Love the Sinner

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Thursday April 20, 2017

Love the Sinner

Jessica Devaney grew up in Florida, ensconced in the comforting, and comfortable, certainties offered by the evangelical church she was learning how to lead even in her youth. Among those certainties was the notion that when it comes to gays, lesbians, and others who don't quite fit the sexual or gender molds the church thinks they should, it's necessary to hate the "sin" while still loving the "sinner."

That toxic attitude fell away, along with Devaney's leadership in the church, as she matured and started asking questions. eventually, Devaney came out of the closet as a lesbian. (Her brother, meantime, came out as gay.) Years later, when Devaney was living in New York and forging a career as a documentary filmmaker, the Pulse massacre took place. Her brother lived not far from the gay nightclub that became the site of America's worst mass shooting, a bloody rampage in which a single gunman killed 49 people and wounded that many more during an hours-long siege of terror.

The subject is a broad one, and encompasses questions that range from police effectiveness (or a lack of it) and the curious sight of politicians who have spoken about the offered about the horrific crime but, at the same time, refused to acknowledge that the gunman targeted GLBTs and members of the Latinx community. More questions linger about the gunman's religion -- he reportedly posted statements on social media that seemed supportive of radical Islamic groups -- and his sexuality, which was called into question with claims that he had been a habituť of the gay club.

But Devaney and co-director Geeta Gandbhir cut through all of that, zeroing in on the homophobia embraced by her former faith and the ways in which the evangelical church seeks to present itself as loving while at the same time promulgating hateful -- and harmful -- attitudes and policies. Speaking with a current church leader -- Brent Elliott, the lead pastor at Lake Eustis Christian Church, someone she remembers from her own days as a member of the faith -- Devaney captures him talking about GLBTs as having a "lifestyle" (as though being gay, lesbian, or transgender were a matter of pulling on selected items of wardrobe or making some sort of "choice" about who to be attracted to or which gender to identify as). Asked how he'd respond if Devaney wanted to rejoin her former church, Elliott answers that he'd have to approach the matter of her being a lesbian as through she had a "criminal" past or had been an alcoholic -- a nicely anodyne bit of rhetoric that sounds compassionate and yet reveals interconnected layers of ignorance, judgment, and bias.

Talking with her own mother, Devaney finds a woman wrestling with nothing short of a full crisis of faith -- a woman who has realized that the church she lives does not love her children (its blandishments notwithstanding). But there are signs of light along the way: Interviewing another pastor, Dr. Joel C. Hunter, Devaney hears a heartfelt rumination on the subject. Dr. Hunter has realized that the issue is not so stark after all, and his church's response to its gay children has been insufficient.

Most devastating are the simple recollections of one survivor of the Pulse massacre, Norman Casiano-Mojica, who was shot in the back but lived to tell the tale. The terror he experienced could have been visited on anyone, for any reason dreamed up by those who practice hate-motivated violence -- which is to say, no good reason at all.

This film is short -- only about 16 minutes -- but it packs the punch of a full-length feature.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.