You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

This Obedience

Co-produced by the church it profiles (Wingspan Ministry is an arm of St. Paul Reformation Lutheran), "This Obedience" illustrates the problem inherent in participants making a documentary about themselves amid public controversy. Exposure outside gay fests and liberal Christian circles will be severely limited.

Co-produced by the church it profiles (Wingspan Ministry is an arm of St. Paul Reformation Lutheran), “This Obedience” illustrates the problem inherent in participants making a documentary about themselves amid public controversy. Chronicle of lesbian pastor Anita C. Hill’s 2001 ordainment and the subsequent firestorm of hostility among U.S. Lutheran communities (as well as unaffiliated bigots) is so one-sided it reduces a genuinely fascinating subject to treacly propaganda. Pic’s relative presentational polish only underlines its schematic, finger-waggling nature. Exposure outside gay fests and liberal Christian circles will be severely limited.

Hill had been a pastor at St. Paul for 18 years, duly trying all the established channels for ordination, before she and allies decided to directly challenge governing national body the ELCA’s (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) explicit strictures against ordination of gays and lesbians who are “non-celibate.” (Hill is in a longterm committed relationship with a woman.)

Hill was ordained without official sanction, albeit with the congregation’s unanimous approval. Lutheran higher-ups immediately censured St. Paul, asking its diocese Bishop to resign over his participation in the well-attended ceremony. This flap earned a visit from familiar, clownish homophobe Rev. Fred Phelps, whose camera-ready followers have heckled gay-bashed victims’ funerals (including Matthew Shephard’s) and who appear here proudly holding signs like “Fags Die — God Laughs.”

Neither Phelps nor his acolytes are interviewed here, however, and in general, “This Obedience” avoids unpleasantness so thoroughly that its air of virtuous struggle becomes stultifying. Hill surely does appear a much-loved, generous, admirably humble person. But filmmakers cast her and other St. Paul-affiliated participants in such a blandly inspirational light — underlined by James Richter’s treaclesome piano score — that the pic resembles a longwinded testimonial dinner.

One commentator notes “Lutherans are good at being nice,” pegging the subtle hypocrisy in a church administration that pretends to embrace all comers, but invariably tables difficult issues for further research that might never end. Such is the ultimate fate of Hill’s ordination — and the gay strictures in general — at the ELCA conference where her allies stage silent protests recorded with ponderous, martyrdom-bestowing weight by docu.

Endless voiceover commentary solemnly conveys how participants feel at that instant, with no attention paid to repetitiousness. By the nth group rendition of “We Shall Overcome,” the lay viewer may well ponder whether all these “nice” folk are among the most boring people on Earth.

Docu’s tech aspects are above-average if unimaginative.

This Obedience


Production: An Aquaries Media Corp. presentation of an Aquaries and Wingspan Ministry production. Produced by Dawn Mikkelson. Directed, edited by Jamie A. Lee, Dawn Mikkelson.

Crew: Camera (color, DV), Lee, Mikkelson; music, James Richter; sound, Gary Edelburg. Reviewed at San Francisco Lesbian & Gay Festival, June 21, 2003. Running time: 86 MIN.

More Film

  • Zoe Lister-Jones The Craft

    'The Craft' Remake Finds Director in Zoe-Lister Jones

    “Life in Pieces” star Zoe Lister-Jones will write and direct Sony Pictures’ remake of “The Craft” for Blumhouse and Red Wagon Entertainment. Doug Wick, the producer of the original “The Craft,” will return in the same capacity along with partner Lucy Fisher through their Red Wagon banner. Jason Blum is also producing and his Blumhouse [...]

  • Carol Burnett

    Carol Burnett's Mother-Daughter Story 'Carrie and Me' in Development as a Movie

    Carol Burnett’s bestseller “Carrie and Me: A Mother-Daughter Love Story” is in the works as a movie at Focus Features with Burnett, Tina Fey, Eric Gurian, and Steven Rogers producing. Burnett will produce through her Mabel Cat Productions with Fey and Gurian under their production banner Little Stranger along with Rogers (“I, Tonya”). The sibling [...]

  • Contract Placeholder Business WGA ATA Agent

    Writers Guild Plans for Agency Pact Expiration: 'There Will Be Difficult Moments'

    Leaders of the Writers Guild of America have sent members contingency plans for the possible expiration of its agency franchise agreement on April 7 — and admitted that it may be a rocky road. Members received the letter Tuesday from the guild’s negotiating committee as the WGA and agents were about the hold their seventh [...]

  • Editorial use only. No book cover

    Entertainment One, Universal to Partner on Home Entertainment

    Entertainment One and Universal Pictures Home Entertainment have signed a multi-year, multi-territory distribution agreement. UPHE will serve as the home entertainment distributor of eOne’s offerings across both physical and digital formats. The pact covers film, television, and select family content and includes all sales, marketing, and distribution, spanning the U.S., Canada, U.K., Germany, Spain, Australia, [...]

  • Will Smith Jada Pinkett Smith

    AFI, Will and Jada Smith Family Foundation Launch Second Young Women in Film Intensive

    The AFI Conservatory and the Will & Jada Smith Family Foundation have partnered to launch the second annual Young Women in Film Intensive. The AFI Campus in Los Angeles will host 45 high school girls for an eight-week filmmaking workshop, where students will receive mentorship from current fellows and working professional alumni of the AFI [...]

  • Paul Davidson

    The Orchard Head Content Executive Paul Davidson Steps Down

    At the finish line of its sale to 1091 Media, distributor the Orchard’s film and TV head Paul Davidson is parting ways with the company. In an amicable split, the creative executive addressed staff in person and in a company-wide memo on Tuesday in New York City to inform them of his decision. “While I [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content