From The Advocate, March 14, 2006
The evangelical Christian blogosphere ricocheted with outrage in mid January. The casting of out actor Chad Allen as real-life Christian missionary Nate Saint in the film End of the Spear was “like Madonna playing the virgin Mary,” fumed the Reverend Jason Janz on his blog, SharperIron.com. Condemning the devout Christian producers of the film, another blogger provocatively dismissed the idea of “firebomb[ing] these men’s houses.” Throughout the backlash Allen himself remained at peace with his participation in the film, which hit theaters January 20. “It’s a pretty amazing story of love and forgiveness,” he says. “I definitely knew I wanted to be a part of it as soon as I read the script.”
You’ve said that you wanted this film to bridge the divide between gay people and people of faith. Is that mission still feasible given the backlash from conservative Christians?
It’s not just my mission, it’s my accomplishment. We’ve done it. I’m surrounded by an enormous amount of letters and e-mails and phone calls [from] people publicly supporting me who are Christians, who are saying to me, “Look, we’re getting to witness firsthand the meanness of what’s gone on in the name of Jesus Christ for a long time now. And we’re shocked. And we’re sorry. And we love and respect you.” And that’s all I’m asking for. I’m not asking for us to agree on this at the end of the day. But we can respect each other.
In shooting the film, was it hard to work with people who thought you were a sinner?
I’ll be honest. I thought I was going to work with a bunch of right-wing conservative wackos. I think they, in turn, thought they were going to work with the godless bohemian kid. None of those preconceived notions were true. We had to throw everything out and get to know each other. Which is exactly the message I’m trying to get across.
You’re not a godless bohemian kid? Are you religious?
I’m a deeply spiritual person. Religion still makes me squeamish. I grew up a Catholic boy. I had what I considered to be a pretty profound relationship with God, even when I was little, and my relationship with the Catholic Church and my understanding of its teachings really screwed that up for me—a lot—and so I began a spiritual journey that’s taken me all over the map. I’ve studied Buddhism, Hindu philosophy, Native American spirituality—and it’s all coagulated; I’ve taken pieces of it to build my current spiritual understanding. My greatest hope is that when we die, we get to experience God and let go of all judgments and preconceived notions and ideas of separation. I think anything that comes with fear attached or judgment attached, it can’t be of God.
Has making this movie changed your approach to spirituality?
Working on this movie has provided me the invitation to go deeper than I ever have in my relationship with God. I got in touch with a huge amount of deep-rooted shame and guilt and even questioned my sexuality. And that’s the amazing thing about it. I actually allowed myself to go there. I could see that [director Jim Hanon and producer Bill Ewing] were loving people and this is what they believed is the most loving thing for me.
You actually considered the possibility that God didn’t want you to be gay?
Believe me, that was scary. I really came to that place. The amazing thing is, after a particular evening deep in prayer I woke up the next morning thinking about a church that I had been to one time. A friend of mine got married there years and years ago. I couldn’t even remember where it was. I knew nobody there. I just remembered [what town it was in]. So I drove in that direction. I figured if I was meant to find it, I’d find it. And I walked up to it—it happened to be Sunday—and it turned out mass was getting ready to start. I sat down in this pew next to this elderly man. And he said, “Hello. Today is a very special day. The bishop Gene Robinson is here today. We’re celebrating inclusion and diversity in the church.” And I just started crying. And since then, again and again it’s been affirmed for me, the perfectness, the wholeness, the goodness of who I am. That is, for me, the message of this movie. My only goal here is to just, in as many ways as possible, affirm our perfectness.
Schwartzapfel is a writer and freelance journalist who lives in Rhode Island with her partner and their hound dog.