Monday, December 24, 2007

Hollywood: The Neglected Mission Field.

(Note: This article was first published in Missionary Church national publication, then called Emphasis Magazine, in the summer of 2002. It appears here with it's original source notation and bibliography. I felt it might be good to address some of these issues on this blog early on. - MJW)
Millions of Americans attend movie theaters every week. Film has become an almost unavoidable aspect of the North American culture. Millions of dollars are invested in the making of a single motion picture. Year after year, Christians across the country complain amongst themselves of how the film industry is becoming more and more blatantly sinful. Yet, I raise this question: By complaining within the Christian subculture, what has been accomplished to reverse the corruption of Hollywood?

I am not promoting the idea that we Christians should accept the way Hollywood is and quit complaining. What I am saying is that if the people who are complaining are not willing to do more than complain to reverse the corruption of Hollywood, they might as well accept the way things are and be silent. Is this too extreme? No. It is true that the first step is to recognize that there is a problem morally with what Hollywood is portraying in many films. We may note that the problem is getting worse. In the end, though, what has complaining to each other accomplished? Maybe step two should be to write to the film companies and voice your distaste at how their films are proudly portraying sin as good. That would be better than complaining amongst fellow Christians. At least one is taking some sort of action in doing so, but I argue that much more needs to be done.

Hollywood is an inevitably pagan subculture in America. Why? To state it bluntly, Christians have abandoned it. By and large, Christians have wanted nothing to do with Hollywood. In America, we Christians have successfully formed our own subculture with almost all of the same aspects of the secular world that we have "Christianized." We have our own music industry, books, television stations, social events, and so forth. We have effectively closed our selves off from the world just enough so that the world can ignore us for the most part. Do people in Hollywood know what real, loving, passionate Christians are like? Do they know, or care to know for that matter, who the top names in Christian books or music are? No. Who is to be blamed for this? According to Christian musician Michael W. Smith, "The fault isn't with the Hollywood crowd as much as it is with those of us who have created a separate world that never intersects with theirs" (Smith 99).

We are to be blamed for this. Christian screenwriter Barbara R. Nicolosi boldly states, "Who are we kidding? Hollywood has not abandoned Christian values. We who should be pitching Christian values have abandoned Hollywood." Working in the film industry, Nocolosi has a good perspective on the situation in Hollywood. "Out of the abundance of the filmmaker's heart," she writes, "the images project" (Nicolosi 2). If nonbelievers are going to make films, their subjects will come about from what they know best. Hollywood is really more of a reflection of America as a whole than the sole corrupter of this nation.

In Bob Briner's book Roaring Lambs Briner states, "The Christian church, which had some time ago abandoned the motion picture industry as place of ministry and outreach, now, for all practical purposes, abandoned the medium itself as a way to communicate the message of Christ to the world at large." In the following paragraph, he writes, "When good departs, evil always fills in behind it" (80). We can only point the accusatory fingers at ourselves. Of course people who have no knowledge of our Lord will write and produce films that portray sinful life at its peek. We can bicker all we want, but Briner warns us with these rather blunt words, "Let's be honest: all our protests have done is make us feel good about standing up and being counted. They have not cleaned up Hollywood, nor will they." Hollywood's studios could care less about Christians complaining about their films. What really speaks is the bottom line—money (Briner 91).

What course of action, then, should be taken if Christians are going to have an impact in Hollywood? Briner presses for Christians to join Hollywood's ranks of directors, actors, producers, and the like (91). I agree with him. After all, the Great Commission spells out quite clearly that we are to go into all of the earth. While we may want to deny it at times, Hollywood is actually part of this world. Jesus has given us a challenge, a command, to reach even the lost in Hollywood. Our Lord said, "With my authority, take this message of repentance to all the nations, beginning in Jerusalem: 'There is forgiveness of sins for all who turn to me'" (Luke 24:47, NLT).

As I see it, it should not be our objective to take over Hollywood and "Christianize" it. First, off, that is simply impossible! We have been absent from the scene much too long to come in and take over. Secondly, we cannot afford to make a film industry parallel to the "Contemporary Christian" music industry. That is, we will fail entirely if we make our own separate film industry just for our Christian subculture—or "ghetto", as Briner would call it. If we are to reach the lost people in Hollywood, Christians will have to go to Hollywood. For some reason, this is a scary thought to Christians. We gladly promote missions to China, Brazil, Central America, Africa, Russia, and the like. Yet, how many sermons do we hear on the need for Christian involvement in Hollywood? How many "missionaries" to Hollywood have come to share a slide show at your church?

