I had the great privilege of interviewing writer/director Chad Ahrendt and producer Chris Jones on their new movie, Reconciliation. I hoped to give them some tough questions, but they came through with flying colors. Enjoy the read!
Melinda Ledman: Reconciliation covers a very controversial issue. With the possibility of simply making a long list of enemies, what led you to create this film?
Chad Ahrendt: After surrendering my life to Christ four years ago, the Lord started revealing that He wanted me to make this movie. People have said this before, but I truly mean He wanted this story to be told, because I had ZERO interest in making this movie. I knew what a polarizing topic it is and the repercussions that might come of it.
The movie is loosely based on my own life and the reaction I had when I found out in the late ’70s that my dad was gay. I was teased and bullied at school when a few friends found out about my dad, and I remember rumors being spread that I too was gay. I’ve never had same-sex attractions, but I surely didn’t want to be guilty by association. So when my mom and I moved away, I made sure nobody would know about him. Then in the ’80s, I started hearing homosexuality wasn’t genetic, but rather a choice. And my fear turned to anger because he left my mother and I to pursue his desires. In my mind, he was making the conscious choice that I was less important.
Often we hear, “Christians or God hates homosexuals.” But ironically, in my case, it wasn’t until I surrendered my life to the Lord that I was finally able to fully love my dad. The Lord was very clear that He wanted me to love and forgive my dad as God has loved and forgiven me of all my messiness. Not only that, but as I read the entire Bible, the Lord exposed my own sexual brokenness as a “heterosexual.”
Chris Jones: For me, it was simple. I saw a loving, respectful presentation of the Gospel. I saw needs being met. Ultimately, I prayed and asked God if this was a movie He wanted made. I believe I received a “yes.” If God is with it, so am I.
ML: Who is the primary target audience?
Chris J: The movie is for those who have struggled with the issues in the movie. By that, I mean the movie is for everyone. Who hasn’t struggled with forgiving someone who caused them great pain? Who doesn’t know the difficulty of reconciling a damaged relationship? Who hasn’t tried to share the Gospel with someone who is hostile to it? Reconciliation touches on both universal and current issues. No matter who you are, this movie is relevant to you.
Chad A: I agree, the movie is for everybody. Love, forgiveness, broken relationships, and reconciliation are themes we can all identify with. We’ve all been wounded by someone, and often times, by people very close to us. If we’ve lived long enough, we’ve probably hurt someone else. So forgiveness and broken relationships resonate with everyone.
Also, the movie mentions, “Everyone has a broken sexual orientation apart from God’s original design.” So again, the movie is for everyone. If one studies Genesis 1 & 2, we see God’s good design before the Fall, and it’s very far from what we see in society and within the Church today. God did not create us to be heterosexual, homosexual, bi-sexual, etc. In Leviticus 11:44 and 1 Peter 1:16, God says “Be holy, for I am holy.” God calls everyone to “Holy Sexuality” and we’ve all fallen very short of His call. Hopefully as people study God’s Word, they will have a better understanding of what “Holy Sexuality” means. And in doing so, we can all be more compassionate as each of us repents of our sexual brokenness, turns to God, and learns to walk in obedience to God’s holy and very good ways.
ML: So, do you think many Christians are being hypocritical about their own sexual orientation and sins?
Chad A: In recent years, I’ve heard on numerous occasions, “Homosexuals shouldn’t find their identity in their sexuality.” The hypocrisy is that knowingly or unknowingly, “heterosexuals” have also found their identity in being straight. That has helped create this prideful, unbiblical hierarchy of sin. It’s as if being “heterosexual” gives one a free license to sexually sin and God will just overlook it because, after all, “I’m not gay.” Clearly a person with this mentality doesn’t know the Lord and should repent. God does not wink at sin, period. I can’t imagine how heartbroken and disgusted He is with all the sexual immorality going on in this world and inside His church… and it’s nothing new, because we’ve seen the same cycle repeat itself since the beginning and all through the Old Testament. His patience, mercy, compassion, and love are truly something our human minds can’t fathom.
ML: What are you hoping to accomplish with this film in the lives of your audience?
