This world just keeps getting curiouser and curiouser. Paul Laur, the marketing guy who pitched the Christian world The Passion of the Christ and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, among others, is now sending out email blasts to Christian leaders asking them to check out a film that may surprise you – Rocky Balboa. Yes, Sylvester Stallone is back in the ring one more as a somewhat aged boxer gunning for one more title. Or is it the story of a somewhat aged actor gunning for one more movie? Regardless, you may be surprised to hear that Sylvester Stallone has been holding conference calls with pastors to talk about the spiritual themes of his new film, as well as his own spiritual journey.
Here's a quote from Rambo himself: "The more I go to church, and the more I turn myself over to the process of believing in Jesus and listening to His Word and having Him guide my hand, I feel as though the pressure is off me now."
Is he genuine? Well, he certainly could be. I'll leave that call in God's lap, thank you. What I find fascinating is the way his new film is being pitched to pastors as a teaching device. Though acknowledging Rocky Balboa isn't a "Christian film" per se (and the question of what is and isn't a Christian film may be the subject of a future blog), Paul Laur's company has, nonetheless, prepared a "Leader's Guide" so youth pastors can lead their teens in rousing discussions about the film's spiritual themes after, of course, buying large blocks of tickets.
If I sound a little skeptical, I apologize. There is clearly a gold rush mentality in Hollywood right now, as studio executives hollar "There's gold in them thar pews!" and scrutinize their films for "Christian market potential." This, in turn, has created a cottage industry of experts and consultants who can unlock the gates to churches across the country, giving Hollywood access to Christian America by influencing pastors and other key church leaders.
In the end, it all leads to some very strange situations, such as when I attended an advance screening of The Passion with Mel Gibson and 3500 of my closets friends at Willowcreek Community Church outside Chicago, and, after the screening, when one of the Christian-market promotional executives took the stage for the 'hard sell' ("You need to buy blocks of tickets for your churches!"), Mel Gibson became so uncomfortable with the proceedings that he literally could not remain on the stage. He jumped off the stage and found an empty seat in the auditorium, where he remained until the marketers were finished. It was as if a voice inside him was saying, "My business people tell me I have to do this, but it makes me feel dirty."
Steve Taylor's song "Whatever Happened to Sin?" includes the line "If you need supportin', tell them that you're born again." Steve was, at the time, referring to the political scene of the mid-1980's where being "born again" had suddenly become a great way to win votes. He could have been referring to present-day Hollywood, as the studios clamor for Christian coin.
Is it all bad? Of course not. The interest in the Christian audience is creating new opportunities for Christian filmmakers. But when all of a sudden everything from The Polar Express to Flicka comes with a Christian Leader's Guide and a pitch to pastors, it does make me wonder how far ministry can be seperated from sincerity before the ministry becomes useless. Before the salt loses its saltiness.
Oh – did I mention? Rambo IV is about to go into production. Can't wait to see the Leader's Guide on that one.