Celluloid Paranoia at CPAC

As I noted last week, a lot of the real fun at CPAC events comes from small sessions that don’t get much media attention but reflect the conservative zeitgest infallibly. That would be the case of a screening of a new “religious liberty” movie, which fortunately the intrepid Sarah Posner was there to tell us about in Politico Magazine:

Jesus is the star of the latest faith-based blockbuster movie, Son of God, but a new conservative hero may well break out of a smaller, independent film. Persecuted, which opens in theaters May 9, is a political thriller about an evangelist facing down a government threat to destroy religious freedom in America. In Son of God, the main character is divine; the Persecuted protagonist, the film’s producers suggest, could be you.

Persecuted screened this week at the Conservative Political Action Conference outside of Washington, D.C., and it couldn’t have found a more sympathetic audience. The tribulations of the evangelist, not so subtly named John Luther, seem calculated to capitalize on conservative claims that a tyrannical government is infringing on their religious freedom. The spreading legalization of same-sex marriage, the contraception coverage requirement under the Affordable Care Act and other laws have convinced many religious conservatives that, as political strategist Ralph Reed told the CPAC crowd at another event, “Our freedom as Americans to practice our religious liberties and to express our faith in God is under assault as never before.”

Aside from its general theme that Christians are directly threatened with the loss of freedom to worship (the demon-figure is a senator promoting a bill requiring “equal time for all religions”), the flick hits some nice nuances, as the writer/director Daniel Lusko explained to Posner:

Lusko explained the backstory in an interview: Father Luther had a family before becoming a priest, and father and son had been estranged until the younger Luther’s crisis. (In very rare instances, the Catholic Church has permitted ordination of priests who are married, but only when they were clergy in another denomination and chose to convert to Catholicism.) The father-son relationship, Lusko told me, “represented the schism between the Catholic and the evangelical church.” Lusko added that “under persecution,” these denominational differences disappear, as with the evangelical son and his Catholic father.

Somewhere Chuck Colson and Richard John Neuhaus are nodding in agreement.

It sounds like the limited-distribution movie will mainly be screened for the private benefit of its target audience, perhaps at church-associated self-pity parties. But I’m guessing it will eventually pop up at Netflix, and I plan to watch it without the intended salty tears of phony martyrdom seasoning my popcorn.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.