1. What is the difference between the book and the documentary?
I wrote the book between the second and third edits of the movie. A lot of people have read the book first and you get to know the people a lot better in the book. It covered what wasn’t being told in the movie. The book was really a desire to prove that those kinds of conversation are possible and there is much more in there than the documentary. We just talked. My desire was sincere. I wanted to know what these guys thought. I didn’t see it as an opportunity to tell them what I thought. I wanted to know what they thought, and was actually willing to listen to them. I was prepared to get yelled at and the fact that I didn’t is proof that grace works. You talk about America becoming too comfortable with themselves and one-way communication.
2. Do you keep in touch with many of the people you interviewed?
Not many, except for Sister Mary Timothy, a drag queen “nun,” who I stay in touch with the most. I ran into quite a few people at the Gay Pride Festival and a couple of them came to the movie that played at the Hollywood Theatre.
3. Any strange experiences you had during the making of the film?
The very last guy said, “Is that it? Do you think that matters?” He just came in to have a fight. Certain people challenged us with questions. They wanted to know why they were being persecuted by Christians. One woman asked, “Do you think you’re better qualified to apologize than I am?” And I said, “Uh no.” Three or four people had more of a confrontational nature to what they were saying. Most everyone has been around a church. A couple of gay Christians. Sometimes I didn’t know what I was getting myself into, but no one really was too aggressive.
4. Nice bumper stickers by the way. Do you have a favorite?
Thanks. I don’t know why I thought it was the funniest one, but it’s the one that says “Sorry I missed church, I was busy practicing witchcraft and becoming a lesbian.” I just thought that was so funny. It’s such a stick in the eye. Also, on point, “God wants spiritual fruit, not religious nuts.” I thought that one was fairly appropriate for the times we live in.
5. Were there any of them that you hated having to wear?
None really, because the whole exercise was totally open. Every sticker on the suit is competing against each other. The point is, it doesn’t matter what I think, I want to know what you think. Honestly, desperate times require desperate measures.
6. What was the response to the bumper stickers?
What would happen, is people would come up and their eye might go to one they agreed with and they would go, “Yeah alright.” And then there eye would go over here and they would see one that they didn’t and you could see them short circuit and the wheels begin to turn. They would say, “What is this? What are you doing?” They would start talking and I would say, “I just want to have a conversation and ask you five questions.” Then we would talk for 20 minutes about all kinds of stuff. It was amazing that if the conversation was there we could have it.
7. You interview a great deal of people including Christians, Catholics, Atheists, and Buddhists. Was there a common theme that stringed all of these people together?
The thing that all these people had in common was that I wanted to know what they thought and believed. I wanted to know what they thought and they trusted me that I wasn’t setting them up and so they opened up. It’s the difference between a sound bite and a conversation. There is so much illumination in a conversation. Sometimes when they said something I thought, “That’s a little out there.” But then I would think, “How did they get there?” I learned a lot about myself and how to share what’s important with me to them.
8. This film must have opened up other doors of conversation. Any cool stories that happened since making the film?
I screened the film at Yale Divinity School. I went down to the bar in the hotel we were staying at later that night to get something to eat drink. I got some cake and then I asked the barmaid what I should have drink with the cake. I was going to have a whiskey, but she suggested milk. So I took the milk and she started asking me questions about why I was here. I began to tell her about the movie, but I didn’t get too detailed. So we kept talking and she eventually sits down next to me. We eventually began talking about grace and she had no idea what I was talking about. She said, “Grace? That’s what you say before you eat.” I told her it was the same word, but explained that it had a different meaning. She shared that she hadn’t been to church since she was a kid and so I couldn’t really use the Bible to fall back on because she didn’t read that. I was trying to figure out how to explain myself. So finally, I said, “Have you seen Forrest Gump?” And she said she had. I asked her, “Remember how Jenny did awful things to Forrest and he kept taking her back. He takes her back even after she has AIDS and is about to die and marries her.” I told her that is what God is like, that is what grace is. You can always come home. I thought it was great that Forrest Gump was the common language we could find. You have to find where you can connect with me.
9. Can you give any words of advice on how to get rid of the stigma of being self-righteous Christians and how to simply go out and love people?
Show me, don’t tell me. Get out there and do something where people will look at you from 100 yards away and would know that you are doing something good for someone else and you’re not benefiting from it at all. I would also say that if the only people you are friends with are Christians, loosen it up a little bit. You are going to learn a lot about yourself from other people, even non-Christians. Don’t be scared that other people are going to rub off their “heathen” on you. If you really understand what you believe, you’re eyes can be so opened to Christ’s love for others.
44-year-old Dan Merchant, a native of Portland, Ore., has been in the film industry for over 20 years. He has written and produced many TV shows and segments, including Soccer Moms (pilot episode), Bill Nye the Science Guy (pilot episode), and Strange Frequency, among many others. His first book was “The Great American Stay-At-Home-Wives Conspiracy”, an entertaining and witty novel about the lives of wives and the husbands they control.
Merchant graduated from Pacific Lutheran University, located in Tacoma, Wash. in 1986. His greatest work, “Lord, Save Us From Your Followers” began as a documentary in which he spent over 100 hours of filming, interviewing, and crossing the country and back. The successful movie turned into a book, also written by Merchant, which serves as a more detailed version of the interviews and insights in the movie.
A winner of five awards, four of them NATAS (National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences) Emmy awards for outstanding writing, Merchant recently optioned the screenplay “You Make Me Sick”, a comedy, has just completed the script “Three Sunrises”, and is now working on a companion book to “Lord, Save Us From Your Followers.”
Merchant has been married for 22 years and now resides in Lake Oswego, Ore. with his wife and 2 kids.
He enjoys the music of The Beatles, The Clash, and The Who and TV shows such as The Office and Saturday Night Live.