Biblical Christians and the Hollywood Media

by the Rev. Canon Mark A. Pearson

 

You’ve been working hard all day, and you want some light entertainment.  You remember this was the hour “Little House on the Prairie” used to air, so you figure you’re in for something wholesome. Instead, there is a program about several unmarried young adults, each in a sexual relationship.  You go with your thirteen year old daughter to see Queen Latifah’s movie “Beauty Shop,” thinking it can’t be too bad. Instead, you’re embarrassed by the frequent raunchy references to sex acts and body parts.

 If you think entertainment wasn’t always this debased, you’d be right. And, you’d be right if you were wondering if there’s something Christians can do.

 An Earlier Crusade to “Clean the Screens”

 Many films during the “Roaring Twenties” featured explicit sex, violence, profanity and blasphemy. Christianity and clergy were often held up to ridicule.  Attempts at censorship on the local and state level met with mixed success. It was time for God’s people to act in concert.

 In 1934, the Roman Catholic Church formed the Legion of Decency. Parishioners were urged from the pulpit to pledge to boycott movie theaters until Hollywood changed its ways.

 Due to the work of many people, committed Christians especially, the Motion Picture Production Code came into being.  For over three decades, Christians of various denominations read every script from every major studio in light of this Code. If a picture conformed to the Code, it received the Motion Picture Code Seal. If not, many theaters would not show it.  The Church was exercising a godly stewardship over the cultural climate of our country.

Protestants worked with the Roman Catholics during the 1930s until a suspicious  “Don’t trust the Catholics” attitude caused Protestant representation to wither.  Not until 1948, with the creation of the Protestant Film Commission, was there an organized presence of Protestantism in Hollywood.

 In the late 1950s, things started to change. The Legion of Decency moved from warning people off bad movies to merely commending good movies.  By 1975, it ceased to exist for all practical purposes.  The Protestant Film Commission had previously come under the umbrella of the liberal National Council of Churches. In the 1960s, the National Council destroyed the PFC believing that Main Line Protestant attitudes were no longer “concerned with condemning sex and violence or immorality and futility, but are interested in films which are honest in their portrayal of the human situation.”

It wasn’t long before what we now call R-rated movies started appearing. It wasn’t that Hollywood threw out the church and its restraining force. The church abandoned its call to be salt and light. The era of Christian-led decency in Hollywood had come to an end.

 

What did the average Christian do about Hollywood during

“the cultural revolution”? 

 I asked sixty people to comment on the guidance churches gave regarding Hollywood entertainment. Most responses fell into one of three categories:

 Identification. Many respondents told me their church never commented on the life style portrayed in movies. Members of liberal Protestant churches did not oppose life style choices portrayed in the media because that was the morality members of these churches often embraced.

 Hostility. Others, chiefly those raised in conservative denominations, reported their churches were actively hostile to Hollywood, often expressly forbidding attendance at Hollywood-produced movies and sometimes forbidding television viewing.

 Discernment.  Many said their churches taught them how to select movies responsibly. One woman recalled how members of her church were encouraged to think through which movies were spiritually harmful and why, and to let the owners of theaters which regularly screened such movies know they would not be patronizing their establishments until this changed.

Are Things Getting Better?

 As the moral quality of movies degenerated, many have heard God’s call to action.  There are several dozen different Christian ministries active in Hollywood, ministering in various ways to people in the film and television industry. (See related article on page four.)  Many ministry leaders, while acknowledging considerable room for improvement, cite trends that give cause for rejoicing.  Two men making a difference are Larry Poland and Ted Baehr.

 Larry Poland builds relationships with Hollywood decision makers, presents the Gospel to them, and then disciples those who come to Christ. Larry states boldly, “God is at work in the industry. There’s a hunger and an openness to the Gospel on the part of Hollywood persons of influence. And there are growing numbers of believers in prominent places in the business.” Larry tells of having led a network Vice President to Christ. Instinctively, without being encouraged by anyone to do so, the man started red-penciling bad words out of scripts that landed on his desk.

Larry Poland

Larry’s ministry publishes a quarterly prayer calendar naming Hollywood me-dia personalities and decision makers.  He recounts how many media people — believers and non-believers — express appreciation for our prayers.

