It’s really quite difficult for me, being from the South, to thoroughly conceive what most outsiders’ perceptions of the Bible Belt are. There are a lot of fairly accurate portrayals of Evangelical Christians in movies and television, but what a lot of people don’t understand is that not all Christians are bigoted, homophobic racists. Not saying that there aren’t A LOT of them who are, but that’s beside the point.
The Gospel of Eureka is a documentary about the juxtaposition of the LGBTQ Christian communities within Eureka Springs, Arkansas. Narrated by legendary transgender performance artist Justin Vivian Bond, The Gospel of Eureka introduces us to people from both communities and more interestingly, people who straddle the lines of both. We meet Lee Keating and Walter Burrell, a gay couple who had been married since 1986, who are devout Christians who go to church every Sunday but also run one of the most popular drag cabarets in town. We also meet a trans woman who says that her trans identity is extremely tied into her Christian beliefs, a gay preacher and his adult son and many other LGBTQ individuals who worship Jesus, when one might think that such a practice might be counter-intuitive.
The thing is, and many of the subjects of this documentary agree, that there is not a huge focus on anti-gay sentiments in the Bible at all. The only real language is in the book of Leviticus, which is in the Old Testament, which doesn’t even feature Jesus, which is who Christianity was named after. It’s also in the same chapter that says you can’t eat bacon or shrimp, and I don’t know if you’ve ever been to the South but there are plenty of both of these “unholy” foods around.
“…a documentary about the juxtaposition of the LGBTQ Christian communities within Eureka Springs, Arkansas.”
One of the more modern Christians who also works at “Twice Born” Christian T-Shirt Shop says “You don’t have the right as a Christian to take away anyone’s freedom. The concept of teaming up with other Christians to from some political movement against another group of people IS NOT FOUND in New Testament Christianity”. He then goes to compare people who use Christianity as a weapon to punish others to Judas.
While Eureka does have a large LGBTQ community, it is also home of a giant statue called Christ of the Ozarks, which is somewhat similar to the giant statue of Jesus in Brazil but not as large. It was erected by Christian Nationalist Gerard L.K. Smith in 1964. He was also responsible for opening “The Great Passion Play,” an amphitheater that has regular reenactments of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We meet some of the actors in the play, as well as the pastor who runs the organization now, Randall Christy.
The film is very clever in the way that it cuts from the Passion Play to the drag shows, which happens quite a few times. It’s also incredibly fun to see the drag queens do performances to songs such as “Pray the Gay Away” and one queen actually performs a straight out gospel number, which I have never seen in all my years as a gay bar tourist.
“…packed in a lot of thought-provoking philosophical material into an hour ten…”
The Gospel of Eureka was also filmed at the time that Ordinance 2223 is coming to a vote. Many states in the South had similar votes as to whether or not it was okay to discriminate against the LGBTQ community. This was not too long ago when there was all sorts of hubbub about trans women using the women’s restroom. Naturally, there were quite a few people against the ordinance being passed. They didn’t want gay people to be open about their sexuality, they were afraid of transgender people and thought they might molest children, which is so patently ridiculous it makes me angry just thinking about it.
Directors Michael Palmieri and Donal Mosher packed in a lot of thought-provoking philosophical material into an hour and ten minutes. We get to know and love the little town of Eureka Springs, and it’s inhabitants. There’s a lot of funny moments, particularly with the drag queens, but also the close-ups of the members of The Great Passion Play audience are sometimes hysterical. Justin Vivian Bond was an amazing choice for narrator. I wish they would narrate my life.
I think that every Christian should be required to watch this film before they’re allowed to leave the confines of their home, but of course, that is not going to happen. However, this short but powerful film is extremely important in the MAGA era when all our civil rights victories as a nation are constantly in danger of being overturned. I also think it’s important for people to know that the true message of Christianity is love and acceptance, despite however many of the religion’s followers have twisted it to the contrary. So please, check out The Gospel of Eureka, the first documentary of 2019 I’ve had the pleasure to watch. It will make you think differently about a lot of things, or at least I hope it does.
The Gospel of Eureka (2018) Directed by Michael Palmieri and Donal Mosher. Written by Donal Mosher. Narrated by Mx. Justin Vivian Bond.
7 out of 10