- - Wednesday, December 13, 2017

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

When I first arrived in Hollywood after college in 1976, it was tough finding anyone who would admit to being a Christian. Christians were here, but they were hidden away and rarely heard. With few exceptions, the pattern was predictable: If they were concerned about their job, they kept quiet about their faith. If they were at the top of the industry, they felt a bit more free to express their convictions. But only those retired or near the end of their careers felt the confidence actually “to come out” as believers.

The reason for these responses is pretty obvious. The “media culture” was devoutly secular or, in some cases, overtly hostile to the worldview of the devout.

Today, that world has changed. Not only are there thousands of people in Hollywood and New York media who take their faith seriously, but today, major film studios and television networks are actively pursuing “faith-based” content.

There’s no question that the success of Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” was a key to that resurgence. Once the studios starting seeing record-setting box office numbers (they called it “passion dollars” back then), they took notice and wanted in.

I remember one influential production company calling me about the issue, saying (and I’m not making this up):

“Phil, we’re interested in producing ‘faith-based’ movies because we hear there’s a lot of money to be made in that new genre. But the problem is, we have no idea what ‘faith-based’ means. We’ve been told that you understand that subject, and we’d like you to read a couple of our scripts and tell us if they’re faith-based.”

Needless to say, I read the scripts. Not surprisingly, they in no way fit the definition.

Fortunately, today that’s much less a problem. While many producers and studio executives don’t know the differences between faith traditions, they at least understand — and in many cases respect — the values this audience represents. Some even hire consultants who know the landscape.

For the most part, that change happened because of the vast number of Christians pursuing careers in the media and entertainment industries. I can name major producers, actors, directors and even studio presidents who were (and still are) professing Christians — mentored and encouraged by insider ministry outreaches like Mastermedia International, The Hollywood Prayer Network, The Greenhouse, the Act One Program, The Influence Lab and others.

Having a strong personal faith has moved from a reason to be fired to a reason to be promoted.

Obviously, there are plenty of nonbelieving leaders in Hollywood who aren’t interested in any religious experience or in those who profess it — just as there are in any industry. But right now, there’s no question that we’re seeing a resurgence of men and women who take their faith seriously in all areas of media.

For experienced, successful producers like Mark Burnett and Roma Downey (producers of “The Bible” TV miniseries, “A.D. The Bible Continues,” “Ben-Hur” and the new LightWorkers.com, which “celebrate[s] life while looking for the good in everyone and everything”), this gives faith-friendly projects a new legitimacy, and major players want to be involved. For others, it opens the door to pitch spiritually themed movies, TV programs and other projects.

For still others, it gets someone of faith in the room when major decisions involving this content are being made. One network TV writer who’s a Christian was criticized by other Christians because he worked on a series focused on violent demonic activity and the supernatural. His response: “Can you imagine where that series would have gone had I not been in the writer’s room to influence it?”

Will this interest in faith-friendly media content last?

The answer depends largely on the financial and ratings success of these projects and the talent of the people behind them. I have observed that those who lead with their talent — and not with their faith — see much more success. As King Solomon said, “Those who are excellent will serve the king.”

Christian believers who come to the industry with real talent and the spiritual integrity to pursue a career against all odds will get respect.

Virtues such as honesty, truthfulness, hard work, moral character and loyalty — which are central to the core beliefs of followers of Jesus Christ — are appreciated everywhere. It is thousands of men and women with these values who are impacting the industry in a positive way …. and will continue to do so.

Phil Cooke, Ph.D., is a filmmaker, writer, and media consultant based in Los Angeles. His new book is “The Way Back: How Christians Blew Our Credibility and How We Get it Back.” Find out more at philcooke.com.

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