 If Larry is an evangelist, Ted Baehr is a researcher and a lobbyist. Ted is founder and Chairman of the Christian Film & Television Commission and publisher of MOVIEGUIDE ®. Ted’s research demonstrates that wholesome movies do much better at the box office and he shares his findings with studio heads.  His research shows that in the 1985 there were only six movies aimed at families while in 2003 the number was over 40%.  “The chairman of a major studio recently told me,” Ted elaborates, “that he attributed these shifts directly to our influence and our economic benchmarking of the entertainment industry.”

MOVIEGUIDE magazine guides Christians in viewing choices by reviewing movies currently playing (see page 4). Ted also hosts the increasingly popular MOVIEGUIDE Annual Faith & Values Awards Gala and Report to Hollywood in Beverly Hills at which awards are made to television programs, movies, and actors based on wholesomeness of values presented. This Awards Show (see photo next page) is attracting increasing attention from Hollywood decision makers, some of whom have come to know Jesus as Lord and Savior there.  The NBC Nightly News program of March 21 did a segment on year 2005’s gala.

Ted Baehr with Canon Mark Pearson

There’s Work to be Done

 Consider three reasons why Christians must continue the effort to reform the entertainment industry.

 First, while we rejoice that movies and television programs with wholesome, redemptive, even specifically Christian themes do get made, they are not the majority and their effect doesn’t last long.  Dave Johnson, committed Christian and creator/producer of two television series (“Doc” and “Sue Thomas: F.B.Eye”), comments, “The effect of one good movie like ‘The Passion of the Christ’ quickly wears off.  We must keep the effort going.”

 Second, media influences attitudes and behaviors. Emory University researchers Ralph DiClemente and Gina Wingood tracked the disrespectful lyrics of rap songs and found a greater incidence  of lowered self esteem and associated risky behaviors in girls who frequently viewed rap videos (“Newsweek,” May9,2005, page 13).

 Third, our national security is at risk. While we do not condone the actions of terrorists, we can understand why many in the Moslem world view America as a moral cesspool, out to corrupt their children.  Christian businessman David McQuade says, “Perception is reality a half a world away, and with each morally irresponsible motion picture or television show we export, we add to an already deadly cocktail of misperception–it has literally become a matter of national security.”

What Can We Do?

 Many conservative Christians are no longer willing to live self-protectively, letting the world become an ever-worsening cesspool. They now acknowledge Christians have a divine custodial mandate to change society. However, not all responses are wise or helpful. Some are counterproductive:

 What Doesn’t Work?

 *Forbidding people from watching movies and television. Many people thus “forbidden” respond by viewing on the sly, gravitating to programs worse than those they might normally have watched.  A July, 2004 study by evangelical Christian George Barna demonstrates evangelical Christians are among the most frequent moviegoers.  Simplistic commands to stay away from the media are no substitute for Godly guidance. 

*Viewing only those Christian-produced movies often shown at  Church on Sunday nights.  Many of them are of amateur quality and turn off the brightest of our youngsters. Most who view “Christian movies” still go to the Cineplex or buy DVDs to see something done well.   Few such Christian movies impact our culture or improve the quality of the movies most people see.

 *Engaging in angry denunciations and personal insults.  Many non-Christians in Hollywood are sincere, family-oriented people.  They do not set out to corrupt the morals of young people.  They are people who want to tell a story, although — since they are not Christian believers — their understanding of what is good and wholesome sometimes differs from ours.  Graciously and humbly show them the negative results in the lives of those who view their movies and programs.

 Our approach much be the same even with those who do have an anti-Christian agenda.  We won’t get secular media people to produce more wholesome media entertainment by insulting them. Jesus never railed against the Roman guards even when they were beating Him. Christians behind the scenes in Hollywood note how hateful speech coming from Christians merely hardens the hearts of the very people we are trying to reach. A Christian working on a television series asked me, “Who appreciates getting yelled at?”

