Hollywood: Turning the Christian Faith into a Marketing Gimmick

sylvester-stallone-rocky-photograph-c12142815.jpegI'm sure many of you have received the email:

Sylvester Stallone (as in, "Rocky") cordially invites you, as a leader in the faith and family community, to JOIN HIM ON THE PHONE LIVE…Sly would like to take some time to talk to you about the faith and values that run through the Rocky films, and share with you about his upcoming movie, Rocky Balboa, the final chapter in the Rocky story (yes, Stallone himself gets back in the ring!).

In interviews with various faith-based publications, Sly recently shared some of his thoughts about the Rocky character and faith:

"In Rocky, if he's just a fighter, then it's just a boxing story, and I told the producers in the beginning, 'It's not a boxing story; it's a spiritual journey. It really is about a man that has been chosen to accomplish a role, to be an example for other people.' "
Interview with New Man Magazine

Now I don't know Sly personally, but I have never seen his career marked by his Christian faith.  Has he publicly stated he's a Christian?  Is he really convinced that this film is a one that represents the Christian faith or anybody's faith?  Just because his character goes on a 'spiritual journey' does that mean wherever he ends up we should applaud the search?

Secondly, if the movie really is about the Christian faith, it is damning.  The Christian story isn't one where we see 'a man' come and live as an example for other people.   If Jesus only came to 'live as an example' we'd all be in a desperate position.  Jesus was more than an example, he was a savior who reconciled a people to God.  This type of thinking is the same perversion that portrays David as a boy who conquered Goliath and presents to Christians, "If you just have enough faith, you too can conquer the Goliath's in your life".  Was this the picture that David gave us?  I don't think so.  In the story of David and Goliath, we really are the Israelites who were unable to face our great enemy, who were afraid and needed a Savior.  David is a picture of Jesus who we all need in order to have victory.  This movie would only present a contradictory message of Christian faith.

Sadly, with the phenomenon of The Passion of Christ, Hollywood has their eyes wide open to exploit the Christian community for the purpose of money.  They are turning the Christian faith into a marketing gimmick. 

17 Comments
  • Darren Ethier

    November 23, 2006, 5:24 pm

    Well said! I thought the same thing when I received the email in my inbox. It follows the same predictable trend all such marketing ploys are following: 1. offer previews to popular Christian leaders (get their endorsement) 2. Create hype over the increased potential for “evangelism” using the film 3. Offer special tele-conference calls with a star from the film…etc.. Yes, Hollywood has definitely noticed the market potential in the Christian “network”.
    On the other hand, I’m not quite sure we should totally discount the value of these movies in the potential for redeeming conversations with culture – without buying into the scripted offerings by the marketing blitz.

    BTW – I wrote a similar post in my response to an ad for a Bible Translation I saw recently…

  • D. Goodmanson

    November 23, 2006, 7:18 pm

    Darren, I agree that we should use them to the fullest in redeeming conversations, just as long as we aren’t promoting them as movies that embody the Christian faith. Certainly characters, actions and plot points will reflect what God has called mankind to live out and we can use this as a bridge to conversations.

  • Darren Ethier

    November 23, 2006, 8:02 pm

    …just as long as we aren’t promoting them as movies that embody the Christian faith.

    I agree, therein lies the difficulty with so much of the marketing blitz surrounding “spiritually” themed movies – it seems that too many churches (and sadly pastors) are willing to jump onto the band wagon in promoting these things without really thinking about the message being communicated. Which is why I appreciated your article. We can engage culture with the language it uses but we must not forget to challenge culture through the transformational “verbs” of the gospel!

  • Michael Foster

    November 25, 2006, 1:01 am

    Fox has launched a new division dedicated to producing a 3-4 Christian-themed movies a year…I think its called Fox Faith. They should make a David Fairchild story similar to the one that was made about Nicky Cruz. It would be a nail biter.

  • Jason Pearson

    December 8, 2006, 11:14 am

    Disagree. You guys need to climb out of your Christian ghetto.

