The Los Angeles Times Review: ‘American Heretics: The Politics of the Gospel’ aims to move hearts and minds


AUG. 1, 2019

With news coming in a constant deluge, even political junkies can find it difficult to think about anything other than the present — and the next presidential election. But the documentary “American Heretics: The Politics of the Gospel” doesn’t just look at the current situation and the entanglement of government and religion; it illuminates the origins of their relationship with insight, as well as centering on a single state: Oklahoma.

Though more Americans identify as nonreligious than ever before, the Bible Belt still lives up to its name in many ways. However, not every person of faith adheres to the idea that Christians must also be conservative. In the Sooner State, the film follows Bishop Carlton Pearson (the subject of the Netflix drama “Come Sunday”), the Rev. Robin Meyers and the Rev. Lori Walke as they each champion progressive causes such as civil rights and fighting poverty, remaining true to their interpretation of the Bible while often coming into conflict with the solidly red base that surrounds them.

“American Heretics” could benefit from a more structured and focused approach, but director Jeanine Butler and her sister and producing partner Catherine Lynn Butler tackle the issue with equal parts intellect, empathy and faith. For anyone interested in politics, religion, American culture or the ever-overlapping space they occupy, this documentary has the potential to move hearts and minds.

‘American Heretics: The Politics of the Gospel’

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes

Playing: 7:30 p.m. Aug. 7 only, Laemmle Playhouse 7, Pasadena; Laemmle Monica Film Center, Santa Monica

New York Times - ‘American Heretics’ Review:Challenging Religious Orthodoxies in Oklahoma

A documentary showcases progressive Christian leaders who don’t align with their state’s conservative leanings.


The Rev. Robin R. Meyers, who led his Oklahoma City congregation in a vote on whether to become a sanctuary church for undocumented immigrants, in “American Heretics: The Politics of the Gospel.”CreditJason/Abramorama

By Ben Kenigsberg

  • July 11, 2019

American Heretics: The Politics of the GospelDirected by Jeanine Isabel ButlerDocumentary

“American Heretics: The Politics of the Gospel” doesn’t break ground cinematically, but it is eye-opening in other ways. This documentary from Jeanine Isabel Butler showcases progressive Christian leaders in Oklahoma whose ideas run counter to the state’s conservative political leanings.

The Rev. Robin R. Meyers leads his Oklahoma City congregation in a vote on whether to become a sanctuary church for undocumented immigrants. The Rev. Lori Walke, who preaches alongside Meyers, describes how her beliefs evolved in college. When she delivers an invocation at the State Capitol, she reminds lawmakers of “low-income Oklahomans who need health care for their families” and of “teachers who need money, not just the motto printed on it.” Bishop Carlton Pearson, who was played by Chiwetel Ejiofor in the film “Come Sunday,” was deemed a heretic after he challenged the Evangelical teaching that anyone who isn’t “saved” would be condemned to hell.

Bernard Brandon Scott, a scholar of the New Testament, offers historical and biblical support for the views they express. Other illuminating material includes a discussion of the Tulsa race riot of 1921, when as many as 300 people were killed in a thriving neighborhood known as “Black Wall Street.” You might be surprised to learn that voices in the Southern Baptist Convention initially praised the Roe v. Wade decision.


A closing title card indicates that Evangelical leaders who don’t share the views presented here declined to be interviewed or didn’t respond to requests for comment. That absence leaves unanswered questions. How common is progressive Christianity in Oklahoma? The answer would provide context for Pearson’s prediction that his church and Meyers’s will be the “premier megachurches in the next 10 years.”

American Heretics: The Politics of the Gospel

Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 25 minutes.

American Heretics: The Politics of the Gospel

Director Jeanine Isabel Butler

Writers Catherine Lynn Butler, Jeanine Isabel Butler

Stars Robin Meyers, Carlton Pearson, Robin Lavanhar, Lori Walke, Bernard Brandon Scott

Genre Documentary

American Heretics: The Politics of the GospelDirected by Jeanine Isabel ButlerDocumentary