I am a big fan of Pastor Steven Anderson as an entertainer, but not so much his theology. He is a rare, under-appreciated genius in my honest opinion. He is a polyglot, a professional (though not University trained) linguist, an expert documentary filmmaker, as well as an important thinker for what is generally considered an unimportant subsection of US society–King James Only Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Christians.

He is banned from several countries (in Beyond Jordan he counts five or six) for being outspoken. He is ethnically Jewish via one of his grandmothers, but he doubts the holocaust. He unrepentantly and admittedly hates feminists and homosexuals. He prayed for the United States’ first (half) black President to die and calls Martin Luther King Junior “Marxist Lucifer King.” Yet, he is not a white supremacist and is considered a “race traitor” and “Jew” by neo Nazis. One of his best friends, Pastor Roger Jiminez, is a Venezuelan immigrant. When asked point blank by a black host of “The Fallen State” whether he was doing the human race a big favor for having so many white children, Anderson was flabbergasted at the question and responded as any Christian should: he only cares if people are Christians and that race is unimportant to him.

Hence, Anderson cannot be reduced to an ignorant, homophobic neo-Nazi. But quite frankly, he does not fit any typical molds even among the Christian subculture. Quite frankly, he is too intelligent and impressive of a figure. He is his own man.

Due to the perplexities and nuances of the man which make me appreciate him, I was surprisingly disappointed in his newest film. Probably due to budget, the film was not able to go deep enough into what life was like in the West Bank and as a result, failed at conveying its overall point–that being, Israel is an apartheid state that is oppressing “Palestinians.”

The film starts as a typical “look at me and my buddies going on a trip to the Holy Land.” This section of the film lasts about one hour and it, in fact, is done quite well. It really gives one a feel of the Biblical Holy land and makes it come to life. In a sense, the movie could have stood alone if it simply continued in this vein.

However, a “plot twist” occurred. They were in the nation of Jordan the entire time! The plot twist did not bother me, though due to anachronistic portrayals of Anderson and his homies being in the West Bank before the plot twist, it just came off really bad. For it to be executed right, all of the pre-plot twist material should have been shot exclusively in Jordan. They simply did not have enough time, film, and money to delve deep enough into Jordan’s pilgrimage sites.

When they actually enter the West Bank, the film lasts only about 20 more minutes. As a result, narration generally fills the viewer in on the plight of locals–a major documentary no-no. All successful documentaries convey these things through episodes caught on film. Perhaps the best documentary every made, Hearts and Minds, does this fantastically when treating the Vietnam War. And, it does this without any narration and commentary from the filmmaker whatsoever.

So, what is missing in Beyond Jordan are episodes caught on film of overt oppression. Also, what’s missing are episodes of the “Palestinians'” kindness and hospitality, which are shown only in passing. Hence, Anderson’s big opportunity to humanize the “Palestinians” and to convey the oppressive nature of Israeli policy were perhaps not “squandered,” but missed. I presume, for reasons out of his control–limited budget, time, etcetera.

Also, being that I am an Orthodox Christian, it is worth making a brief comment about Anderson’s view of Orthodoxy in the film. Simply, he sees it as pagan. He otherwise does not denigrate the people themselves (other than one pushy guy in a church) and simply laments at their paganism. Ironically, these are the people who have lived under centuries of oppression themselves and yet have kept the faith. Anderson’s theological paradigm prevents him from confronting Orthodoxy on any profound level, just as Orthodox cannot really confront Anderson’s independent Baptist ideology. So, I am not going to shake my fist at Anderson for his comments, because they make sense given what I know about the man.

If you have the time, go watch Beyond Jordan. It’s free. It will definitely give you a perspective on the Holy Land and the West Bank that you probably never had (presuming you are American and hence have no idea about what is going on in the Middle East other than the lies told to you on television.)

I hope, one day, Anderson can raise the funds and do a significant sequel–perhaps  including a visit to Israel proper and a revisit of the West Bank. His concept was good–it just was not pulled off as well as it could have been.

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Out of “full disclosure,” I am ethnically half Ashkenazi Jew and (for reasons that have nothing to do with religion or ethnicity) am modestly pro-Israel. Nevertheless, I am somewhat informed on the history of the region and so I have come to my views for historical reasons outside the purview of religion or any comments here.

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