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Apply Your Findings

Ask your students one or more of the following questions:

[Q] Besides Hollywood, what are other areas of our culture in which Christians are trying to bring salt and light to people that seem hostile to gospel values?

[Q] How can believers support Christians in these environments?

[Q] What do you find most difficult about trying to be salt and light in your workplace or neighborhood?

[Q] Who do you know who has been a good example of this. Why?

[Q] Is there a place in the believer’s life for a silent witness, the kind represented by the view that excellence in the workplace is a testimony to God? Why or why not? If yes, give an example.

[Q] Do you know any Christians whose stand for Christian principles at home, school, or work was risky?

A Handout for Further Study

Hollywood Disciples

Even when they’re writing fiction, these Hollywood insiders bring the truth to bear.

Reflect on 1 John 2:15-17.

In this epistle, the believer is warned against setting his affections on the world and worldly things. The writer uses “world” to connote the polluted society and systems in which human beings live. In the article, the screenwriters live in a city and work in an industry that many would decry as a source of cultural pollution.

Read the passage again, substituting “Hollywood” for “the world.”

What influences must you be careful of in your own setting, occupation, or lifestyle?

Pray for Christians in Hollywood and people in positions of influence. Pray about guarding your own heart.


Cinema Verities

Even when they’re writing fiction, these Hollywood insiders bring the truth to bear.

By Marshall Allen, for the study “Hollywood Disciples.”

Brian Bird’s call to live for Christ in Hollywood came while watching Fantasy Island on a hotel television in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. But this was not just any installment of Fantasy Island. Bird himself had written this episode four years earlier. It was the only script he had sold before his screenwriting career had fallen by the wayside. Randomly catching the show on the other side of the world revitalized his desire to work in the entertainment industry.

“It was a crystal moment for me,” says Bird. Although he considers Fantasy Island a “lame show,” seeing it in Africa helped him realize that TV shows may also have potential for the advancement of “life and faith-affirming messages.”

“I fell to my knees and said, ‘God, put me back in the game,’” Bird says. “I just felt that Christians had to be at the table.”

God answered Bird’s prayer. Now, 14 years later, he works as senior writer and co-executive producer on CBS’s highest-rated drama series, Touched by an Angel. The “show about God” is seen in 200 countries every day, Bird says.

Bird is part of a small minority of Christians working in Hollywood. But he, Karen Hall—a writer for the television show Judging Amy—and Ralph Winter—a producer whose credits include X-Men and the remake of Planet of the Apes—are three Hollywood insiders who strive to integrate their faith and art without compromising the integrity of either one.

Broadcasting faith

Early in her career, while writing for shows like M*A*S*H and Moonlighting, Karen Hall was an agnostic. When she committed her life to Christ five years ago, her reputation as a Hollywood writer was solid.

Since her conversion, Hall has observed a couple of factors that stoke Hollywood’s anti-Christian sentiment: the exclusivity of Christianity in a world that stresses inclusiveness and many pop-culture executives’ ignorance regarding religious people and their faith.

“On TV it’s a big deal if a character goes to church” because in Hollywood people in power aren’t religious, Hall says.

But the anti-Christian forces within Hollywood aren’t the only ones who criticize Christians in film. According to Robert Johnston, professor of theology and culture at Fuller Theological Seminary and author of Reel Spirituality, there are three types of Christians in Hollywood:

those who use the workplace as a forum for evangelism

those who bring biblical values and insight into the workplace

those who see professional excellence as their calling and testimony to God.

“Which is right? All three,” says Johnston. “There are evangelicals in Hollywood who would center their activity in each of those categories, but often when other Christians think of Christians in Hollywood, they’re only thinking of the first category.”

Hollywood, on the other hand, is primarily concerned with entertainment, not content, says Winter, who spoke with Christianity Today from the California desert where he was working on the recent remake of Planet of the Apes.

A frequent problem for Christian screenwriters is being more focused on sharing an evangelistic message than on following the structural principles of good storytelling, Winter says. The result is stories that are more Christian cliché than compelling.

“If you want to get into screenwriting because you want to convert people, it’s the wrong reason,” says Winter. “My experience is that people who do that frequently leave the craft of screenwriting behind them.”

Johnston agrees. “Such a mindset doesn’t produce great screenwriters,” he says. “As in any artistic endeavor, one’s intention needs to be bringing to light and telling the story—it’s a piece of reality that must be told. If storytelling is a means to an end, and not an end in itself, then one will fail.”

Bird’s 1993 film Bopha!, which he wrote with John Wierick, is a story with biblical truth woven into its fabric. The film is set in South Africa at the height of the apartheid tension in 1980. It stars Danny Glover as a black police sergeant torn between his duty to his country and his relationship with his son, an activist in the anti-apartheid movement. Themes of social justice and redemption run throughout the film.

“It’s a father-son story in which the father is forced to arrest his son, only to realize the sin of his ways,” says Bird. “He has to shed his skin and is reconciled to his son. Even as the specter of more violence continues, true freedom has been born in both the father and the son.”

Bird also sees the Touched By An Angel strategy as a good model of integrating faith and art. He says that Martha Williamson, the show’s executive producer, is convinced that God must be Touched by an Angel’s star. Thus, the shows writer guidelines come right out of Scripture—every episode features biblical truths, and the angels are God’s angels, not reincarnated human beings.

And yet, some Christians wonder why Touched by an Angel doesn’t take its Christian message further.

“CBS is a broadcast network, not a narrowcast network,” says Bird. “But the beauty of our show is that it can appeal to people who aren’t Christians but who are searching for God. If we strictly identified our show as a Christian show, there would be a lot of people who wouldn’t tune in.”

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