Mark Burnett, Roma Downey: 'Friends Said We Were Idiots, Nobody's Gonna Watch 'The Bible'

Roma Downey
Producer Mark Burnett and actress Roma Downey, the husband and wife team behind the popular 2013 History Channel miniseries "The Bible," deliver the keynote address at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington February 4, 2016. |

Hollywood producers Mark Burnett and Roma Downey spoke at the National Prayer Breakfast as keynote speakers Thursday, recalling how their faith in Jesus led them to build their careers on "family-friendly franchises," and how their friends "warned" them against making "The Bible" miniseries.

The Christian mega-couple, who are behind the History Channel's "The Bible" miniseries, started their keynote address at the event in Washington, D.C. by talking about their "immigrant, blue-collar" roots.

Downey recalled moving to the United States from Northern Ireland as a teenager. Burnett, standing beside his wife, said, "It's very easy to divide people and it's very difficult to bring people together. We learned to become bridge builders. And bridge-building became our mission."

Downey added, "I know the power of a bridge from my own life's journey growing up in war-torn Northern Ireland. ... We are at a time in the world's history where there is so much pain and fear and division everywhere. And these divisions show up in race and in religion and in politics. The dividing lines are easy to find. The bridges to peace are harder to build. … May we all find our dividing lines and work until we've built our own bridges of peace across them. Perhaps a good place to start is to simply see the image of God in the eyes of everyone you meet."

She continued, "Like so many immigrants before us, this country has provided us with the opportunities to make our dreams reality. … I got to deliver a message of God's love to millions of people on national television. As a believer myself it was such an honor to share that there is a God who loves us and wants to be a part of our lives. We'd always pray a simple prayer on set, 'Less of me, God, more of you.'"

People's lives changed "thousands of times," she said.

Burnett added, "Our faith has, in fact, led us to almost entirely build our TV careers and film careers on family-friendly franchises," which received high ratings and "that's what matters in Hollywood."

"We took that leverage and said we wanted to make a brand new series called 'The Bible' on primetime TV," he said, noting that, "Of course, our friends told us we'd destroy our great careers … [that] we were idiots because nobody is gonna watch the Bible on primetime TV. But 'The Bible' became the most talked about television show in America, with 100 million of you watching."

Downey said far more important than the ratings were the stories of families sitting together in their living rooms watching 'The Bible,' "the stories of how God's love for us unfolded through the ages moved them and engaged them, because faith is and was alive and well in America."

"The series helped ignite a much larger conversation about God and faith in this country, and we were also humbled that people were inspired to see us, a Hollywood couple of producers, daring to speak out of our love of Jesus, daring to talk about our faith in God, and our sincere belief in the power of prayer," she added. "I can honestly say that I have never made a decision in my life, big or small, that I didn't pray about first."

She recalled that Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church in California once told her: "The scariest words a person can pray is, 'Lord use me,' because He might do just that."

"All we did was ask Him to use us," she said. "And use us, He did, trust me," said Burnett. "We've become America's noisiest Christians," he added, jokingly.

"The making of 'The Bible' series was covered in prayer every step of the way," said Downey. "We know that being in media comes with responsibility," she added, referring to Luke 12:48. "We are so pleased that our step of faith has reinvigorated faith and family programming in this country, and has hopefully inspired a whole new generation of artists to invest their talent in content that inspires and unifies. ... We believe it is far more effective to light a candle than to curse the darkness. That's what we try to do, we keep lighting candles in this dark, hostile and hurting world."

"On this day of the National Prayer Breakfast, we pray that with God's help, our world can heal some of the wounds that hurt us and the confusion that divides us. But it begins with us. Perhaps a good place to start is to see the image of God in the eyes of everyone you meet."

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