Christianity in Docs

At the Nashville Film Festival, I saw a number of documentaries on Christianity or their interaction with the world: Pussycat Preacher, At the Death House Door, Prophets Rising, and Join Us. There is also another recent documentary I’ve seen twice (CBS and the Biography Channel) – Jesus Camp. Given that I love movies, I want to take some time to talk about what I thought of these movies and how they portray believers and how non-believers might view them.

At the Death House Door

I didn’t get this up in time for you to see it on IFC, but check their schedule periodically. Hopefully it will air again. It is now playing on Comcast OnDemand. This documentary is why documentaries should be made and seen.

Yes, it has a point of view. The filmmakers are opposed to the death penalty but – BUT – they let the voice of Rev. Pickett shine through. His honesty about where he had been and where he is now, based on experience, is heart wrenching. Rev. Pickett was the prison chaplain at a TX prison with a very active death chamber. He was present at many executions, including one he truly believed was an innocent man. He went from supporting the death penalty to actively opposing it over the course of many years. He would spend the day of the execution with them, talking, praying and being there for them.

How this relates to faith in Christ: Rev. Pickett did not talk about what happened at the prison to his wife or children. He only saw a counselor a couple of times (after the innocent man was executed – he nearly quit). Where do you turn when? He would put his thoughts onto audio tapes (the real treasure of this movie; they are being documented for posterity by the Innocence Project) and to God. Where does the strength to meet 90+ men and walk with them into the death chamber come from? It’s more than duty or a responsibility to perform a job. It can’t come from a man. I can’t imagine the images buried in his head.

Jesus Camp

I just don’t what to make of a movie like Jesus Camp (or the similar movie The Lord’s Bootcamp, profiled further down the page). Part of me want to believe that they are doing something right yet another part of me is very disturbed to see children pledging allegiance to a Christian flag and to the Bible. They send their children out to talk to people and ‘witness’ and ‘win souls for the Lord.’ At the end, one young lady walks up to a group of old men sitting in the park:

Girl: If you were to die today, where would you go

Man: Heaven

Girl: Are you sure?

Man: Yes.

Girl walks away and mumbles as she crosses the street ‘they are probably Muslims.’

They say they aren’t teaching them a political agenda but talking to cardboard cut-outs of President Bush, wearing LIFE tape over their mouths and praying outside the Supreme Court is rather political to me.

Pussycat Preacher

This is out on DVD and available on Netflix. It was made by the same folks who made Missionary Positions (about

Ministries like XXXchurch, JCs Girls, and Hookers for Jesus, are extreme forms of evangelism. The danger with such ministries in that they attract alot of media attention is: are they doing it for God’s glory or man’s? In meeting Heather Vetch from JCs Girls, I believe she is truly appointed to reach out to strippers and show them God’s love, grace, and the way to forgiveness and out of a destructive lifestyle.

Now, my problem with the movie is their statement “we are here to show that you can be a Christian and still be sexy.” In what context? Sexy for your spouse – by all means! But there is a point, I believe, where that can/does affect one’s witness to the world. Can you espouse a belief in Christ that requires chastity until marriage when your girls are nearly hanging out for the whole world to see?

Prophets Rising

Nashville Scene article that I’m pretty sure is the basis for the documentary. The movie itself is fair, even to the point of being favorable (I don’t recall any direct criticisms of those profiled). The article is also fair, presenting both sides. I would take Professor Volney Gay’s criticism as a reminder that we as believers need to test the spirits – take what we see and hear and run to the Word of God to compare it.

I know I’m guilty of blindly accepting what I hear and see, assuming that if it is from a pastor or teacher, it is true. This can lead to believing some very wrong things.

The film showed a bit of one of Sandy’s prophetic activation services.  I could feel the spirit moving.  It made me tired in just the few minutes on screen.  I couldn’t imagine what it felt like in person.

