Kean University hosted Abigail E. Disney and Reverend Rob Schenck to discuss their documentary "The Armor of Light" and its relation to whether one can indeed be pro-gun and pro-life in today's society. The two presented as part of Kean's Distinguished Lecture Series March 6 in the Science, Technology and Mathematics (STEM) Auditorium.
Directed by Disney, the Emmy-Award winning film "follows the journey of an Evangelical minister trying to find the moral strength to preach about the growing toll of gun violence in America."
Furthermore, both Disney and Schenck looked to pinpoint the source of political controversy and debate for this potentially explosive topic, delving deep into the roots of politics and belief systems of many to help bridge the gap and unite those opposed.
In their presentation and discussion, the two elaborated on these aforementioned focal points and both the struggles and successes the unlikely pair found whilst on their journey filming and advocating.
"I am drawn to people who shake up the status quo, who put themselves on the line for what they believe," said Disney, as she described her passion for film and the need for a risk-taker in this particular situation.
"They succeed because of, or possibly in spite of, doing the unexpected. They can be contrary; they can be bold, but they are willing to take risks for something bigger than themselves. And Reverend Schenck was just the person who did that," Disney explained.
As an Evangelical Christian minister from Washington D.C., Schenck opposed many of Disney's views and beliefs, as she was a stout libertarian and Schenck (and Evangelicalism as a whole) showed a strict representation of conservative values. However, he took her prospective call with open arms and, after sitting down and discussing in detail the topic at hand, the two agreed that greater action needed to be yielded on gun violence in America and in turn decided to embark on filming the documentary.
One controversial topic that two were in immediate agreement upon was the "Stand Your Ground" law, which describes that individuals who are armed and feel threatened may use their weapon immediately without making any attempt to de-escalate the situation. Schenck was in harsh denial of this piece of legislature.
"We have to start raising the facts instead of sticking to our initial beliefs," Schenck said. "We are losing too many lives to needless gun violence in our great nation."
One of these lives lost that Schenck alluded to was the son of Lucy McBath, who also courageously put herself out into the spotlight as the "victim's" perspective in Disney's film.
Jordan Davis, McBath's son, was only 17 years old when he was shot and killed at a gas station parking lot in Jacksonville, Florida in 2012. A man had fired into the vehicle in which Davis and three of his friends were seated in after an argument ensued over loud music in the parking lot.
Michael Dunn argued that he felt "threatened" by the teens and attempted to justify the shooting under the parameters of the "Stand Your Ground" law. He was ultimately found guilty of first degree murder and sentenced to life without parole.
Although technically a legal victory, McBath felt the need to advocate on a bigger platform, and Disney and Schenck provided a diverse and professional opportunity to work with those captivated by her interests and story.
Now a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Georgia's 6th District, McBath used inspiration to become a politician from both the pain of losing her son and the motivation she received from the work and praise she received for participating in Disney's film.
It was this same motivation and drive instilled in McBath through the tragedy that Schenck and Disney looked to invoke in those intending to sit up and take action about the issue at hand through the lecture discussion and film.
Their effort proved to be a success as a warren of students, staff, alumni and the general public crowded the STEM Auditorium and had numerous questions and comments at the end.
"I am inspired that you were so brave to take on an issue that so many of your [Schenck] counterparts feel so strongly opposed towards," said one student.
"I want to do what I can to help out where I can," said an older woman in the audience.
Schenck and Disney were certainly pleased that their message had such a profound effect.
"This is what I got into it for—advocating, educating and inspiring," said Schenck.
Disney was grateful for not only the attendees, but more importantly, her counterpart.
"I have found this to be true: if you approach people with respect and an open heart, they will almost always respond to you in the same way," Disney said. "So, Rob and I formed the most unlikely of friendships, and it was in that spirit that we went forward on this journey together."
The next Distinguished Lecture Series will occur at 6 p.m. Thursday, April 4 in the STEM Auditorium with special guest Chelsea Clinton.
More information on Clinton's lecture can be found here.