Los Angeles-based director Matt Barber and producer Chris Pack are taking a unique and innovative approach to addressing the sensitive topic of sex in the evangelical church with their new documentary, "Jesus, Don't Let Me Die Before I've Had Sex."
The filmmakers hope to offer a "picture of what is taught explicitly and implicitly by showing how churchgoers react to [church] teachings through anecdotes of first kisses, chastity rallies and secret obsessions," as explained on the documentary's website. They also hope to discover what causes a dissonance between what is taught in church, and how believers actually live out their lives.
The documentary is split into three interconnected parts. It first features interviews with ordinary people talking about their church experiences growing up and how these experiences impacted their sex lives. Next, the documentary interviews pastors and church leaders, asking what they believe, and why. Lastly, "Jesus, Don't Let Me Die Before I've Had Sex" features historians, theologians and sociologists, who outline how the church's perception of sex has changed over time.
As Barber, whose credits include editing NBC series "Chuck," the award-winning film "Weathered," and several music videos and television series, told The Christian Post, the documentary originally was supposed to be a short,15-minute film to accompany a larger production.
"What I didn't realize is how much it would resonate with people," Barber said. He then realized that there was a much larger picture that needed to be addressed. He collaborated with his longtime friend, Chris Pack, to create the documentary, which has been in the works for the past six months.
"We're going to approach this in a very authentic, very respectful and balanced bridge – building kind of conversation between conservatives, liberals, moderates. We've been speaking with people who have left the church, [and] people who are considering coming to the church," Pack told CP.
"Everyone has a story around it. We're honored. Every day we each have people touch bases with us and share some of the most personal things from their lives," he added.
Pack's credentials include work on documentaries about adoption, stem cells and diversity in higher education. He also holds a B.A. in Youth Culture & Intercultural Communication from Eastern University and a M.Div. in Cross-Cultural Studies from Fuller Seminary.
The film's second producer, Brittany Machado, offers a unique female perspective as a sociologist to the documentary's team. Machado, who recently received her M.A. in the Social Sciences from the University of Chicago, reveals in a recent post at Abeautifulmess.org that she "grew up as the poster child for evangelicalism."
"I was completely unaware how my very privileged, very not self-aware, very under-developed worldview could impact others," Machado writes of her youth. "I was the girl running around my high school telling everyone to save 'it' for marriage without consideration of their stories, their contexts, or their beliefs. I believed I had it all figured out and that everyone would agree with me if only they would listen and really try."
Machado notes that she views working on "Jesus, Don't Let Me Die Before I've Had Sex" as "an exercise in listening, remembering, emoting, and responding. Gently, with humor, and with eyes wide open."
"This is a project about embodiment and hospitality to ourselves and others. This gives me a lot of hope for myself and for our communities," she concludes.
Barber and Pack both agree that it is the perfect time to address the topic of sex and the church.
"You look at the news and you see a lot of angst and turmoil going on around this topic. You see homosexuality is a big issue right now. Churches and denominations are potentially splitting over this issue. And while this documentary doesn't focus solely on that, I think we just want to look at the broader context. What is really going on with sexuality and the question: 'do chastity and abstinence movements work,'" Barber said.
"In society, with evangelicals having such a big presence in political discourse, I think it's important for people to understand and see. To look behind the curtain and say 'ok this what's going on in the church.' This is why they are so vocal about it in the public sphere," he added.
Barber and Pack will also be collaborating with stop-motion artist Brent Johnson, who will use animation to tell many of the stories and historical events.
Barber believes the animation aspect of the documentary will show the "the stories of pain and joy and suffering that a lot of churchgoers are experiencing" at an "elemental, base level."
Barber and Pack remain humble in their arduous work, insisting that they are simply storytellers.
"We want to build bridges and create a dialogue around a really hot button topic. We think the best way to do that is to listen to people," Barber told CP.
"Listen to people that we disagree with and [who] disagree with us and just say 'we value you as a person and we know that your story is important to you. Please tell it and share it with us and we will handle it with grace and love,'" he added.
Barber revealed that the film has about six more months of work before completion. The film crew is currently trying to raise money for production costs, including travel, post-production expenses, musical and historical footage licensing.
Barber and Pack, who are also Christians, did not reveal if they would be sharing any personal details about their own lives in the church in the film.
The men hope to reach a goal of $30,000 by Wednesday, March 14, and have launched a Kickstarter campaign for members of the public interested in helping to fund "Jesus, Don't Let Me Die Before I've Had Sex."