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Intensity of Faith
Desmond Doss' heroic story is a great way to engage in a community conversation about honesty, integrity, respect and conviction.

A personal review of Hacksaw Ridge with ministry suggestions for churches
By Heidi Baumgartner, Washington Conference communication director

Hollywood usually takes true stories and turns them into truth stories that encapsulates key concepts of a true story into a new storyline.

Not so with Hacksaw Ridge.

Like many of us, I've grown up with the story of Desmond Doss, a courageous and cooperative conscientious objector who saved life after life against the odds of war. And he did so without ever carrying a weapon. He stayed true to his personal convictions as a Seventh-day Adventist to honor all of the Ten Commandments including the commands to honor the seventh day Sabbath and to not kill.

I remember, too, when "The Conscientious Objector" documentary came out. There was a screening on my university campus, the venue was packed out, and Desmond Doss was there on the front row wearing his Congressional Medal of Honor. I have never heard an ovation like that before!

In mid-October, with a roomful of colleagues from across North America, we watched one of the last screenings of Hacksaw Ridge before it hits theaters on Nov. 4.

It is powerful. It honors and respects Doss’s story from childhood, to becoming a young man, to meeting his future wife, to enlisting, to basic training and his heroic actions in battle. I was moved by the thoughtful and respectful storytelling.

Hacksaw Ridge is also intense. Very intense. The battle scenes come later in the storyline, and I frequently averted my eyes — especially during the fire scenes — as it was too much for me personally.

The raw emotions of trauma and catastrophe feel real. Once or twice, I had to remind myself: "This is a movie, and you know how the story ends."

This isn't exactly a "family friendly film." True, you won't find much vulgarity, but you will find intensity and bloodiness of battle. If you want something geared for families and children, or if the prospect of promoting a Hollywood-produced movie concerns you, host a viewing of "The Conscientious Objector" documentary by Terry L. Benedict (a DVD copy is available for $25 through Amazon).

Preparing for Conversations
Already in the normal course of conversation, I’ve talked with several people – from my faith and community networks – who have asked me about Hacksaw Ridge. (These conversations prompted this new section to the originally published article.)

You’ll want to be prepared for conversations, too. The most common comment from my community network is: “It’s so cool that your church has a movie coming out in Hollywood.”

Well, this isn’t exactly true. Yes, it is a Hollywood movie about a Seventh-day Adventist named Desmond Doss, but it is not produced by the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Charles Knapp, retired U.S. Army colonel and chair of the Desmond Doss Council, says in a published interview, “This film was not made for the Adventist Church. We did not have any creative input. I’m not even advocating that anyone go see the film. But our neighbors will. I'm absolutely convinced.”

The Seventh-day Adventist Church in North America says about Hacksaw Ridge: “Doss’s strong convictions, his Adventist beliefs, and his unshakeable confidence in God come alive in the film Hacksaw Ridge, and hold the promise of inspiring a new generation of believers. The SDA Church appreciates the care and attention to detail brought to this powerful telling of Desmond Doss’s unique, unparalleled story of faith.”

While I’ve known Desmond Doss’s story for many years, I found it helpful to brush up on my knowledge of Doss’s story. This movie is coming to 3,000-plus theaters and your friends, particularly if they like war movies, are likely to bring this movie up in conversation.

Recommended Reading:
Community Involvement Ideas
A representative from the Desmond Doss Council, that owns the rights to the story, shared with us how some church leaders are planning to "buy out" a theater for a special viewing to honor local heroes such as veterans, active military, law enforcement, and first responders.

This could be a good option for a church or ministry if it fits the culture of the congregation and the surrounding community — especially if you are located in a military community and desire to intentionally engage in a community conversation. Promotional resources and theater buyout information are available at www.hacksawridgeresources.com.

Maybe in a pre- or post-show for either Hacksaw Ridge and/or The Conscientious Objector, you could honor veterans and first responders; talk about how the values of honesty, integrity, empathy and conviction are applied to the conflicts of everyday life; answer questions about being a Seventh-day Adventist; and provide some community resources on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Invite a chaplain or pastor to have a special prayer for men and women who are currently serving in the military.

There’s a #BeLikeDoss social media campaign starting that encourages the faith community to share acts of kindness in their community. The #BeLikeDoss activities could take place before, during, or after your community gathering.

I could especially see Pathfinder clubs participating in #BeLikeDoss community service activities as Pathfinder youth clubs were special to Desmond Doss when he was alive. What a great opportunity — for any age group from students to families to senior citizens — to give back to the community and honor the memory of Desmond Doss’s faith and service!

Faith Community Resources
It Is Written ministries (www.itiswritten.com) has several resources available for churches:
  1. The “Faith of Desmond Doss” Sharing Book (a 32-page sharing book with bulk rates available)
  2. Faith on Hacksaw Ridge DVD Pack (3-episode set for $20)
  3. Free Online Videos: The Heroism of Desmond Doss (part 1), Who Was Desmond Doss? (part 2), The Faith of Desmond Doss (part 3)
  4. Sharing cards with links to the free “The Faith of Desmond Doss” videos
  5. Bible study invitation cards
You may also want to connect with the Desmond Doss Council:
  1. Website: http://www.desmonddoss.com/
  2. Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/DesmondTDoss/
  3. Twitter: https://twitter.com/DesmondDoss
  4. Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/officialdesmonddoss/
  5. Follow hashtags for #DesmondDoss and #BeLikeDoss
  6. Set up a “Desmond Doss” Google News Alert at http://alerts.google.com to keep track of media coverage
In addition, the original book on Doss, titled “The Unlikeliest Hero,” by Booton Herndon has been re-edited and expanded with additional photos under the title “Redemption at Hacksaw Ridge.” You can order it online for $25 at www.desmonddoss.com.

The story of Desmond Doss doesn't end in 1945! The book "Desmond Doss: Conscientious Objector" by Frances M. Doss tells additional stories about the unlikeliest hero. This book is available for $14 through AdventistBookCenter.com. This could be a giveaway item at your community gatherings!

Bottom Line
Without question, Hacksaw Ridge tells a powerful and inspiring true story of faith and courage against the odds. I found it to be well worth watching. If the portrayal of intense battle violence is a concern, you can still appreciate and share the story in other formats, engage in faith conversations with your neighbors, colleagues, and friends, and participate in acts of service.

Have a great idea for continuing this community conversation in western Washington? Let us know!