    1. Rocky is an inspirational film. Rocky is not a Christian film. Can we use a story, a parable as a “teachable moment” to communicate to both believers and reach out to unbelievers?

    Here’s a quote from that tele-conference:

    —————-
    Pastor Ken Baugh: …and Paulie was just Рthis look on his face when the camera panned on him, the regret that he had for not treating Adrienne as well as Rocky did in the film, and you just saw that regret, and I’m hearing from you now that there is a desire for you to leave a legacy, a spiritual legacy, to influence Hollywood with the scriptures and Christ.

    Sly: There’s no question about it, and I have been negligent I think in the past by not reaching out for the people that really also want this, and have the power to make it happen. As we know, Hollywood is somewhat of an isolated community and it is a money-driven community and I wouldn’t say faith is right up there at the forefront and people need to drive home that fact and though it may sound mercenary and self-serving, if we are to continue to do films like Rocky, like the Passion, like films that you can take your family to it, and by the way you can show year after year after year because the theme never goes away, then we have to go out and support it- that’s the only message they understand and though they supposedly, you know, are very liberal; what rules here, unfortunately, is success and it doesn’t matter in what form. Well, I think it does matter. Everything that I’ve done that has been bad deserved to fail, because it had no spiritual message – nothing. This one deserves to succeed because it has a message, that like you said, you can bring your child to and he can bring his child to it, long after I’m gone. And that is as long as you have, as Mickey says “an angel on your shoulder”, as long as you have Christ in your heart, there is no such a thing as losing. Period.
    —————-
    2. gimmick? hype? exploit? How would you spread the word that something is worth sharing or celebrating? If we want to make an impact on culture – we need to help culture makers get the word out when then do something good.

    3. ” if the movie really is about the Christian faith, it is damning” – It is ridiculous to say that a fictional character can’t inspire us like great painting or piece of music.
    Nobody has ever said that the character of Rocky is a direct represention of Christ. There is great stuff in this film that will help fathers relate to their sons, inspire doubters to achieve, show that anger can be diffused and forgiven, show that humility can win over pride. These are qualities that Jesus has taught us, and Rocky has embraced. This is not about putting your faith in Rocky.

    The story of Rocky has qualities which we can “take to heart.” I have seen this complete film and met Sly – so I can say from direct experience that this is not a campaign to hoodwink the church into selling movie tickets. I applaud MGM for making teaching clips available to pastors, creating inspirational leader materials for FREE! I applaud MGM from not shying away from Christians even at risk of getting lots of negative press.

  • Douglas

    December 8, 2006, 11:34 am

    Dear Pastor,

    Thanks again for reminding us how out of touch the church is with culutral relevance. In a era where Pastors download each others sermons, try toe become local Rock stars and work so hard to risk little – it is refreshing to see celebrities share there transparent jorney from fame and fortune to the downward slide…….where at the end of the slide, the only hand reaching out is that of Christ. That hand is without judgement, without concern for appearance or without concern for one’s baggage. Grace, I believe is the word. The unfortunate part of your article is that more frequently truth and grace are not found at our local church’s as they have been replaced by Pastors seeking fame and control, as if they were running a local family business. The Church and the message and hope of Christ have nothing to do with building’s but rather the need for a savior.

    I applaud the previous writer and all that he said. You need to get out of the Christian Ghetto and remember that reaching the lost with the Good news of Christ can come from men like Stallone who are strong enough to say….all I know is that I was blind and now I see! That is the story of what Christ can do. He reaches the broken, the hurting and most importantly those who say….i am lost and without hope. Help me – save me – i am a sinner are the tunes that Christ is looking to hear. If you miss the teachable moments from Rocky, then you indeed need to evaluate your definition of ministry and cultural relevance.

    I encourage you to get out of the Christian Ghetto. People are not afriad of Christ – They are afraid of Christians. Why is this the case? You tell me – you are the Pastor.

    Respectfully,

    J. D. M.

  • D. Goodmanson

    December 8, 2006, 12:02 pm

    Hi Jason and thanks for joining us. I’ve actually heard your name mentioned before in meetings with Todd Wilson & Brad Abare. But this is the first time we’ve formally had a chance to meet.