Join Us

How can reasonably intelligent people get sucked into a cult? This movie explores how and its very real affects. After abuse by a spiritual leader, they have since had trouble re-connecting with a faith community. That is the real tragedy. There are good, authentic, loving churches out there, full of people who love Jesus and want to serve with love and grace, and those abused by a ‘church’ will view all people with a serious amount of distrust. With pretty good reason. How can you trust again after dealing with a leader that hurt you, lied to you, stole from you, told you to hurt your children (that still baffles me – what mom or dad would allow that to happen.. and the guilt afterward of what you put your family through… failing to defend your wife, failing to defend your children).

And they leave to go back on the “mission field”, likely never to face any earthly justice. To rinse/repeat.

The Lord’s Bootcamp

This is a movie about the Teen Missions organization. There is a marked contrast in the behavior of the two different missions groups profiled. One went to Africa to work with children in an AIDS orphanage (their parents died of AIDS) and brought shoes, washed their feet. That is probably some of the first real contact these children had in a long time. Seeing that… being Jesus’ hands and feet to the poorest of the poor… humbling oneself to serve… that was good to see.

The second group went to the Iowa State Fair and set up a booth and targeted teenagers with the “would ya like to take a survey?” approach. “Got another one.” as if God is keeping count of how many people you’ve led to Him and using that in your favor… especially when there is an undercurrent of holier-than-thou-ness. Like Jesus Camp, it was disturbing on many different levels.



  1. Dudley Sharp · June 14, 2008

    Can Rev. Carroll Pickett be trusted “At the Death House Door”?
    Dudley Sharp, Justice Matters, contact info below

    Rev. Pickett is on a promotional tour for the anti death penalty film “At the Death House Door”. It is partially about the Reverend’s experience ministering to 95 death row inmates executed in Texas.

    Rev. Pickett’s inaccuracies are many and important.

    Does Rev. Pickett just make facts up as he goes along, hoping that no one fact checks, or is he just confused or ignorant?

    Some of his miscues are common anti death penalty deceptions. The reverend is an anti death penalty activist.

    Below are comments or paraphrases of Rev. Pickett, taken from interviews, followed by my Reply:.

    1) Pickett: I knew (executed inmate) Carlos (De Luna) didn’t do it. It was his big brown eyes, the way he talked, he was the same age as my son (transference). I felt so sympathetic towards him. I was so 100% certain that he couldn’t have committed this crime. (Carlos) was a super person to minister to. I knew Carlos was not guilty. Fred Allen a guard, said “by the way he talks and acts I don’t believe he is guilty, either. (1)

    REPLY: Experienced prison personnel are fooled all the time by prisoners, just as parole boards are. This is simply Rev. Pickett’s and Fred Allen’s blind speculation and nothing more.

    More than that, it appears that Rev. Pickett is, now, either lying about his own opinions or he is very confused. Read on.

    2) Pickett: believes that, no way, could someone, so afraid of lightning and thunder, such as Carlos De Luna, use a knife (in a crime). (1)

    Reply: Rev. Pickett talks about how important his background is in understanding people and behavior and he says something like this, destroying his own credibility on the issue. If the lightning and thunder event occurred, we already know what De Luna was capable of. In 1980, “De Luna was charged with attempted aggravated rape and driving a stolen vehicle, he pleaded no contest and was sentenced to 2 to 3 years. Paroled in May 1982, De Luna returned to Corpus Christi. Not long after, he attended a party for a former cellmate and was accused of attacking the cellmate’s 53-year-old mother. She told police that De Luna broke three of her ribs with one punch, removed her underwear, pulled down his pants, then suddenly left. He was never prosecuted for the attack, but authorities sent him back to prison on a parole violation. Released again in December of that year, he came back to Corpus Christi and got a job as a concrete worker. Almost immediately, he was arrested for public intoxication. During the arrest, De Luna allegedly laughed about the wounding of a police officer months earlier and said the officer should have been killed. Two weeks after that arrest, Lopez was murdered.” (Chicago Tribune) Being a long time criminal, we can presume that there were numerous additional crimes committed by De Luna and which remained unsolved. Was De Luna capable of committing a robbery murder, even though he had big brown eyes and was scared of lightning? Of course. This goes to Rev. Pickett’s poor judgement or something else.