 *Lack of wisdom in the use of protests.  Picketing a movie because it portrays New Age spirituality or has foul language or excessive sex or violence does not deter people from seeing it and often calls attention to a movie people might otherwise have ignored.  Research indicates, however, that boycotting a movie portraying Jesus in a blasphemous way does deter many people from attending.

 What Does Work?

 Prayer. Pray for Christian ministries to the entertainment industry. Pray for actors, writers, directors, behind-the-scenes people, producers, and cultural movers and shakers.  Use Mastermedia International’s “Media Leader Prayer Calendar.”   Attend the National Media  Prayer Breakfast.  Hollywood Prayer Network offers a free 15 minute DVD “The Hollywood Crisis”, telling how God is doing miracles in Hollywood through prayer.

 Be Media Wise.”  People who enjoy movies and television like to know how a story is constructed, and how music, lighting and camera angles make a difference. Use that as a springboard to teach how to discern hidden agendas and un-Christian world views.

 In our “Post Modern” culture people gravitate to the arts and relate to stories far more than to books and rational discussion.  Learn how and train people to ask questions of what they watch. Is what is portrayed true to life? If you or your friends spoke or acted this way, would the results you see depicted on the screen reflect what would really happen to you? Teach people how the scriptwriter, producer and director of a television program or movie can subtly influence viewers’ beliefs through how they unfold a story.

 Ted Baehr’s The Media-Wise Family, subtitled “A Christian family guide to making morally and spiritually responsible decisions about movies, TV, and multimedia,” is an excellent manual for learning what questions to ask of the things we watch (see page 1 to order.)

Apply Pressure. Write to the people in charge.  MOVIEGUIDE lists the names and addresses of the heads of movie studios in each issue.  Go on line to find the same for television networks.  Write to the sponsors of television shows.  Make sure your letter is brief, neat and not mass produced. Tell them you are offended by certain language or actions and you and your family will not in the future patronize the studios that produce such entertainment.

 Be polite!  “The wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God” (James 1:20).  Polite protests work; shrill denunciations do not. We forget that the “creative types” often grew up and live in a different subculture.  It’s not that they despise the rest of Americans; they are not aware of us, or when they are they have a negative impression, often fostered by our less-than-Christlike actions.

 Support ministries that are making a difference. Financially support one or more of those Hollywood-based ministries. Get others in your church to join you.  See page 4 for four such groups.

 Attend movies that reflect your world view especially during the first week the movies are in the theaters. It’s during that initial release period a “buzz” is created and financial success is guaranteed or not. Most churchgoers didn’t support “Luther.”  As a result the movie did poorly at the box office and its financiers are not likely to do other films.  Christians did support Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ,” talking it up among friends. As a result, the movie became a major news story and hundreds of thousands of people who otherwise wouldn’t have, saw the film. 

 States Mark Joseph, producer of “The Passion of the Christ” CD, “Attending is like voting.  Your attendance or non-attendance determines what kind of movies get made.”  Therefore, do not attend movies that portray a lifestyle that you, as a Christian, cannot support.  Your attendance at such movies only assures more like it will be made.

 Ted Baehr’s research indicates that in 2004, movies with no sex made $39.9 million on average, movies with some depicted sex averaged $25.9 million, and movies with excessive, extensive or graphic sex averaged less than $6.3 million.  As we support what is wholesome, we encourage business people to do the right thing, even if for merely financial reasons.  Dr. Alex Wainer, Assistant Professor of Communication at Palm Beach Atlantic University in West Palm Beach, Florida, says, “The majority of movies are made simply because people think they’ll make money.”  Therefore, show Hollywood where the money truly is being made.

 Work in the entertainment industry. During the last decade the number of people hearing a “Macedonian call” to work in the industry has gone from a trickle to a flood.

 Dr. Thom Parham, Associate Professor of Cinema and Broadcast Arts at Azusa Pacific University states if God is calling you, pursue that call with every ounce of your being. “The best place to start is by tapping into a community of artists in your own area. Find people who are good mentors who will critique as well as commend.” David McQuade asserts “the Lord has been strategically placing people in Hollywood for years. Now they’re discovering each other and pulling together.”

