The evangelical Christian blogosphere ricocheted with
outrage in mid January. The casting of out actor
Chad Allen as real-life Christian missionary Nate
Saint in the film End of the Spear was
“like Madonna playing the virgin
Mary,” fumed the Reverend Jason Janz on his
blog, SharperIron.com. Condemning the devout Christian
producers of the film, another blogger
provocatively dismissed the idea of
“firebomb[ing] these men’s
houses.” Throughout the backlash Allen himself
remained at peace with his participation in the
film, which hit theaters January 20.
“It’s a pretty amazing story of love and
forgiveness,” he says. “I definitely
knew I wanted to be a part of it as soon as I read the script.”
You’ve said that you wanted this film to bridge
the divide between gay people and people of faith.
Is that mission still feasible given the backlash
from conservative Christians?
It’s not just my mission, it’s my
accomplishment. We’ve done it. I’m
surrounded by an enormous amount of letters and e-mails and
phone calls [from] people publicly supporting me who
are Christians, who are saying to me, “Look,
we’re getting to witness firsthand the meanness of
what’s gone on in the name of Jesus Christ for
a long time now. And we’re shocked. And
we’re sorry. And we love and respect you.” And
that’s all I’m asking for. I’m
not asking for us to agree on this at the end of the
day. But we can respect each other.
In shooting the film, was it hard to work with people who
thought you were a sinner?
I’ll be honest. I thought I was going to work
with a bunch of right-wing conservative wackos. I
think they, in turn, thought they were going to work
with the godless bohemian kid. None of those preconceived
notions were true. We had to throw everything out and get to
know each other. Which is exactly the message
I’m trying to get across.
You’re not a godless bohemian kid? Are you religious?
I’m a deeply spiritual person. Religion still
makes me squeamish. I grew up a Catholic boy. I had
what I considered to be a pretty profound relationship
with God, even when I was little, and my relationship with
the Catholic Church and my understanding of its teachings
really screwed that up for me—a lot—and
so I began a spiritual journey that’s taken me
all over the map. I’ve studied Buddhism, Hindu
philosophy, Native American spirituality—and
it’s all coagulated; I’ve taken pieces of it
to build my current spiritual understanding. My
greatest hope is that when we die, we get to
experience God and let go of all judgments and
preconceived notions and ideas of separation. I think
anything that comes with fear attached or judgment
attached, it can’t be of God.
Has making this movie changed your approach to spirituality?
Working on this movie has provided me the
invitation to go deeper than I ever have in my
relationship with God. I got in touch with a huge amount
of deep-rooted shame and guilt and even questioned my
sexuality. And that’s the amazing thing about
it. I actually allowed myself to go there. I could see
that [director Jim Hanon and producer Bill Ewing] were
loving people and this is what they believed is the
most loving thing for me.
You actually considered the possibility that God
didn’t want you to be gay?
Believe me, that was scary. I really came to that place.
The amazing thing is, after a particular evening deep
in prayer I woke up the next morning thinking about a
church that I had been to one time. A friend of mine
got married there years and years ago. I couldn’t
even remember where it was. I knew nobody there. I
just remembered [what town it was in]. So I drove in
that direction. I figured if I was meant to find it,
I’d find it. And I walked up to it—it happened
to be Sunday—and it turned out mass was getting
ready to start. I sat down in this pew next to this
elderly man. And he said, “Hello. Today is a very
special day. The bishop Gene Robinson is here today.
We’re celebrating inclusion and diversity in
the church.” And I just started crying. And since
then, again and again it’s been affirmed for
me, the perfectness, the wholeness, the goodness of
who I am. That is, for me, the message of this movie. My
only goal here is to just, in as many ways as
possible, affirm our perfectness.