America’s extreme religious right is shaping the political landscape at home - and in the Middle East

Praying For Armaggedon

Source: CPH:DOX

‘Praying For Armaggedon’

Dir: Tonje Hessen Schei, Michael Rowley. Norway. 2023. 97mins

Initially, it all seems entertainingly absurd: the idea of Christian fundamentalists who actively welcome the idea of the end of the world, believing that the End Times promise the second coming of Christ. This documentary, co-directed by Tonje Hessen Schei (Drone) and Michael Rowley (who also serves as the main cinematographer on this project), encourages us to laugh – at least at first. But before long Praying For Armageddon, which traces the considerable and malign influence of Christian fundamentalists over numerous aspects of American society and politics, stops being funny. They may be rather ridiculous, but, argues the film, we need to take them extremely seriously.

Raises the alarm about the proportion of American politicians sympathetic to a Doomsday mindset

It’s a far-reaching examination, which follows an evengelical Christian biker gang on a prayer road trip to Lebanon, Kansas, at the geographical heart of America, and shadows investigative journalist Lee Fang (who also appeared in the doc iHuman) as he attempts to trace just how far up the rungs of government the evangelical influence extends. Most alarming, however, is the exploration of the role of fundamental Christian-backed organisations in destabilising the Middle East, by, among other things, supporting aggressive Israeli settlers in East Jerusalem.

At times, the film struggles to keep its multiple threads from tangling. But there is a chilling momentum here, and Praying For Armageddon will likely be a talking point on the festival circuit where it could connect with a wider audience either through theatrical or streaming platform releases.

The film takes in a wide range of the faithful. The bikers, led by grizzled pastor Gary Burd, wear their beliefs in decorative patches sewn onto their denim jackets and pride themselves on their social outcast status. They reason that the Biblical decree “The last shall be first” earns them a place at the front of the line once Jesus has returned to lead his vengeful army. At the other end of the spectrum is megachurch pastor John Hagee, who declined to be interviewed and Pastor Robert Jeffress, Fox News contributor and televangelist, who is carefully questioned by Fang. He smiles beatifically and assures Fang that we have “nothing to fear” from the coming apocalypse.

While the bikers are armed with swords and guns, we get the sense that they are more of a threat to themselves than anyone else. However, influential figures like Hagee, Jeffress and former basketball player turned clergyman Ralph Drollinger have real power. Drollinger, for example, was the leader of the White House Bible Study Group, which held weekly meetings during the Trump administration and offered “Biblical clarity” on political questions. (There’s footage of Trump courting the evangelical vote by holding a book aloft, realising that he hadn’t checked if it was the right way up, and finally just announcing to avoid confusion: “It’s a BIBLE.”)

The fundamentalist Christian influence on Republican politicians, who tend to rely on the evangelical vote, is considerable. And in return for votes, groups like CUFI (Christians United For Israel) get to advance their agenda – an agenda that supports the state of Israel more as a means to a cataclysmic end, rather than as a country in its own right.

Against a score that needles anxiously, the film raises the alarm about the proportion of American politicians sympathetic to a Doomsday mindset that prefers the idea of conflict in the Middle East to that of a de-escalation of tensions. And it notes the targeting of the US military by evangelists, flagging up the very real concern that the US nuclear arsenal might be under the control of people who welcome the end of the world. What can be done about it is less clear. But if nothing else, the film should serve as a call to arms for common sense.

Production company: UpNorth Film

International sales: DR Sales

Producers: Christian Aune Falch, Torstein Parelius, Ingrid Aune Falch

Cinematography: Michael Rowley

Editing:Torkel Gjorv, Matti Naranen

Music: Lukas Berkemar, Uno Helmersson