Christians In Hollywood

When evangelicals think of Hollywood, they must imagine some sort of Babylonian brothel where not much happens that isn’t entirely hedonistic. It is a place not unlike Sodom, Gomorrah or Las Vegas: fun to visit but soul-endangering to stay. Such were the unspoken fears of my family last spring when I told them I was going to Hollywood to study and work in the film industry. If I hadn’t reminded them it was a Christian program (the Los Angeles Film Studies Center) and only a semester, I would surely have been branded a heathen. Christians and Hollywood don’t mix, do they?

For the evangelical right—especially the politically minded ones—Hollywood is the enemy. And for Hollywood types, Christians are just as scary—the unknown mass of Bush-voting farmers who occupy that strange land between New York and L.A. Of course, being enemies does not mean interaction is off limits. Economic exchanges between these foes take place daily. Christians comprise enough of the box office on a given weekend to be a force to be reckoned with—or at least not ignored.

So if Christians go to movies at very nearly the same rate as everyone else, why does Hollywood get such a bad rap in Sunday school? Why do Christian preachers, teachers, writers and talk show hosts still view Hollywood as a disease that must be contained—or at least regulated? Let’s face it: most middle-of-the-country evangelicals go to a movie on Saturday and a church service on Sunday. How long will it take for the absurd notion to take hold that perhaps the cinema has become more holy than the sanctuary?

That’s the question the Church must face, but it’s not being asked in many congregations. If Hollywood is ever mentioned in the context of church, it is usually as a prayer request. Not a bad thing. But there are other interactions between Christians and Hollywood going on beyond box office, boycotts and prayer requests. More and more Christians are making their way to Tinseltown and becoming part of “the industry.” Not only are more believers coming in to the industry, but more are coming out—of the Christian closet. For whatever reason (some say Mel Gibson is to blame), Christians already working in Hollywood are no longer afraid of exposing their faith. Again, not a bad thing.

But more Christians—outed or otherwise—does not a sacred Hollywood make. It’s all about the motivations. In my view, three major reasons are driving the Christian immigration to Hollywood. The first one is all about outreach: Hollywood as a mission field. This one is easy to understand. Is there a more concentrated area of largely secular culture-shapers anywhere? Probably not. Many Christians take this fact as a cue to reform the industry from within. This approach is a popular one, and utterly respectable. Filmmakers need the Gospel just as much as anyone.

Motivation number two is also evangelistic in nature, though in a very different way. This approach aims not to save Hollywood, but to use Hollywood to save. Christians in this group have infiltration as their chief tactic: embrace the industry, learn the craft and earn enough credit to make films that will spread Good News. Of course, there are those who bypass infiltration altogether and get straight to the point (and usually straight to home video). They are behind such soul-winning masterpieces as Left Behind: The Movie, Omega Code and the snowboarding romp Extreme Days. Thankfully the former group (the “let’s learn filmmaking 101 first” cluster) is increasingly more prevalent. The question remains: Will their final results be any different?

The third approach is the one hardest to swallow by the evangelical establishment. It is the one that treats Hollywood as a partner, not a prospect. It speaks of Jesus the least, but has Hm most in mind. It views cinema as art more than entertainment, and filmmaking as worship rather than mere vocation. These are the Christians who are in it to tell stories—honest, broken and, above all, true. The difference between these stories and more secular (as in, less mindful of the divine) narratives is often hard to detect, because—and this is sadly lost on many Christians today—the best of secular art is often more in touch with honest human experience than the most prolific “Christian” art.

So with all this talk of Christians in Hollywood, it is important to realize that those outside Hollywood have a duty as well. Not to boycott “filth” or count every profanity, but to think about cinema in a different way. To complain about godless Hollywood is to forget that we are largely to blame. Hollywood didn’t abandon Christianity—we abandoned it. But now we are going back, and a new understanding is taking shape. It is a radical idea, and one the church must take seriously. Perhaps a “Christian Hollywood” would not be all that different than what we have now. Perhaps the Hollywood we have now is not just a mission field, but also a missionary—reminding forgetful Christians that the holy, true and transcendent is not contained exclusively within church walls.

[Brett McCracken urges Christians to drop everything and boycott the following things immediately: Napoleon Dynamite, Ashlee Simpson, National Cinema Network’s “pre-show countdown,” TLC’s Extreme Plastic Surgery, Ice Cube family comedies and Spongebob Squarepants (oh wait, aren’t we already boycotting this one?)]

