A Memphis Film Premier
The film, “This is What Love In Action Looks Like” was premiered in Memphis at the “Playhouse on the Square” to a sold out crowd on November 4th, 2011.
I’ve attended three movie premier events for this film. Certainly the one in San Francisco was a memorable time for me personally, spiritually, and relationally.
Montgomery Alabama was certainly smaller but none the less, I met some wonderful people there and the response was very much the same as the larger event in San Francisco. But, the premier in Memphis was completely different.
As I prepared my heart for seeing the film and being on the discussion panel afterwards, I felt a lot of anxiety because this is my town, with the potential of a lot of people in the audience that I know personally. To add to the situation, There would be people there who were from many places in their personal lives seeing the film for the very first time.
During the week prior to the film a local pastor contacted me to schedule a meeting. He said he and his church had a great burden to connect to the gay community around them and wanted to pick my brain about the issues. I was excited to meet him and to see what they had in mind. As I walked into the coffee shop he greeted me with another person from his church. I looked up and it was someone I had known from another church I had been a part of. He was someone I never thought would show an interest in connecting with the gay community. So this was a nice surprise. At the end of the meeting, they said that they were attending the film premier as well.
I have a small group of people that I work with at our local community theater that I really love. Three of them said they were coming to the premier as well. They were curious about the story and knowing me added to their interest in coming.
So, as my wife and I got to the theater for the film, I had settled in my mind who would be there from my closer circle of friends. But, when we walked into the lobby, six people were there that I certainly did NOT expect to see there. They were from our home group that meets every Saturday night. I was surprised and also curious about why they were there. I was really anxious now! What would they think? How would they perceive this film and the surrounding subject matter?
We all got ready for the opening statements and Morgan Jon Fox, the film’s creator, began to address some of the details and then said, “I have some other very important business to take care of.” At that point he asked his partner, Declan, to come to the stage. He talked about how none of this would have been possible if it weren’t for the support of Declan. He then got down on one knee, pulled out a small box, and proposed to Declan. Well, that was sure a surprise!
I felt so many things going on around me and in my heart. I knew there were people in the crowd that would find that incongruent with their values, their understanding of God, and our culture. Some of them were my friends. So, I was flushed with all kinds of things at that point. I worried what they might be thinking I was thinking. I felt all kinds of performance pressures come upon me to remain neutral in all of my responses.
Regardless of what I was thinking I felt such a strong need to please everyone around me with my outward actions.
As I thought about the crowd all I could think of was to ponder this strange crossing of all of my worlds together in one room at one time. In all honesty, I was mainly comforted thinking of my friends from the theater because I feel the most freedom from performance when I am with them. Interesting that a theater crowd is a place where I DON”T have to perform!
After the proposal, the film began. I wondered now even more what all of these folks might have been thinking when there was such a strong voice against ex-gay ministry in the film’s content. The interviews on the film were examples of people who talked about their experiences with ex-gay ministry, how they had been wounded by a lack of understanding of what it is like to be gay and family battles over homosexuality.
The story was about Zach, a 16 year old, who’s parents basically forced him to attend a two week program. There were protestors who were friends of Zach’s who came to show him they loved him. The protest drew international publicity and national and local media coverage.
There were also many excerpts from the news reports and interviews on national news. Then interviews with Lance who was in the program with him. Zach’s program was extended and after he finished, he wanted to pretty much remain in the background and went to college. Lance separated from his parent’s home and went on to be more public in how he felt harmed, and pressured by coming to the program. There were interviews with some others who had been in the adult program describing their negative reactions to having been involved in ex-gay ministry.
At the end of the film, it was mentioned that the producers attempted to gain interviews from people who had favorable experiences with Love In Action but none were willing to make any comments.
All I could think of is how sobering this film was for me. As I watched it, now for the third time, I was still keenly aware of the significance of the lives of those who were sharing their experiences through the venue of a film interview. I was once again, drawn to a place of personal responsibility for my own actions and how in many ways had been part of the problem.
While the theme of the film is the story of Zach, a 16 year old who was forced by his parents into a teen program to attempt to eradicate his homosexuality, there was a very strong lineage that was the life of John Smid. My face, voice, and story were front and center throughout the entire film.
As I listened once again to the stories of these men, I also heard, loud and clear, things that I said six years ago and some that I said only a little over a year ago. These two people were not the same! I have changed so much since the protests of 2005.
The audience was very reactionary towards things in the film. Some of the most overt were some who hissed when images of conservative Christianity came up in the film.
After the film was over, there was a panel discussion with five people including me on the panel. I remember moving to the front in preparation for sitting on the stage with the others being quite challenging. Being the center of the “problem” addressed in the film, it was vital that I maintain a humble composure.
Questions were asked of my own response to the film, and comments as to how the film shows a dramatic change in the way I am responding to homosexuality, so I commented on all of that. I spoke of how we at Love In Action had changed the teen program due to our awareness that we had not addressed the families of the teens, especially the parents, nearly enough. We recognized that working with the teens without including intensive work with the parents was potentially harmful for the teens upon their completion of the program.
As the panel discussion finished, the crowd applauded and began to leave the theater. As I walked off the stage, I was bombarded with people. All I could see were people coming towards me thanking me, shaking my hand, and then the real comments began.
“John, I am so proud of you.”
“Thank you so much for being here. I know it took a lot of courage to stand in front of this crowd.”
“I can’t tell you how healing it is for me personally to see you here and to hear your story.”
“John, I can see clearly how some people are really angry with you, but for me personally, the real story is how you have allowed God to work in your life to bring changes that are significant in your approach to loving people. Thank you.”
I was ready to leave and spend time with some friends but I had a very hard time leaving the theater due to people trying to talk with me. There were several opportunities where women came to me just to hug me. Some with tears in their eyes and all they could get out was, “Thank you.”
Some of my theater friends and my wife and I decided to go to a restaurant close by to “process” the evening. As I sat down I mentioned to them that I felt so embarrassed to have them see the “old” John in the film. It was the “preachy” voice of black and white that I used to be that was so hard for me to look at in the film and I felt embarrassed to have them see that person.
One friend, Dot, replied, “John, if I would have known you then, I would have loved you just like I do today.” She went on to say that she felt a tremendous privilege to know me as a friend. Wow! I had a hard time receiving her words and yet it was so comforting to hear them.
As we finished our discussion and began to leave I was grabbed by a lady sitting at a table with a lot of her friends. She said, “John!” She reached out to hug me and I noticed she was one of the news reporters who had interviewed me several times over the years. I attempted to draw her memory to remember that the film was premiered that night. She said, “Oh, I know. John, I want you to know that I knew you way back during the protests and I loved you then, and I love and respect you even more now.” She had such kindness in her eyes something really got to me in her words.
As I went outside, I grabbed Dot and said, “Dot, that news reporter just said the very same thing you said at the table!” I couldn’t miss the obvious message that God had for me in their words. “John, I love you because of who you are, not what you do, or don’t do.”
Some people wonder why I have been a part of these film premiers. Sure, the film is very negative about my ministry work over the years. Yes, there are some who’s interviews include some false information. But, at the same time, their words reflect their perceptions which are very real. One lady told me she could see the out of proportion comments and that I needed to know that it was not all a waste and that good things occurred through the years.
I must also be present to take responsibility for those things that I have done wrong. I felt accountable to be up front, with my face to the crowd, to say to them, “I am sorry for the things that I have said and done that have in any way harmed you.”
One thing I have learned by going through all of the responses, experiences, and reactions to the film is this;