the film comes when we see Fang sit down for an interview with notable pastor Robert Jeffress.
“Seeing what Robert Jeffress actually believes in is very important in the film,” Schei said. "Jeffress is a very powerful man. He is a close friend and sort of spiritual or religious adviser of Donald Trump. He's also very frequent on television networks like Fox News. He also influences policy in Washington, D,C."
"When we started this film before Trump and Pence, and looking into John Hagee, he and Robert Jeffress, they seemed they were sort of right-wing fringe in the religious right movement. Then when Trump and Pence came into power, and then seeing that actually both Jeffress and Hagee were part of the opening of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, was pretty shocking to us."
'It's a global issue that is threatening our democracy'
For Schei, she indicated that some of the most shocking information she learned from making this film was related to the U.S. military.
“Seeing the architecture that the fundamentalist evangelicals really have built up, but they have a mandate called the 'seventh mountain mandates,' where they are basically setting out to take over the most important institutions in the U.S.,” Schei said. “It is a system in place to sort of take over power of the government, the media, education. That was very alarming to me.”
“Also, seeing how they are taking over or positioning themselves in the U.S. military as well. Where they are recruiting soldiers and having these baptizing ceremonies at the end of their training. All of a sudden you have all these Christian nationalists that are part of the military, the U.S. military.”
The filmmaker was also very intentional in how this fundamentalism was presented in the film. As Schei stresses, "the film is not anti-evangelicalism, or anti religion, or anti Israel."
“It's a film that is very sort of pro-human rights and pro-democracy," She said. "But of course this is an extremely complicated and complex issue."
"But we have been very careful in how we have been balancing … and then focusing on, what are the consequences of the fundamentalist evangelicals’ support of the right-wing forces in Israel.”
Schei hopes that, for anyone who watches the film, it makes them look at the influence of the fundamentalist forces on democracy and U.S. foreign policy.
“I hope that we will get a wide distribution in the States so that people can actually see this film, because the U.S. audience is definitely the most important audience for us to reach with this film," she said.
"I do want to say though, that even though this film looks at the fundamentalist in the States, this film is very global. … It's a global issue that is threatening our democracy and also our global stability.”
Praying for Armageddon is available for Canadians to stream through the Hot Docs online platform until May 9.