Things Christians Get Wrong About Hollywood
I was a pastor’s kid, but I loved great movies. I would sit in chapels on Sundays and theaters on Thursdays. I was taken with the stories I read about Jesus in my Bible and the ones I watched on my TV. I never saw these loves as conflicting, but many others in my faith believed Hollywood and faith were incompatible, that Hollywood was a place of only darkness and creeping “secularism” with a secret agenda to corrupt our world and poison our hearts. These views became more deeply entrenched with every tabloid story about an actor struggling with addiction, a starlet taking off her clothes for cameras, and famous couples being caught in adultery. But to me, it was the place where all the great stories of our time were being told, and I loved stories. Besides, the shocking news that came out of Hollywood didn’t seem all that different from what I had seen in my own church.
So I moved to Los Angeles to begin my career as an actor in the entertainment industry, where I have been now for more than a decade. When I arrived in Hollywood, I had so many images in my head formed by misconceptions Christians held about the city that when I set foot on a real movie set for my first acting role, I was prepared to meet an evil group of people who would try to lure me away from my faith and into a life of debauched living and destructive behavior. Instead, I found imperfect people who loved great stories and were trying to make sense of life through them.
Christians and Hollywood have had a difficult relationship for almost a century. As Hollywood became larger and more culturally influential, the church retreated further out of mainstream culture into their own tailor-made subculture where there has been a process of myth-making by Christians about Hollywood. As someone who loves and has experience with both the church and Hollywood, I want to explore a few of the biggest misconceptions Christians often hold about the infamous place we know as Hollywood in an effort to inspire hope for an often misunderstood place and people.
1. We’re Better Than Them
First, believing you’re better than other people is something Jesus frequently said not to do: “Let you who are without sin, cast the first stone.” Jesus spent much of his ministry engaging with, talking to, and loving the people whom most in his society considered “unclean” and “sinners.” He also, in a plethora of passages, admonished the religious of the day for their prideful, arrogant, and hard hearts.
I was often surprised at the humble, open hearts I came across on set or at auditions. They were more aware of their mistakes and need for help than many Christians I had encountered who seemed more concerned with proving their goodness than admitting their sin.
The same brokenness that exists in the non-believers in Hollywood exists in people who go to church. The same sins of pride, ego, lust, anger, gossip, dishonesty, and destruction I found in Hollywood I had also seen in my church and in my own heart.
We all need God’s grace and mercy, the pastor in the pulpit and the actor on the screen, the people in the pews and the ones on Sunset Boulevard.
2. We’re Going to Show Hollywood
There’s a popular phrase that has, in the past ten years, been attached to almost every “Christian” movie that’s been released: “We’re going to show Hollywood.” It’s a statement born out of a belief that if we make a movie and then we all go see it, the movie will make a million dollars and Hollywood will suddenly take us and our faith seriously. But at best, this sentiment is tribalistic hyperbole with the aim of getting the world’s attention and adoration, something that didn’t interest Jesus. And at worst, it’s a marketing tactic for the purpose of making money or gaining social power disguised as a spiritual movement—something I remember Jesus had a few thoughts on while he tossed tables in a temple.
I wonder if instead of trying to “show Hollywood”—a phrase that promotes antagonism towards an “other”—our goal when making a faith-based film should be to connect, understand, love, and win the hearts and minds of lost people with the beauty of the gospel, which literally means “the good news.”
I remember when one of the first big Christian movies came out. While Christian blogs celebrated our relevance in culture, I sat on a secular movie set eavesdropping as the crew laughed at its irrelevance to their lives and the condescending tone it took towards people who held different beliefs. It made me sad that we had missed a chance to reach their hearts. But I think that would change if we shifted our goal from “showing them” to “reaching them.”
3. They Have a Secret Agenda
One of the most prevalent critiques of Hollywood in the Christian blogosphere and comments sections is that they are out to destroy our culture and corrupt our souls and that they have an unspoken agenda to take us down. This belief is predicated on the idea that they are thinking of us at all. In my experience, most of Hollywood is entirely uninterested and unaware of who we are or what we do until they read about how much we hate them and get rightfully defensive.
Is Hollywood a broken place? Absolutely. Is it part of a secret agenda to take down Christians? Absolutely not. Did I find that there was a secret conspiracy to go to war with our faith and morals? No.
I found an imperfect place filled with imperfect people, each created in the image of God and each (knowingly or not) chasing their desire for love, purpose, meaning, and significance that God himself placed in their hearts. I found darkness there, but it wasn’t limited to Hollywood. It often looked exactly like the brokenness I had experienced in my own church back home.
Of course, we can end up in bad places when searching for these things apart from God, and that is often what lies at the heart of the darkness that exists in Hollywood. But if we believe we have the answer to the fracture in the world, perhaps we’d be better off learning to lovingly help and connect with the people of Hollywood rather than judging and accusing them of conspiracies from the comfort of our pews and computer screens.
4. There Are No Christians in Hollywood
When I first decided to move to Hollywood, I received lots of well-intentioned concerns about how I would be outnumbered in a completely secular place monolithically filled with non-believers. But upon my arrival in Hollywood, I was pleasantly surprised to find countless faithful actors, producers, and writers in the city who moved there with the intention to create, shape, and inspire stories of redemption and truth. These Christian artists helped me see the city not as a place to run from and judge but as a city to reach and a people to love.
Many people have a heart for Hollywood and a desire to tell better stories about life, love, and God. I hope you’ll join me as I join them not in judgmentally separating ourselves but instead in engaging them with the love of God.
What Should We Do Now?
When the disciple Peter and apostle Paul established the early church, which ultimately changed the entire world, they didn’t stay safely hidden in sectarian enclaves, gossiping and creating rumors about the secular culture of the time. They traveled far and wide into the culture to share the message of redemption.
It’s easy to sit safely behind a computer screen and judge people based on our assumptions. It’s much harder but so much better to leave our ill-formed prejudices at the door and go out and offer love. Jesus told us to go into all the world and share the good news of his redemption and love, not to gossip about them from a place of ignorance. So let’s choose not to see Hollywood as a city filled with people we’re better than, people we’re going to “show,” or people who are out to get us. Instead, let’s do what God has asked and reach out, show understanding, and offer the love that all of us need.