The Reliant tells of a not-too-distant future where the American dollar loses its value and economic uncertainty drives society to violence and anarchy. In primary care physician Dr. J. Patrick Johnston’s story, one family is more prepared than the others, because they have been taught to fight back in the name of family and faith. Johnston’s story will be delivered in theaters on October 24, but the journey to the screen has been far from easy.
Johnston had written several novels, faith-based stories that he sold from his medical practice, on Amazon, and at homeschool conferences. He saw the ways that culture was changing for the worse, how people were reading less and watching more entertainment. Then, a few years ago, pitching a script he wrote called When Swords Heal at film festivals, Johnston crossed paths with Paul Munger, who would later become the director of The Reliant. At the same time, he met Sherwood Brothers’ Stephen Kendrick who offered up both advice and a kind warning.
“Stephen said my story about the siege of Magdeburg in 1550 was too expensive a story for a first-time filmmaker,” Johnston remembers. “He said you need to do your Flywheel first. Originally we had a budget of $250,000. We raised $1.3 million before we were done.”
In fact, every time Johnston and Munger struggled with deficits in the budget, they took the project to God in prayer. At one point, an $86,000 deficit was erased after Johnston and Paul prayed that God would meet the need. “I heard the call of God to create the film so why shouldn’t we trust God to meet our needs?” he said. “If Noah didn’t have enough wood for all the rooms in the ark, should he let the giraffes drown, or ask God for more wood?” Later, they needed $255,000 after wrestling with the SAG expectations, and after praying, immediately he received a call from Tim Schmidt, president of the United States Concealed Carry Association, who invested exactly what they needed to pay the bills.
That partnership with Schmidt impacted Johnston’s wrestling match with the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) over the film’s rating. Originally given an R-rating, The Reliant team argued for a PG-13 rating, believing that their film’s focus on faith, defense of the 2nd Amendment, and the fact that an underage kid would fire a weapon in defense of his family in the film had unjustly earned them a harder rating.
“There are PG-13 movies twenty times more violent than ours, like Suicide Squad, Taken, and World War Z,” argued Johnston, “yet they rated us R for violence. We pulled down on the blood special effects and we finally got a PG-13.”
Johnston stands behind the messages of the film involving the family’s use of weapons to defend themselves. When asked about Jesus’ teaching to turn the other cheek, he said that teaching involved patiently tolerating an insult, not tolerating rape and murder and anarchy. “The right to defend yourself and your loved ones is God-given and written on the conscience. Our American forefathers were imbued with a Christian education and therefore understood about God-given rights. They created the government to defend our God-given human rights, and they believed that if the government ever violate those rights by disarming the people, or by killing children, or legalizing same sex marriage, to mention relevant examples, their dictates would not be binding. Our forefathers knew we need the Second Amendment to defend the First should the government ever try to usurp God and persecute the righteous.”
[Editor’s note: The Second Amendment of the Constitution says, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”]
When asked how violence was compatible with the commands of Jesus from the New Testament to not return evil for evil, Johnston pointed to Luke 22:36 where Jesus said to his disciples, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one.” ”The disciples may have been able to escape the Roman guards because they were armed. The vast majority of the time that a gun is used to stop a crime, it is never fired. Just keeping and bearing a weapon protects you.”
Johnston cited the Scottish Covenanters, Protestant Christians who regularly suffered and died for their beliefs, non-violently, but who drove off and even killed soldiers who tried to violate their mothers, wives, or daughters. In The Reliant, the bulk of the violence is carried out by marauders, or by the Christian family defending itself after the government fails.
“History shows that sometimes the government exploits crises to impose lawlessness on people, like taking guns away door-to-door after Hurricane Katrina. People want to be free and safe. Free people should be able to take up arms to protect themselves against criminals as well as tyranny and since it is a God-given not government-granted right, the government cannot legitimately take it away without conviction of a crime,” proposed Johnston.
The Reliant has received eight first place rewards in faith-based as well as secular festivals. Johnston’s film will give audiences a chance for one night as a Fathom Event on October 24 to consider what decisions they would make, violent or not, if their family was attacked. In the process, they’ll be entertained, and challenged to consider what they believe about the Bible, and the Constitution of the United States.