    There is this major problem.

    In 1999, 4 years after Rev. Pickett had left his death row ministry, and he had become an anti death penalty activist, and 10 years after De Luna’s execution, the reverend was asked, in a PBS Frontline interview, “Do you think there have been some you have watched die who were strictly innocent?”

    His reply: “I never felt that.” (3)

    For many years, and since the 1989 execution of Carlos De Luna, the reverend never felt that any of the 95 executed were actually innocent.

    This directly conflicts with his current statements on Carlos De Luna. Rev. Pickett is, now, saying that he was 100% sure of De Luna’s innocence in 1989!

    If he was 100% sure of DeLuna’s execution in 1989, what’s up with the PBS interview?.

    How is it that an anti death penalty activist can forget the only “innocent” person executed – he was 100% sure of his innocence – on their watch? Anti death penalty or pro death penalty, wouldn’t that be 100% impossible to forget, particularly when you are asked, specifically, about it during a formal interview?

    When is the first confirmable date that Rev. Pickett stated he believed in DeLunas’ actual innocence?

    It appears the reverend has either revised history to support his new anti death penalty activism – he’s lying – or he is, again, very confused. Reverend?

    3) Introduction: In 1974, prison librarian Judy Standley and teacher Von Beseda were murdered during an 11 day prison siege and escape attempt. Ignacio Cuevas was sentenced to death, as one of three prisoners who were involved. The other two died in the shootout.

    Ms. Standley and Ms. Beseda were part of Rev. Pickett’s congregation, outside of prison.

    Pickett: After Cuevas was executed, Rev. Pickett alleges that he met with Judy Standley’s family and they told the reverend that “This (the execution) didn’t bring closure.” “This didn’t help us.” According to Rev. Pickett, “They didn’t want him (Ignacio Cuevas) executed.” (1)

    Reply; There might be a big problem. Judy Standley’s five children wrote a statement, before the execution, which stated: “We are relieved the ordeal may almost be over, but we are also aware that to some, this case represents only one of many in which, arguably, `justice delayed is justice denied,” “We are hopeful the sentence will finally be carried out and that justice will at last be served,” said the statement, signed by Ty, Dru, Mark, Pam and Stuart Standley. (4)

    Sure seemed like the kids wanted Cuevas to be executed. Doesn’t it? Reverend?

    4) Pickett: “A great majority of them (the 95 executed inmates he ministered to) were black or Hispanic.” (1)

    Reply: The reverend’s point, here, is to emphasize the alleged racist nature of the death penalty. There is a problem for the reverend – the facts – the “great majority” were 47 white (49%) with 32 black (34%), and 16 Hispanic (17%).

    5) Pickett: “Out of the 95 we executed only one that had a college degree. All the rest of them their education was 9th grade and under.” (1)

    Reply: Not even close. Rev. Pickett’s point, here, seems to be that capital murderers are, almost all, idiots who can’t be held responsible for their actions. But, there are more fact problems for the reverend. In a review of only 31 of the 95 cases, 5 had some college or post graduate classes and 16 were high school graduates or completed their GED. Partial review (Incomplete Count) , below.

    Would Rev. Pickett tell us about the educational achievements of all the true innocent murder victims and those that weren’t old enough for school?

    6) Pickett: spoke of the Soldier of Fortune murder for hire case, stating the husband got the death penalt, while the hired murderer got 6 years. (1)

    Reply: Rev. Pickett’s point, here, was the unfairness of the sentence disparity. More fact problems. John Wayne Hearn, the hitman, was sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of Sandra Black.