Chad A: The movie is entertaining, engaging, and somewhat educational. Our hope with the movie is that everyone who watches it will see just a glimpse of the love, forgiveness, patience, mercy, and compassion God has for all of us. We hope people will be reminded or introduced for the first time to the true Gospel: that God created all of us, He loves all of us, we have all rejected and disobeyed him, and despite our rejection and disobedience, He took our penalty upon himself. There is no greater act of love in human history.
I also hope that people will remember it is Christ that heals and changes a person, and these changes begin after a person has surrendered his or her life back to the Creator. If people could truly change themselves, what was the purpose of the cross? It is our choice to either accept or reject what Christ has done for all of us. Then if we accept, because of our gratitude, we learn to walk in obedience to His holy ways. And while we may see certain areas of another person’s life that needs to be changed, we must remember that God knows everything about each person. God knows how best to work in an individual’s life, and so we must be patient and walk alongside our brother or sister in love and truth as He transforms His children step by step. Let us never forget the forgiveness, grace, mercy, and patience with which He has dealt and continues to deal with each of us.
Chris J: I hope to dissipate some of the political and societal frustration when it comes to the homosexual issue. I hope that every Christian views with compassion and love each person who struggles with same sex attraction and/or identifies with it. I hope the playing field is equalized as we see that we all have broken sexual natures apart from God’s original design.
I hope that those who do not know God will come to know Him as He is. I hope that those with an animus toward the Church will be softened. I hope that those with broken relationships be encouraged to reconcile and do so.
I hope that God’s kingdom come here on Earth as it is in heaven.
ML: This film was really well done, especially for the faith-based/family film genre. What experience did you and others bring to the table when you started the project?
Chris J: Chad Ahrendt called in a lot of favors and put together a very professional team. It was by far the smoothest project I’ve worked on. Both the cast and the crew were professional across the board, and it showed in the final product.
Chad A: After graduating from college, I was extremely blessed to get a job working for Academy Award-winning writer/director/producer James L. Brooks, and then Academy Award-nominated producer Laurence Mark at Columbia Pictures. In a ten-year span, I worked on over 15 studio films/TV movies from Jerry MaGuire, As Good As It Gets, to Dreamgirls. There is no better education than working with and watching directors such as Jim Brooks, Cameron Crowe, Gus Van Sant, Nick Hytner, Wayne Wang. and Bill Condon. Working with Larry Mark really helped me understand the process of taking an idea and turning it into a script, and from there, putting together all the elements necessary to tell a compelling story. I met many talented people while working on the various studio films, and with Reconciliation I was able to call in a few favors—mainly our talented Director of Photography, Adam Biddle, and his crew.
ML: What kinds of things did you have to do along the way to ensure it ended up being a high-quality production?
Chad A: Everything starts with the script. If you have a poor script there isn’t much even the most talented actors and crew can do to make it good. The biggest challenge with Reconciliation was making the story work within the budget we had. In the studio world, one normally starts with a script, hires a director and maybe a few main actors, and then really dives into creating a detailed budget. We started with a script and already knew our budget, so I sat down with our producers and made changes to the script that would work within our budget constraints. We also shot the entire movie in 12 days, so we knew in the casting process we had to hire actors that could not only memorize their lines, but could bring their character to life with a limited amount of takes so we could move onto the next setup or new scene. In hiring the crew, we needed to find talented people that were quick on their feet and didn’t need a lot of supervision, because many of the crew members wore multiple hats. The Lord really blessed us with an amazing cast, crew, and locations that worked within our budget.
Chris J: Again, I credit the team. If you have high quality professionals in each department and for every role, your job is much simpler. You support your team with all you have, and then let them shine.
ML: The attitudes, actions, and dialogue of the characters struck me as very authentic. Did you work alongside homosexuals or former homosexuals to get their perspectives on the issues and keep it real?
Chad A: One of the most important aspects in the writing and casting of this movie was making sure it was very authentic to everyone. I’ve seen a few films that deal with similar topics in Reconciliation, and they were always very one-sided or they belittled those that have a different opinion. Because this movie gives an authentic voice to everyone, that also means everyone will be challenged by characters that have a different opinion or belief from theirs.
I read many books on the subject and watched a few documentaries and films, and to be honest, I was very confused after finishing my research. There are many profound arguments in the world. But ultimately, I had to make the personal decision, “Do I believe the Bible is the inerrant Word of God?” The answer is absolutely, “Yes.” Not just parts of it, not the verses that work for me, but the entire Bible. I have gay friends and family members, and many of their pains, hurts, struggles, and temptations aren’t any different from anyone else’s. After all my research, I simply turned back to God’s Word and prayed daily as I worked on the last draft, and I truly believe the Lord wrote it.
