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Stephen McGarvey Christian Blog and Commentary

Hollywood and Christians Can Mix

  • Stephen McGarvey
    Stephen McGarvey is the Executive Editor of Crosswalk.com and Christianity.com for the Salem Web Network. He is a World Journalism Institute fellow and has previously worked for BreakPoint with Chuck Colson, and the Home School Legal Defense Association. His articles have appeared in several publications including WORLD, The Washington Times, byFaith, BreakPoint WorldView, and the Union Leader (Manchester, NH).
  • 2006 Jan 26
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My friend Alex Wainer reviews the Behind the Screen: Hollywood Insiders on Faith, Film, And Culture for BreakPoint. The book is a collection of essays written by Christians involved in the craft of moviemaking in one way or another. Publishers Weekly calls it, "a hard-hitting, impressively self-reflective opening piece on the history of Hollywood's tortured relationship with Christianity, essayists expound on a number of topics, from how to survive mostly secular Tinseltown with one's faith intact to exploring reasons why the industry is so secular in the first place."

Most Christians agree that Hollywood is a place where Christianity isn’t exactly the biggest game in town. It's not a stretch to say the filmmaking business is overly influenced by the Christian worldview. Alex points to one movie that highlighted Christians' problems with cinema:

The last thirty years have seen a growing sense of cultural disenfranchisement felt by conservative Christians. Manifestations of this attitude toward Hollywood were evidenced in different ways by two films whose subject was the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. The default response has been to protest whatever new offense was perceived. The protest mode may have reached its zenith in 1988 with the outcry over Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ.

The urge to protest was an indicator that Christians cared too much about entertainment to ignore scandalous content—an implicit recognition of the importance of film and perhaps an admission that they liked popular entertainment, but didn’t like their faith being mocked or distorted. And there was a growing awareness of the need to pay attention to the ideas and assumptions behind the entertainment. So culture-watching became an expression of discipleship, but mostly in the sense that "we’ve got to do this to protect our impressionable kids since Hollywood won’t do it for us anymore."

But a new movement among Christians who wish to influence culture for good through film is growing. In Behind the Screen, several of these believers to comment on what it means to apply a Christian worldview to their work in cinema:

The book's editors, Spenser Lewerenz and Barbara Nocolosi, are directors of Act One, a program whose mission it is to train Christians to write for Hollywood. This is a very different goal than seeking to avoid Hollywood’s taint by setting up a separate (and futile) Christian film counter-colony. Attempts to create self-marginalizing communities have demonstrated how such efforts usually produce less-than-professional results that, despite claims of evangelistic intent, play to the choir rather than to a larger mainstream audience...

One of the chief obstacles many Christians see is that Hollywood’s secular worldview of success, as defined by material rewards, acclaim of one’s peers clashes, and public adoration, clashes with the Christian ideals of morality, service, and the necessary exclusiveness of their faith... In an essay called "The Great Divide," Ron Austin, a Roman Catholic and veteran screenwriter for film and television, explores the inherent conflicts between these two mindsets by casting them as characters in a story whose antagonists must move toward some sort of reconciliation for the plot to resolve satisfactorily...

Karen and Jim Covell's "The World's Most Influential Mission Field" makes an appeal to Christians that part of being in Hollywood is the opportunity to cultivate relationships that can engender an openness to share one's faith...

James Scott Bell, who teaches screenwriting and fiction at Pepperdine University, contributes a chapter titled "In Defense of the Christian Movie Buff." He exhorts us to admit that, after a century of film's entrenchment as a major shaper of culture, there is much to love and appreciate about movies..

[F]or those who do believe they are called to go to Hollywood, screenwriter Janet Scott Batchler, in "So You Wanna Come to Hollywood," offers a reality check. She examines both right and wrong motives for coming to Tinseltown and provides offers wise warnings about the greater difficulty Christians will face in a community long famous for breaking the heart of many an ambitious and talented person...

And so on. The essays try to be both practical and philosophical says Alex. Rather than sit back and boycott all things Hollywood, the book asks us to:

Imagine what would happen if more creative people in Hollywood began basing their characterizations of Christians based not on the frequently obnoxious culture warriors attacking them, but from the Christian who works down the hall from them at the studio.

Read the complete review:  Light of the World, Camera, Action