    7) Pickett: speaks of how sincere hostage taker, murderer Ignacio Cuevas was. Rev. Pickett states that “between 11 and midnight (I) believe almost everything” the inmates say, because they are about to be executed. (1)

    Reply: Bad judgement. Minutes later, Cuevas lied when on the gurney, stating that he was innocent. This goes to show how Rev. Pickett and many others are easily fooled by these murderers. Pickett concedes the point.

    8) Pickett: “In my opinion and in the opinion of the convicts, life in prison, with no hope of parole, is a much worse punishment (than the death penalty).” “Most of these people (death row inmates) fear life in prison more than they do the possibility of execution.” (2)

    REPLY: More fact problems. We know that isn’t the opinion of those facing a possible death sentence of those residing on death row. This gives more support to my suspicion that Rev. Pickett is putting words into the inmates’ mouths.

    Facts: What percentage of capital murderers seek a plea bargain to a death sentence, rather than seeking a life sentence? Zero or close to it. They prefer long term imprisonment. What percentage of convicted capital murderers argue for execution in the penalty phase of their capital trial? Zero or close to it. They prefer long term imprisonment. What percentage of death row inmates waive their appeals and speed up the execution process? Nearly zero (less than 2%). They prefer long term imprisonment. This is not, even remotely, in dispute. How could Rev. Pickett not be aware of this? How long was he ministering to Texas’ death row? 13 years?

    9) Pickett: stated that “doctors can’t (check the veins of inmates pending execution), it’s against the law.” (1)

    Reply: Ridiculous. Obviously untrue.

    10) Pickett: Pavulon (a paralytic) has been banned by vets but we use it on people. (1)

    REPLY: This is untrue and is a common anti death penalty deception. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) stetes, “When used alone, these drugs (paralytics) all cause respiratory arrest before loss of consciousness, so the animal may perceive pain and distress after it is immobilized.” Obviously, paralytics are never used alone in the human lethal injection process or animal euthanasia. The AVMA does not mention the specific paralytic – Pavulon – used in lethal injection for humans. These absurd claims, falsely attributed to veterinary literature, have been a bald faced lie by anti death penalty activists.

    In Belgium and the Netherlands, their euthanasia protocol is as follows: A coma is first induced by intravenous administration of 20 mg/kg sodium thiopental (Nesdonal) (NOTE-the first drug in human lethal injection) in a small volume (10 ml physiological saline). Then a triple intravenous dose of a non-depolarizing neuromuscular muscle relaxant is given, such as 20 mg pancuronium bromide (Pavulon) (NOTE-the second drug, the paralytic, in human lethal injection) or 20 mg vecuronium bromide (Norcuron). The muscle relaxant should preferably be given intravenously, in order to ensure optimal availability (NOTE: as in human lethal injection). Only for pancuronium bromide (Pavulon) are there substantial indications that the agent may also be given intramuscularly in a dosage of 40 mg. (NOTE: That is how effective the second drug in human lethal injection is, that it can be given intramuscularly and still hasten death).

    Just like execution/lethal injection in the US, although we give a third drug which speeds up death, even more.

    11) Pickett: “Most of the inmates would ask the question, “How can Texas kill people who kill people and tell people that killing people is wrong?” That came out of inmates’ mouths regularly and I think it’s a pretty good question to ask.” (2)

    REPLY: Most? Would that be more than 47 out of 95? I simply don’t believe it. 10 out of 95? Doubtful. I suspect it is no coincidence that “Why do we kill people to show that killing is wrong” has been a common anti death penalty slogan for a very long time. I suspect that Rev. Pickett has just picked it up, used it and placed it in inmate’s mouths. Furthermore, we don’t execute murderers to show that murder is wrong. Most folks know that murder is wrong even without a sanction.

