Constantine's Sword

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Opened April 18
Distributed by First Run Features


NEW YORK -- The intelligent and subtly enunciated documentary "Constantine's Sword," written and presented by a former Catholic priest, explores the institutionalized persecution of Jews by the Christian church from Roman times to today. A parallel theme, tied to evangelical proselytizing on the U.S. Air Force Academy, highlights the danger of allowing religion to become involved in politics.

It's a quiet, well-researched film that demonstrates good journalistic credentials. Considering the global resurgence of religious influence, the film could attract progressive audiences in small urban theaters. "Constantine's Sword" is a cut above most TV documentaries, so should also do well on the small screen.

Directed by Oren Jacoby, the documentary is pegged to the experiences of narrator James Carroll. Carroll, the son of an Air Force General, says he heard the call of God early on. He joined the priesthood, but left the church after disagreeing with its support of the Vietnam War -- a position that also brought him into conflict with his father. Since then, Carroll has been a writer and journalist who has focused on the way that organized religion often supports -- or initiates -- killing in the name of a waging a holy war. The film is based on a book by Carroll, who is still a practicing Christian.

There are two main threads to the documentary. It begins with the Roman Emperor Constantine, the first Christian Roman Emperor. Constantine, says Carroll, used Christianity as a political force, and used the pretext of Christian conversion to wage war. It was also in Constantine's time, says Carroll, that the Jews became widely blamed for killing Jesus Christ. Carroll tackles the reverberations of this idea through history, and shows how it's been used as an excuse for violent anti-Semitism.

The second thread relates to Carroll's investigation of Christian proselytizing, instigated by the now disgraced Ted Haggard of the New Life Church, in the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. The case involved officers telling their cadets to try to convert others on campus to Christianity. Carroll uses this example to demonstrate the dangers of allowing religion to infiltrate the structures of secular state-run organizations.
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