 How does a person answer that call?  Dave Johnson offers a helpful list: “First, pray.  Second, discern what part of the business you’re gifted in.  Not everyone is called to be an actor or a writer.  Some are called to be make-up artists, set-designers, or lighting technicians.  Third, be the very best you can at what you’re gifted in.  Fourth, start at the bottom and work hard.  Fifth, stay close to God; let Him guide your career.”

 Ted Baehr’s just-published So You Want to Be in Pictures is an excellent primer on the basics of how to prepare for a career (email ICR to order).  Christian colleges offer degrees in various aspects of theater, film and television. “ActOne: Writing for Hollywood” offers briefer courses in screen writing at locations around the United States.

 Doug Folsom, a priest who is also an actor, suggests a person interested in pursuing a career in Hollywood should contact a Hollywood-based ministry and “go check out the scene.”  “Hollywood Connect Orientation Seminars” are designed for Christians trying to enter the entertainment industry. Visit http://www.hollywoodconnect.org. 

 Doug notes there’s a tremendous hunger amongst Hollywood professionals for connectedness, belonging, and caring. At bottom, people are hungry for God. You may be called to help bring Him to someone in Hollywood.

 Invest financially. Like any business, Hollywood runs on money. Things are afoot in Hollywood to enable Christians to invest in producing wholesome, God-honoring movies.

 God Can Do It Again!

 Whenever society has been debauched, God always responded to the pleas of His people.  Revivals occurred, culture was reformed, and society was transformed. A major change occurred in Hollywood in the 1930s and it can happen again.  +

 

© Copyright 2005 Mark A. Pearson.  Because this article was published commercially (the December, 2005 issue of “Charisma”) it may not be reproduced.

 

Ministries We Recommend

 

 

Making a difference in Hollywood:

 

Christian Film and Television Commission, led by Ted Baehr, is dedicated to redeeming the values of the entertainment media according to biblical principles by influencing industry executives and by informing and equipping the public to be active, media-wise consumers. It produces MOVIEGUIDE ®, and it hosts the annual MOVIEGUIDE Annual Faith & Values Awards Gala and Report to Hollywood which bestows awards on television programs, movies, actors and actresses. 

 

(Disclaimer: Canon Mark is on the board of directors.)  Address: 1151 Avenida Acaso, Camarillo, CA 93012; telephone (805) 383-2000; email: movieguide@movieguide.org; web page: http://www.movieguide.org.

 

Mastermedia International, Inc., led by Larry Poland, provides professional consulting and personal counseling to media professionals. They publish “The Media Leader Prayer Calendar” to encourage Christians to pray for media leaders and cultural influencers and “The Mediator,” a newsletter for the purpose of creating awareness of the impact of media on individuals and society. They host the annual National Media Prayer Breakfast    (www.nationalmediaprayer.org). Address: 330 North Sixth Street, Suite 110, Redlands, CA 92374; email: info@mastermediaintl.org; telephone: (909) 335-7353; in New York: 132 Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10016; telephone: 212-696-9351. Web page: http://www.mastermediaintl.org.

 

Hollywood Prayer Network has launched a growing movement of prayer for the entertainment industry. They line up prayer partnerships (industry professional with an intercessor) so that every “missionary” in Hollywood can be prayed for personally.  They supply monthly prayer requests, updates, praises and news breaks to all of their prayer partners. Address: 1763 N. Gower St. Hollywood, CA 90028; email: hollywoodprayernet@earthlink.net; telephone: (323) 462-8460 ext.117; web page: http://www.hollywoodprayernetwork.org.

 

ActOne trains Christians for careers in mainstream film and television. They offer summer programs for aspiring film and television writers, a program for aspiring executives, a series of weekend screenwriting seminars around the country, and many other programs and services.  They prepare students to be “salt and light” in writers rooms, on sets, and in studio and network offices. ActOne’s goal is not to produce explicitly “religious” entertainment, but movies and TV programs that are examples of truth and beauty for the world.  Address: 2690 N. Beachwood Dr., 1st Floor, Los Angeles, CA 90068, (323) 464-0815 or their email address: info@actoneprogram.com.  Visit their web page at http://www.actoneprogram.com.

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