The separation of church and state is a foundational principle of the United States, but as Dan Partland’s ominous documentary “God & Country” argues, a daunting portion of the country’s Christian voters may not hold this truth to be self-evident.
Partland, who directed the 2020 documentary “#Unfit: The Psychology of Donald Trump,” draws upon Katherine Stewart’s book “The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism” for his new film.
“God & Country” describes the growing threat to democracy posed by voters who subscribe to the belief that the United States is above all a Christian nation and that this should influence policies on abortion, public education, immigration, and so on. The film’s insights about the role of religion in politics feel especially well-informed because many of its commentators draw on their own personal and professional experiences with the Christian church. They’re believers, too, and they’re worried.
The historian Kristin Kobes Du Mez; the pastor Rob Schenck; Reza Aslan, the author of “Beyond Fundamentalism”; and David French, an Opinion columnist for The New York Times, all discuss the ways in which this movement can threaten political and civic life.
The rise of Donald J. Trump as a presidential candidate and his subsequent term in office galvanized antidemocratic attitudes in the country, and in the film the former president is likened to a fire-and-brimstone televangelist. A pocket history lesson charts how televangelists grew in power in the 1970s and ’80s, opportunistically using wedge issues such as abortion for conservative political goals.
The film’s format can be blunt, cutting between unsettling talking head interviews and clips of crowds cheering on Christian leaders at politically charged events or conservative politicians making brash proclamations. But rather than come off solely as a grim forecast, the film presents possible alternatives for the country, most notably from the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, the minister and social activist who offers a voice of hope and inclusivity that feels genuinely healing.
God & Country
Rated PG-13. Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes. In theaters.