4 Comments

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Dr123101 commented…

Some very unwise and untrue comments made here, but thats what happens when a lost person tries to explain Christianity...not all people that claim to be Christian are, and there is a definite problem in promoting hollywood. This said, I truely hope any film company attemping to promote Christianity, understands what it is!

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Mike H commented…

being a Christian I can say that, like all religions, there are different levels of how deep a person's religiousbeliefreally is.Unfortunatelythe liberal side of Christianity controls most movies and though it attracts most people it is upsetting thedirectionholloywood has gone in which does not reflect a person'sbelief. I guess it comes down to letting go of yourbeliefto enjoy the movie but knowing that in reality the things that are portrayed is wrong. This all being said makes me and anyone else aHippocrateto our belief...unfortunately. Today we are so over exposed to so much "sin" that it seems impossible to escape. How did we allow this to happen? This question is not just for Christians but for all religions. We really should have a better dialogue to work together with most main religions on a base line to have a stronger voice in which we know what is wrong or right. For example, Jews and Christians have a lot in common when it comes to theTorah(old testament) in which there are the commandments; anexcellentstarting point to remember and follow without exception. From there we may find that we have more in common than we may admit... after all we are brothers in sisters, coming from Adam and Eve after all and should brothers and sisters hate each other?

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hennybot commented…

I'm a little late on the game here... I'm going to be honest- I think you both completely misinterpreted Brett. Folks, hear me out here as a sister. I intend to speak my peace and I hope that I am heard, because quite frankly, you both struck a nerve.It is completely unfair to say that the writer is a "lost person" who doesn't understand Christianity just because he happens to be analyzing the causes and effects of the Christian presence in Hollywood. He merely lists out three reasons why Christians seem to be making themselves known. Matthew 28:19 says to "make disciples of all nations", and isn't Hollywood very much a part of a nation? On the basis of the fact that I am a sinner saved by grace and the Bible asks me to do this, I have no excuse not to share that grace with others, even the most difficult people to convince. In addition, why would we wish to ignore a place that has so many hurting people and influences a hurting culture that has skewed ideas of what makes them feel fulfilled?

(Sidenote: I have no idea what it means to achieve the deepest "level" of grace, since that's my "religious belief". Can someone tell me? I also must say that if the liberal side of Christianity controls Hollywood, that's probably the one I want to be on. After all, I think Jesus was a liberal by definition: "open to a new behavior and willing to discard traditional values." Synonyms include "generous, lavish, bountiful, and free." He SCHOOLED the Pharisees, and he LAVISHES us with FREE grace)

I'll admit I err on the side of the third point; I believe that we should be mindful of what we view but also expand our minds by watching more than what is simply easy on the eyes with a sugar-coated ending. For so many years I was discouraged by the fact that I found little enjoyment or fulfillment in Christian music and film. I thought it meant that I was an insufficient Christian. I've grown a lot and have finally realized that it isn't a crime for me to appreciate well-made films that aren't in any way Christian but contain TRUTH and redemptive themes or love music that might have been created by someone who did drugs. Ex: at my church we might show the movie "Tree of Life." It is a challenging film filled with beauty and pain, centered around Job 38:4 and 7. It is full of truth and it is RAW. Life is raw and challenging at times. There are much more violent and harsh films than this that Hollywood has produced that I've been excited to see redemption and truth in!

My secret dream (if I'm going to be honest) is to write for a show like SNL. A few years ago, Studio 60 ran for one season and depicted a cast member of an SNL-like show who was a Christian. It was actually one of the first decent representations of a Christian in the industry I'd seen, although her relationship with one of the producers was a bit challenging. Ultimately though, I pray and think often of the need that is in a show like that and how difficult it would be to have effective presence there and be taken seriously. Back to what Brett said in regards to Christian films, their result may be even less effective than a film that builds a good rapport with the industry and delivers a message that is received by all- and perhaps gives people a lot to chew.I hope this makes sense.

Also, not trying to take this out of context or anything, but I keep thinking of Paul in Acts 17 where he debates with the Epicureans and Stoics. I love his boldness, but I also love that he takes the time to engage with them and NOTICE what their beliefs were centered around. He then makes note of the tomb of the unknown God and manages to reveal the truth of the Lord to a number of them. What What! I'm going to give Paul a high five someday for that one.In love (and healthy conflict).E

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Anonymous commented…

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