If ever there was a time I wanted to be in two – or three – places at once it was after the June 10 screening. Alice Chao, a lawyer in the Bronx District Attorney’s office, had organized a screening for fellow lawyers who belong to the Center for Faith & Work of the Redeemer Presbyterian Church. Some 25 people gathered on the 3rd floor of a building in midtown, and after the screening Alice split everyone into three discussion groups — and this is where my wish for bilocation kicked in.
As it was, I could only sit in on one group (but Bill filmed another one, so we’ll all be able to peek into that through video clips we’ll be posting soon).
Two issues stand out from the conversation in the group I joined:
– the role of chaplains as liaisons with local communities
picking up on the segment in the film in which a chaplain walks out to a shura and another chaplain mingles and dances with Afghan National Army soldiers, one participant wondered whether that could send the wrong message. We discussed how this can be a gray area – can a chaplain inadvertently be seen as “officially representing” the US gov’t and, if he is Christian (which most chaplains are) therefore send a signal that the US is a Christian nation? And how would that color the conflict in the eyes of Afghans and Iraqis and the world at large?
– our selection of the chaplains featured
one participant felt we had deliberately chosen only subjects that would show the chaplains in a positive light. Others pointed to speakers in the film who had reported that some chaplains had abused their position. But the question resurfaced as to why we did not have troops on active duty saying anything negative about a chaplain. As part of the discussion, I explained that chaplains are officers and most of the troops we spoke with were enlisted. Anyone who might have had a beef with the chaplain would not be willing to speak on camera.
What I failed to say was that this was the reason we documented this side of the story through people like Wayne Adkins, a retired Army Lieutenant who has brought official complaints, and Mikey Weinstein, who has brought law suits against the government. These are complaints that have been public for so long that, were they invalid, someone would have come forth to dispute them. If on the off chance that an enlisted soldier made such an accusation on camera for us, we would have had a very hard time verifying it.
What was really wonderful about this discussion format was that it allowed a back-and-forth conversation and follow-ups. A discussion validates the opinions and reactions of the audience rather than assuming — as I think is often the case with more typical Q&As — that the filmmakers have the definitive answers. At the same time, it opens the space in which the filmmakers can give background or explain their intent.
The other groups, as you’ll be able to see at least in part through the videos – the technological substitute to bi-location — raised other, equally interesting issues.
So keep tuning in….