    Maybe my point isn’t clear, because I don’t believe Christians should live in a “Christian ghetto”. I think we agree with 1 & 3. I have no problem with (1) using the film as a bridge to engage non-believers or to (3) inspire us. My main point is that Hollywood, seeing the success of The Passion, will use ‘Christians’ as a viral marketing gimmick in order to promote their films. Even the quotes from Rocky don’t dispell that for me. He promotes a film with a ‘spiritual message’ and ‘faith’ but does that mean pastors should endorse it to their congregants? Sly says, “as long as you have Christ in your heart, there is no such a thing as losing.” Is this his way of telling Christians that they should just ‘have faith in something like the angel on the shoulder’ he mentions? Would he get on the phone to next religion and tell them to have their god in their hearts too? Certainly pastors should be able to view what is going on in our culture (film/art/music/etc) and help connect these myths and ideas into the grand story of God. But pastors should not be so naive as to ‘take this to heart’ and share ‘inspirational materials’ in our promotion of a film that is in direct opposition to the gospel message. Yet, inasmuch as pastors use this film with discernment, sharing it’s lies and using it’s positives accurately, I’m all for it.

  • D. Goodmanson

    December 8, 2006, 12:27 pm

    J.D.M, I’m pretty unaware how “The unfortunate part of your article is that more frequently truth and grace are not found at our local church‚Äôs as they have been replaced by Pastors seeking fame and control, as if they were running a local family business.” Are you saying my article correlates with the amount of grace/truth and local pastors seeking fame & glory, running a church like a family business only interested in a building?

    “You need to get out of the Christian Ghetto and remember that reaching the lost with the Good news of Christ can come from men like Stallone who are strong enough to say‚Ķ.all I know is that I was blind and now I see!” From all Stallone’s quotes, I haven’t seen him say anything as explicit as what you’ve posted. I may be wrong (I hope I am) but I’ve seen him mention faith, spirituality & inspiration, not his profession that Jesus Christ is Lord.

    J.D.M, It seems odd that you end your post ‘Respectfully” which contradicts the whole thrust of your message. You ask “People are not afriad of Christ – They are afraid of Christians. Why is this the case? You tell me – you are the Pastor.”

    I think this is the case because Christians are quick to judge, make rash comments, they often attack the person if they don’t agree with their position, do drive-by comments in life and aren’t speaking truth ‘in love’ but only to promote their own agenda.

    But I guess the same can be said for many people who post comments on blogs, including myself.

  • Jon

    December 8, 2006, 11:21 pm

    Pastor,

    with all due respect, I here what these people are saying loud and clear about Pastors today, the Christian Ghetto and blogging Host’s. It is pretty apparent that you have a slighty narrow view of what is being promoted and articulated by Jason and J.D.M. It sounds alot like the kid that is not included in the game, so he just ridicules the game and the players. It is easy to be a Monday morning quarterback, but from what i have read about this film, it is packed with teachable elements that can engage non believers into faith based discussions. I have read that several credible and trusted ministry leaders have met with Mr. Stallone, screened the film and have given their endorsement of it’s content.

    I guess this is the beauty of opinion. One person can see it as a opportunity to reach others, while others just sit on the sidelines and critque without substance.

    Jonathon

  • D. Goodmanson

    December 8, 2006, 11:40 pm

    Jonathon – Since I don’t know any of you I’ll choose not to respond, but you have made your point.

  • Gus Svendsen

    December 12, 2006, 4:28 pm

    (Drew, I look forward to speaking with you soon and collaborating with you as a “church technology missiologist.” I appreciate what you’re doing.)

    I love the dialog. Tag it as “Controversial.” It’s gotten so hot my laptop’s fan started crankin’!

    Gut check for us all. Um, even if it were misguided, Hollywood is not the only entity to exploit the church for money. Some churches are just as guilty of market cannibalism. Hollywood may simply be discovering what some people within our community have known for years. (Permanencer sentados, por favor!) Before you get the tar out…

    One man’s marketing gimmick is another man’s ministry strategy. So what is too far? For example, is it ethical for a pastor to launch his book at his own church? Should a church’s money and resources be spent on raising more money and resources? What about prosperity preaching?