Since we finished the movie, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting thousands of men and women that have turned away from their sexual feelings/desires to pursue a holy relationship with the Lord. These are people of all sexual orientations, and let me say, these are some of the most spirit-filled individuals I’ve ever met. They truly are bearing their crosses daily as they turn from their flesh toward the Spirit.
ML: You had to deal carefully with whether homosexuality was presented as a sin or not, because audiences would be tempted to pre-judge the film. Did you ever consider not directly addressing that question, or leaving it open ended?
Chad A: It isn’t a matter of being careful or not about homosexuality being presented as sin. The importance is more on not making it the focus of the movie, and when it is discussed, making certain it’s not put in this non-biblical “hierarchy of sin” category that man created. In the first 10 minutes of the movie, the pastor clearly states in his very short sermon, “Yes, the Bible says homosexuality is a sin, but Jesus doesn’t show favoritism—Jesus hates all sin.” At the end of the movie the Chaplain states, “Everybody has a broken sexual orientation apart from God’s original design. Everyone must repent…” While the movie is mainly about the journey of an estranged father and son reconciling, many people want to know beforehand if the movie is promoting a “gay agenda” or not. The movie is not promoting a gay or straight agenda. If the movie has any agenda, it is to preach the true Gospel, and all of our characters portray an aspect of the Gospel.
In an earlier draft, I actually rode the fence not answering the question. But praise the Lord, He had a better plan—which is to show the sexual brokenness of mankind in general. As a church body, we have been greatly deceived thinking God winks at or excuses any sexual sin. Hopefully, we will all start being more transparent about our struggles and temptations, because the Church is losing the battle by ignoring the elephant in the room.
ML: How exactly is the Church losing the battle?
Chad A: Before making and living with this film for the past three years, I thought the two most equally controversial topics facing the Church were abortion and homosexuality. I can confidently say that is not the case. Homosexuality is by far the most controversial, misunderstood and yet least talked about from the pulpit topic in the Church.
Fear of losing congregational members and tithing causes many Church leaders to either ignore certain topics or tell the congregation what they want to hear instead of what they need to hear. In recent years, certain sects of the Church community have realized the harsh and incorrect judgment and condemnation cast onto those with same-sex feelings. So, now we see the pendulum swinging to the other side, where some churches are now trying to correct all the mistakes by saying homosexuality is not a sin. In both examples, mankind is wrong, and pride has caused them to think they are God and they know what God really meant to say.
The God of the Bible is not interested in confusion. That’s one reason why He gave us an instruction manual. And yet in our broken rebellion against Him, our pride causes us to make our own interpretations. It’s a sad state when the congregation is leading the leadership, because many people in the pews aren’t reading their Bibles. Instead they are being educated by worldliness, which has now infiltrated the Church. If Jesus came back today, would He see the Church as set apart, or would He once again need to clean house as He cleansed the temple?
Pastors and Church leaders can continue to ignore the issue (or as many pastors I’ve spoken with like to say “Well, that’s not an issue in our church”), but just be aware that the world is happy to offer up opinions and educate people on the issue. Christians need to be educating themselves by reading, absorbing, and doing God’s Word. We must stop compromising God’s truth and holiness, and instead start living it.
ML: So, if ignoring it or embracing it as right aren’t the answers, what’s the happy medium?
Chad A: We have to recognize that it’s our choice to continue to be deceived in thinking that “heterosexuality” is any less or more broken than “homosexuality,” because I’m certain we’ve all missed God’s mark for “holy sexuality.” Instead of feeling condemnation, guilt or shame, simply repent, know you’ve been forgiven, and start walking in God’s holy ways. Jesus said the greatest commandment is “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” God, in all His wisdom, knew our pride and selfishness would cause each of us to fall very short of this commandment daily, but He loves all of us so much that He took our penalty upon himself. What will be our response?
In our next article, Chad and Chris will discuss how Jesus handled the law, tolerance vs. the breakdown of the family, what the “plank” is in both the Church and the homosexual community’s eyes, and other light and fluffy topics. Be sure to check back with us to catch Part 2 of the interview!