Virtual Voices

Is it wrong to be certain?

Religion

The documentary Protagonist frames the experience of four men-a former terrorist, a former bank robber, a former Christian evangelist, and a former martial arts fanatic-as classical Greek drama. The four all conceive of themselves in a certain way due to discontent with life as it's been handed to them. But the heroic or defiant role they cast for themselves eventually crumbles, and after a tempestuous experience of revelation and reevaluation, each rejects his former way and starts down a quieter, humbler path.

Mark Pierpont's story is meant to be especially instructive (see video clip below). He's the former evangelist, a preacher who achieved some renown in the early 1980s as one who overcame his homosexual leanings. Except he didn't. Mark describes his efforts to give it all to God, staking his reputation on a rigid course of Bible memorization and prayer and the full armor, only to be undone during an Indonesian revival meeting. His epiphany came about partly as a result of his own preaching, for after the altar call a young man came forward and embraced him in an emotional catharsis. As the young man surrendered to Christ, Mark recognized something he himself could not surrender. Back home a few weeks later, while driving to an appointment in his car, he finally cried out to his maker: "God! I want a man!"

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The snare for all four men, as presented in Protagonist, is false certainty. Each of them based their persona on some ideal of the tough guy in order to make up for deficiencies in childhood. Each bound himself to dogma, a template of how the world works, and applied it to all other people and situations. Giving up the dogma was the key to redemption. Pierpont professes to have found happiness with his life partner after a period of promiscuity and exhibitionism (appearing as a cross-dresser in a gay bar). He's even managed some degree of reconciliation with his religious beliefs, but "You can't know God unless you know yourself."

That's where the documentary reveals its own dogma. Where is meaning? Where is truth? Why, according to the filmmaker, it has to be within the individual. If we feel doubtful and confused at times, that's just part of life. We must learn to live with our uncertainty and let others live with theirs, and never presume to bind anyone else to our version of the truth. Especially if that truth is lodged in a god of "love" who demands that "sinners" give up their true identity if it conflicts with his "law."

Most Bible-believing, evangelical Christians would find little to fault in Mark's dogma when he was trying to live as a straight man. The fervent prayer, the Bible study, and the memorization are all vital ingredients of holy living. You have to listen closely to discern where he went wrong. His faith was in the structure rather than the source, in the image he'd made of himself as a victorious overcomer, and in his program for overcoming. Exchanging this false self for a supposedly true self only traded one idol for another. The moment he was most wrong is the same moment where we all go wrong.

That's where we can relate to Pierpont and other homosexuals and really any sinner who's repented or not. We've all had our alone moments when we cry out, aloud or silently, "God! I want-" anything but Him, whether it be wealth or fame or love or glory in the church. True conversion, and true certainty, comes when we can say, with all sincerity, "God, I want you."

Janie B. Cheaney
Janie B. Cheaney

Janie lives in Missouri, is a columnist for WORLD, writes novels for young adults, and is the author of the Wordsmith creative writing series. She also reviews books at RedeemedReader.com. Follow Janie on Twitter @jbcheaney.

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