    Why aren’t we equally as vocal to expose exploitive churches and church figures? Is it acceptable for “us” to find business opportunity in the church, but when “outsiders” try to do it, we panic and piss on the closest fire hydrant? (Sorry for the visual.)

    How can we objectively differentiate between the ministry and the marketing? Is it motive? Perspective? Personal gain? Greater good? What if Sly said he wouldn’t make a dime on the film because it all goes to his church – would that change our response about its content?

    Wow, clearly I’ve got more questions than answers. I’m glad it is not up to me.

    Thanks for the platform. Love the blog. Keep it coming brother!

  • Big Poppa

    December 12, 2006, 8:01 pm

    Jonathon,
    I find your remarks pretty offensive to the position that this pastor is offering. Do you realize your comments are actually sideline critiques themselves? Do you know this pastor? Do you know whether or not he’s just a sideline kind of guy or if he actually studies and thinks through cultural issues? I’ve been to his site and to his church’s site and they are pretty into using film and other cultural expressions to use as teaching moments.

    Your insults will probably not sit well with those they are directed to. Calling this pastor basically a kid on the sidelines is pretty ridiculous wouldn’t you say? Are you engaging this person in a teachable moment or just criticizing?

    Just because someone doesn’t agree with your take on this film does not make them more or less culturally astute. As a matter of fact, you will find plenty of critics of this film who will disagree, though many are well educated and articulate.

    What I took from this post is that we’re kind of tired of being marketed to just because we represent a currently popular demographic for moviegoers. Also, the gospel is not about pulling yourself up from your bootstraps and making your own way, but that someone made a way for us- namely Jesus the Christ who didn’t live as an example but came to live in our place. It’s not about redeeming yourself but about seeing that it is impossible to redeem anything without redemption being acomplished first for you. Vague, fuzzy, feel good faith themes are as popular in the religions of the world as they are in many Christian circles where we talk about faith without defining it, grace without recognizing the depth of it, and redemption without an appreciation of our own inability to accomplish it.

    Art is a wonderful and beautiful gift given to us to inspire us…this is true, and I have a very high view of the arts. I almost cringe at calling Rocky 467 a piece of decent art though, considering the last few (my own personal pet peeve!). The gospel allows us to recognize the beauty and horror of man. In any kind of art where the main promotion is man redeeming himself, I would have to concur with the author of the post that it is a false gospel, a counter gospel, which is no gospel at all. Sure we can read into this film whatever we’d like, but at the end of the day, the main thrust of the film is personal redemption through personal achievement. This my friends, is not the gospel. And let me add, nor does it need to be. I don’t expect Rocky to be a film about the gospel and faith that is definable (rather than the gooey faith in faith that is so popular in films). So, if I don’t expect it to be about the gospel, why would they feel the need to market us just because major themes like “faith” are in it? I guess this film should have been marketed to the Mormons, JW’s, Muslim’s, Hindu’s, etc…

    The bottom line is that I think we should engage in discussions about art and film, but let’s not make our own postmodern interpretations of the film where we think we can put our own meaning into it without unpacking and drawing out what the piece of art is actually communicating- Works based, nebulous faith, self-reliant redemption through pure will-power and acheivement. Now, if you think this is the gospel, there are bigger problems than our disagreement about this piece of art. If you think we can use this to show how the gospel differs from the pursuit of Rocky, great! Let’s go at it, let’s get to the heart of justification by faith alone apart from works. Then, then, we’ll have something worthy to discuss. Otherwise…Yo Adrian!

  • zac

    December 13, 2006, 7:34 am

    wow!

    it’s rocky seventeen, and he’s about 89 years old. i know people take themselves pretty seriously online, but…

    “it’s all just ones and zeros, people”

    did he say the one called as an example represented Jesus, or maybe just someone like a pastor?

