We had to drive over an hour to find a theatre that was showing Alone Yet Not Alone on opening weekend of its second run. I am not really a film critic, but my wife, some friends and I really enjoyed it. As introduced recently on Veracity, Alone Yet Not Alone explores the true story of a pair of German immigrant children captured by Delaware Native Americans in rural western Pennsylvania during the French and Indian War in the mid-1750s. It has a profoundly Christian message, being produced by a non-Hollywood, evangelical homeschooling community. Partly filmed in my hometown of Williamsburg, Virginia, it was great to see a movie that combines a great story, a vital interest in history, and a call to embrace the Gospel of Jesus Christ. But without a Hollywood backing, Alone Yet Not Alone might remain a side-lined story: too controversial for the wider culture and too disinterested by the evangelical Christian church.
Sure, the film had its flaws, with some questionable make-up decisions and some possibly misleading depictions of colonial and Native American life. Undoubtedly, the most powerful critique involves the very nature of the story itself. In an era of filmmaking taken up by the themes of Dancing With Wolves, it is simply difficult to put out a movie that makes any “white man” look even slightly good. I went into the film anticipating the very worst, but I was pleasantly surprised to see how fairly the Native American situation was portrayed, contrary to those critics who expected the movie to be blatantly pro-European. Alone Yet Not Alone simply tells the story from a Christian European immigrant point of view. Much like the German Pietist family in the film, Europeans came to the American colonies for a variety of reasons, often in the pursuit of freedom, but the question of how to best relate to the native population was often unresolved. An uneasy peace between the different cultures would last for decades only to be broken because of mistrust and the defrauding of promises made to those like the Delaware tribe.
The wider contemporary culture often gets a distorted picture of early American history and the involvement of Christianity, but Christians themselves are largely ignorant of that history as well. With distorted or ignored images of our past, it does not bode well for the future. This is why we need more films like Alone Yet Not Alone in an era more concerned about the present and not the past.
Nevertheless, the critics have their point to make. Stories like Alone Yet Not Alone are completely overshadowed by the practically genocidal impulse that has nearly wiped out Native American cultures and people in the United States. The bulk of American history has effectively silenced the suffering of native peoples that has only recently come to light in the public consciousness. From broken treaty after broken treaty to the Cherokee “Trail of Tears” to the slow and continued disintegration of native cultures today, Native Americans have overwhelming born the brunt of the conflict. Sadly, with some rare exceptions here and there where missionaries like the Moravians and David Brainerd made sacrificial investments in reaching out to folks like the Delaware, most colonial Americans who claimed to be Christian failed to stop such horrendous ethnic cleansing. Yet I would contend that this state of affairs is not a result of some inherent flaw within the Christian message itself but rather the failure of professing “Christians” to be obedient to the Gospel they say they profess. We need a film from a Christian perspective that tells that story.
This tragic evaluation of Christianity and Native American history should not be a surprise. Our church this summer is doing a study on the Book of Judges. When you read Judges, you encounter just some terrible things: senseless violence, broken treaties, treachery, rape, kidnapping, idolatry… you name it. You think you were reading something out of the conflict between Native Americans and white Europeans in America! Much of the evil in the Book of Judges is sadly being perpetrated by those claiming to be the people of God! Christianity has a tarnished past with the Native American, but if we are to be faithful to the example of Scripture, we need to be willing to frankly address that past and confess the shortcomings of the church.
Furthermore, as this review suggests, it would be historically inaccurate to say that all of the European captives embroiled in the conflicts with the Native Americans wanted to return to the colonial way of life. Up to 40% of those captured by tribes like the Delaware ended up choosing to stay with their captors, finding that the more egalitarian Native American societies often treated people better than what you would find among the early immigrants to America. History is indeed very complicated.
Does Alone Yet Not Alone correct the contemporary misunderstanding regarding Native American history and Christianity? The answer to that is complicated by the backstory surrounding the film. One of the promoters of the film, who also acted as British Colonel Mercer in the movie, was Doug Philips, formerly the director of Vision Forum, an outspoken supporter of home schooling for Christian families. Vision Forum was the primary sponsor behind the “Jamestown Quadricentennial: A Celebration of America’s Providential History” that I attended in 2007. But in a reversal of momentum, Vision Forum is now officially dead as Philips has been implicated in a scandal along almost the same lines like that of fellow conservative home schooling advocate Bill Gothard. The charges of spiritual abuse surrounding Philips have cast a dark cloud among Christians over an otherwise promising and positive film. This is all incredibly sad to me.
Despite these challenges, Alone Yet Not Alone remains an important film, filling a void in the telling of history from a Christian perspective that is badly needed today. Though not suitable for young children, you should still go and see it. But more work needs to be done to give a fully biblical faithful rendering of history. On one side are those who loudly wish to blame Christianity for practically all of the ills of contemporary society. On the other side are those from a supposedly Christian perspective who would seek to recover the positive aspects of our past but who have a difficult time honestly dealing with issues of repentance where the church needs to truly repent. Oh, that God would raise up such a generation who would accept that task and take a “third way” in the telling of God’s story throughout history.
Here is the trailer again….