    12) Pickett: said an inmate said “its burning” “its burning”, during an execution. (1)

    REPLY: This may have occurred for a variety of reasons and does not appear to be an issue. It is the third drug which is noted for a burning sensation, if one were conscious during its injection. However, none of the inmates that Rev. Pickett handled were conscious after the first drug was administered. That would not be the case, here, as the burning complaints came at the very beginning of the injection process, which would involve a reaction where the burning would be quite minor. Has Rev. Pickett reviewed the pain and suffering of the real victims – the innocent murdered ones?

    Bottom line. Reverend Pickett’s credibility is as high as a snakes belly.

    Time to edit the movie?!


    Incomplete count
    this is a review of 31 out of the 95 death row inmates ministered by Rev. Pickett

    21 of the 31 below had some college or post graduate classes (5)
    or were high school graduates or completed their GED (16)
    1) Brooks 12
    3) O’Bryan post graduate degree – dentist
    41 james russel 10th
    42 G Green sophomore college
    45 David Clark 10th and GED
    46 Edward Ellis 10th
    47 Billy White 10th
    48 Justin May 11th
    49 Jesus Romero 11th and GED
    50 Robert Black, Jr. a pilot (probably beyond 12th)
    55. Carlos Santana 11th
    57 Darryl Stewart 12th
    58 Leonel Herrera 11th and GED
    60) Markum Duff Smith Post graduate College
    33) Carlos De Luna 9th
    95 Ronald Keith Allridge 10th and GED
    93 Noble Mays Junior in College
    92 Samuel Hawkins 12th
    91 Billy Conn Gardner 12th
    90 Jeffery Dean Motley 9th
    89 Willie Ray Williams 11th
    86 Jesse Jacobs 12th
    85 Raymond Carl Kinnamon 11th and GED
    84 Herman Clark sophomore college
    83 Warren Eugene Bridge 11th
    82 Walter Key Williams 12th
    72 Harold Barnard 12th
    73 Freddie Webb 11th and GED
    75 Larry Anderson 12th
    77 Stephen Nethery 12th
    79 Robert Drew 10th

    Dudley Sharp, Justice Matters
    e-mail, 713-622-5491,
    Houston, Texas

    Mr. Sharp has appeared on ABC, BBC, CBS, CNN, C-SPAN, FOX, NBC, NPR, PBS , VOA and many other TV and radio networks, on such programs as Nightline, The News Hour with Jim Lehrer, The O’Reilly Factor, etc., has been quoted in newspapers throughout the world and is a published author.

    A former opponent of capital punishment, he has written and granted interviews about, testified on and debated the subject of the death penalty, extensively and internationally.

    Pro death penalty sites


    www(dot) (Sweden)

    1) “Chaplain Discusses ‘Death House’ Ministry”, Interview, Legal Affairs, FRESH AIR, NPR, May 19, 2007.


    3) “The Execution: Interview with Reverend Carroll Pickett”, PBS, FRONTLINE, 1999

    4) “Appellate court refuses to stay killer’s execution”, Kathy Fair, HOUSTON CHRONICLE, Section A, Page 1, 2 Star edition, 05/23/1991

  2. Jonnelle · June 14, 2008

    I almost didn’t approve it but in the interest of being fair, I did.

    What I don’t like about this is the idea that once you make up your mind about something you have to stay that way the rest of your life. That change of heart, environment, new evidence can’t give you new perspective and a new opinion. There are people in prison, wrongly convicted, that are released when new evidence is presented.

    This thread will NOT turn into a debate on whether or not we should have a death penalty.

    For the record, I used to be in favor of the death penalty but now am against it for moral and practical reasons.

    That was NOT the point of my post and I don’t appreciate you bringing this kind of copy/paste activism here.

    My post was about Rev. Pickett’s faith and how he dealt with being there for the execution of 90 men – guilty or not – that has to eat away at a man. It was heart wrenching to me to think about it.

    If you want to talk about that, then do so. If you just want to argue about the death penalty, take it elsewhere.

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