Hollywood will continue to slide down the slope of sin as long as Christians refuse to recognize that God loves the people in Hollywood just as much as he loves the children in Afghanistan. Jesus gave His life for the people in Hollywood. As long as this truth is denied by the attitudes and actions of Christians across America, the situation will not change. It is time to take action.

The action is to go. There is an incredible need for good Christian writers, cinematographers, make-up artists, actors and actresses, and so forth. I stress the word "good" at this point. Nicolosi states clearly that "Most of the screenplays that come across my desk from Christian writers are simply dreadful" (2). She said, "dreadful." If we Christians are going to have an impact in Hollywood, we must earn the respect of the secular filmmakers. Nicolosi has this to say about our efforts at filmmaking: "It's got to work as entertainment, or it will never get to try to work as evangelization" (5).

Christians with the intention of entering the film industry must acquire the proper training. Screenwriters must learn to write good films. That means all the formatting and editing work as well. In Hollywood, 90% of screenplays are thrown into the trash because they are not formatted to industry standards. Film companies are not joking when they demand that a script be in "Currier New" font size twelve. Nicolosi is ruthless on this point: "Christian writers are particularly careless in this regard. Many seem to think that because they are writing about spiritual themes, they should get extra credit which will excuse them from having to learn the screenwriting rubrics" (7). No matter how wonderful the story of your screenplay may be, it will never be made into a quality film if you do not learn how to properly write the script for it.

I believe that we are to infiltrate Hollywood with the Gospel. I take little interest in making so-called "Christian" movies. Really, I just want to be involved with the people in Hollywood and let my life be a light to them. Anything I write will of course come through the lens of my Christian worldview and thus have elements of ultimate truth to offer. I do not see Hollywood as a place to enter with the intention of making major Christian films like the Left Behind movies. Rather, we should view it as a place filled with people that need to hear the truth of Jesus and His love.

That does not mean that I am against films with bold Christian messages. I simply do not believe the secular culture in America is ready for films that are so blatantly Christian. Why will people believe the Gospel portrayed on a screen if they can attend their local church and find little to no evidence of the Gospel in action there? We need to first infiltrate Hollywood, live among the people there, love them, and show them everyday what it means to be a follower of Jesus.

Thus, the challenge is before us. Church leaders, encourage any of your youth that have an interest in the entertainment media to seek Godly guidance and good education so they may "go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit" (Matthew 28:19, NLT). If someone feels they are called by God to work in the film industry, they should seek out good training and opportunities for hands-on experience such as a semester at the Los Angeles Film Studies Center though a Christian Liberal arts College. "Liberal education is a critical precursor to film studies," according to Nicolosi (6).

I believe that God can use Christians in Hollywood. I believe that people can and will come to Christ though His witnesses that are now being trained to enter, and are already in Hollywood. I close with a few more words from Bob Briner. "Why not believe that one day the most critically acclaimed director in Hollywood could be an active Christian layman in his church?" (33).

(And I now raise these questions: How has the picture in Hollywood changed? How has my own perspective changed in the past five years, especially after studying in LA? Have we made progress or taken steps backwards? I welcome your observations and questions. Have a Merry Christmas!)

(1) Briner, Bob. Roaring Lambs. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1993.

(2) Nicolosi, Barbara R. Screenwriting: A Manual for Christian Writers. Hollywood, California: Act One: Writing for Hollywood, 1999.

(3) Smith, Michael W. This is Your Time. Nashville, Tennesee: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2000.

(4) Holy Bible, New Living Translation. Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House, 1996.


Eric Bumpus said...

Abandoned by millions of Christians, yes. But neglected as a Mission Field? Not completely.

We're taking steps forward. They are baby steps, as Dr. Marvin would have suggested from "What About Bob?", but they are steps forward nonetheless.

With the work of the LAFSC, HPN, Inter-Mission, Mastermedia and the like, the vision of Hollywood as a Mission Field is expanding. I'm working on my own company idea for education, training and discourse on Theology, Apologetics and Missiology integrated with culture (specifically TV and film).

There is a new day arriving, and people like Mikel Wisler will be a part of that sunrise.

Great article. Thanks for sharing.
Eric Bumpus

Sheila West said...

I read and own "Roaring Lambs." Good book. Meanwhile, I have writen a screenplay, I'm unagented, and I'm trying to find a prodco. I'm currently knocking on the doors of vanity prodcos of big name stars but I'm getting ignored. So Ineed an "in" somewhere.