  • D. Goodmanson

    December 19, 2006, 9:43 am

    Sly said he represented Jesus: In an online audio interview on the website http://www.rockyresources.com/, Sly explains how the character of Rocky, from the very first movie, has been some sort of Christ figure who is “chosen” by God to suffer on the road to redemption and be “elevated.” According to Stallone, at the end of Rocky Balboa, Rocky will be seen walking away, fading from view, and disappearing, as if he “ascended.”

  • Chris Robinson

    March 5, 2007, 7:33 am

    Mr. Goodmanson,

    Thank you for your blog and your desire to glorify God through it. Thank you also for having a voice that seems to speak with an understandable hatred for the injustice of the world through exploitation and deception. I think that you do it out of a heart that desires God and desires others to know the God that you know.

    After reading these responses, several things come to mind. The foremost is this, in the form of a question: “Who’s in charge here?” Is not God the Soveriegn of the Universe and does He not sustain every living person by the power of His Word (Job 34:14-15; Heb 1:3)? So what if Hollywood uses Christians as a “marketing gimmick”? How does Hollywood trump the One who maintains Saturn’s rings and breathes new life into dead men, and then sustain him all his evil days? If satan is a servant of Almighty God, why cannot Hollywood be as well? When we get wrapped up in the wrong, we forget easily the right–God owns Hollywood and every righteous and evil soul within it (Ez 18:4). It is His to do with as He pleases. And evidently He was pleased in these things happening: Mr. Stallone releasing Rocky, Mr. Stallone contacting religious leaders. He said some good things about our Lord, true things. He apparently looks to have had a life change. That is between him and God, and time will tell the making of his fruit. Until then, let us glorify God by thanking Him for exalting His brilliant Name in a very dark area of American life. Let’s go forward trusting God. All our responses to this are ultimately only to God–as praise, or as our judgement on one another (and in the end, our judgement of God’s work).

    Another piece of Scripture that comes to mind is God’s Word to us through Paul as he dealt with a certain deception in Philippi:

    15Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry [read: or to make a buck], but others from good will. 16The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.

    We have to remember that none of us are worthy of grace through Jesus. Paul knew the soveriegnty of God! He knew it when confronting this similiar issue. And all he wanted was Christ proclaimed! Yes, that’s it! In some measure (God has it weighed!), Christ is being proclaimed through Mr. Stallone. I live about 14,000 miles from where you live in a country that needs the Truth, employed by our Father for His work. It is so dark here that I must agree with Paul: whatever it takes to save men from hell, make it happen, Lord! Because He is precious and worthy and so many are so lost. Even if it takes fallible and foolish men like me to bring the Light. From beginning to end God choses to use men like us–me, you, and I believe Mr. Stallone ( 1 Co 1:27).

    I do not think some writers have treated you with the respect a brother in Christ deserves, and I’m sorry for that. Sometimes we forget our place before God. I will not tell you what you need to do! God knows I fail miserably with myself every day; you’re also not likely to know me, either–but I appreciate any response given to what I’ve written.

    May God continue to increase your capacity of your fulfillment in Him to His glory, through His grace.

    C. Robinson

  • Arjun Pakrashi

    August 16, 2008, 10:38 am

    Once can make a good and a bad meaning from one thing.
    One cannot think Rockey as a Christian movie if he is not mentally okay. Why the matter of religion come in such a great inspiring movie, which motivates you. Personally i do not believe in any religion, i do not know what was in the director’s mind, even the Christian centric concept was in his mind i wouldn’t have cared at all, because people following the Christian , Hindu, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist or any other religion are human and the movie motivates a human. And at the end of the day all the religious says the same thing, which is the core of the mankind.

    Please tell your views.

    Arjun Pakrashi
    India
    Kolkata

  • Jerry Dubats

    October 28, 2008, 11:44 am

    A miracle happened with proof that tells of our creators untold spectular story. I have a synopsis for a film that is different then my book. I need someone to help get this projcet underway. The film would generate more interest then the film the Passion of Christ. More important it give humankind a new understanding world wide. Things that have puzzled mankind through out time, making the connections so necessary to be meaningful.

    Jerry Dubats