I’ve discovered that since the beginning of the motion picture industry, the relationship between the Christian church and Hollywood has been marked by distrust and suspicion. In the early years, many Christians regarded Hollywood as a godless, sybaritic group of pretentious artists engaged in the manufacture of questionable content dangerous to people of faith. Likewise, many in Hollywood dismissed religious people as old-fashioned, judgmental, ignorant prudes who simply did not understand “The Industry.” So it’s not surprising to me that creative Christians felt Hollywood was a place to be avoided, not embraced.
Therefore, there were very few Christian professionals in Hollywood and most of them chose to keep their faith under the radar with their industry friends and keep their Hollywood ties under the radar with their church friends. Jesus and liberal Hollywood were a paradox.
But the tide of tolerance shifted into the 21st century. Today, in a time when the decision makers and cultural influencers in Hollywood are speaking out for more diversity and equality, people of faith are becoming more comfortable expressing their beliefs, thus growing in number and visibility. Even faith-based films are crossing over from low-budget niche films to viable commercial successes, and more filmmakers are publicly expressing their personal religious beliefs. I’ve found that there’s no longer that deep divide between the Christian church and the entertainment industry, which kept people of faith away from Hollywood and Hollywood professionals away from church.
In 2015, IMDb (Internet Movie Data Base) even published a list of 48 Christian Actors/Actresses. (http://www.imdb.com/list/ls079597244/). No. 1 was Evangeline Lilly (“Lost”), followed by Jim Caviezel (“Person of Interest”), then Patricia Heaton, Tyler Perry, Elijah Wood and even Ryan Gosling. I found at least 20 more websites, all of which have various lists and even videos of entertainment celebrities who publicly discuss their Christian beliefs — from Chris Pratt to Kristin Chenoweth to Chris Tucker. I’ve also read interviews about Stephen Colbert and John Grisham teaching Sunday school classes, Mark Wahlberg attending mass every morning, and Denzel Washington’s commitment to his family and God. And those don’t even include the thousands of directors, producers, writers, editors, cinematographers, show runners, make-up artists, set designers, costumers, gaffers, key grips and production assistants who have a deep spiritual belief in God.
Seventh-Day Adventist producer DeVon Franklin (“Miracles From Heaven” and “The Star”), and his wife, actress Meagan Good, (“White Famous” and “Code Black”) have even written a best-selling book, “The Wait: A Powerful Practice for Finding the Love of Your Life and the Life You Love,” discussing the deep, loving relationship they built while waiting to have sex until after they got married.
It was about 1980 when the tide started turning for Christians in the film industry. Though Hollywood’s power brokers have historically been Jewish, more Christians began to join the ranks, despite their parents’ or pastors’ warnings and pleading. Once they arrived, they started finding each other in churches, Bible studies, prayer groups and even bars all over the city. They encouraged their talented, creative friends to join them, and from seemingly just a handful in the early 1980s, there is now a growing community of over 10,000 professionals — mostly millennial believers — many of whom attend more than 100 active Protestant and Catholic churches.
Despite our nation’s many political, sexual, and religious tensions and divides, Hollywood is now surprisingly on the forefront of employing people of all faiths within its ranks. But for those who are still struggling with this paradox, consider this thought: To the Church, don’t be afraid of Hollywood. To Hollywood, don’t be afraid of entertainment professionals who have a faith in Jesus. To both, know that people of all faiths can work together as creative professionals, offering their art and their hearts to the world. As a producer and a person of faith myself, I dare to challenge both the church and the industry to embrace the paradox on my refrigerator magnet that says, “Jesus was a Jewish liberal.”
• Karen Covell is an author, national speaker and independent producer currently packaging the feature bio-pic, “Charley Parkhurst.” She is also an active member on the National Board of the Producers Guild of America and Executive Director of The Hollywood Prayer Network (http://hollywoodprayernetwork.org/).
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