Today is a day off for me, so this morning I just finished watching the six part series “God in America,” and I don’t think I have ever seen a documentary that has impressed me more. The series was remarkable for its historical balance as well as its pacing. If it were a book, I’d say “it was a real page turner, well-written as well as informative.” Documentaries can get bogged down and lost in their own details. That is the drawback of filming (or writing) history. “God in America” was as close to watching a drama as a documentary can get.
“God in America” covers the entire spectrum of U.S. history, highlighting the major religious movements, their cultural contexts, and their influence on the nations politics and society. The film series really stuck with showing the forest and at no point found itself lost in the trees. Certainly the drawback to such a project is that many events get left out, and I’m sure that there are many legitimate complaints about what events and historical theories are missing from the film. Yet as an introduction to U.S. religious history (and simply as a piece of entertainment for historical junkies such as myself!), “God in America” cannot be beat.
Now, at the risk of sounding like a infomercial, I am going to say, “But wait! There’s more!!” The series is available to view online. So, there’s no excuse. “Buy now!” If nothing else, watch Episode 5 and 6, which cover the 1950-60s and our contemporary religious context, respectively. Episode 5 was particularly fascinating because it juxtaposed Billy Graham and Martin Luther King, Jr., two major religious leaders who led it two quite different ways. Graham represented and ministered primarily to the white establishment, often friends with Presidents, and his gospel message was focused on saving souls for eternity. King, on the other hand, worked outside the establishment and his gospel focused on social justice for those deprived of basic civil rights.