Hollywood, the Pursuit of Power, and How to Impact the World
Living and working in Hollywood over the last year has been a roller-coaster ride. Once the revelations of movie producer Harvey Weinstein's sexual harassment and abuse began coming forward, the floodgates opened. For a while, it seemed like every week major media and entertainment power-players were being fired or stepping down, and like a virus, it has moved into the worlds of sports, politics, academia, and business.
But it's also moved into the church. Of all the places where you'd least expect someone to take advantage of others, much less harass and abuse them, we're now hearing more and more stories of pastors and other Christian leaders stepping down, and in some cases, criminal investigations may follow.
In the 19th century, John Emerich Edward Dalberg Acton, commonly known as "Lord Acton" said famously "Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely." But the truth is, for thousands of years, the Bible has warned believers of the dangers of power.
Over the last generation, Christians have become far more aggressive and intentional about achieving power – particularly in politics. After all, we have to admit the culture has taken some dark turns, and it's time to right the ship. If we can just influence the political process, our hope is that we can turn things around in time.
But as my co-writer Jonathan Bock and I did the research for our new book "The Way Back: How Christians Blew Our Credibility and How We Get it Back," we realized one of the most compelling aspects of the gospel message is that it undermines those in power. Jesus preached a message about a new kingdom—a kingdom not of this world. It was a message that challenged everything the religious leaders and Romans knew about the dynamics of power. That kind of challenge quite simply wasn't a message anyone with worldly power wanted to hear.
From the moment of Jesus's birth, Herod questioned the wise men who had come to honor this new king. He was suspicious that someone might challenge his throne and dispatched soldiers to seek out this newborn child. When he realized he'd been tricked by the wise men, Herod became furious, and he "sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men" (Matthew 2:16).
The news of the arrival of Jesus as a baby spooked Herod to the point that he was willing to kill every male child in the entire city in order to protect his own reign. The shepherds welcomed the Child. Wise men from other countries welcomed the Child. But the most powerful man in that part of the world was shaken to the core.
It wasn't just a question of power. It was a question of authority.
From the moment Jesus began His teaching ministry, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, people recognized that his man wasn't after power, He taught with authority. For local people living under the brutality of Roman rule, that was like water to a man dying of thirst. It gave them hope. It transformed the way they looked at this world and the next. But to those in power (who thought they had authority), it was a frightening message that could change everything.
And that message had to be stopped.
The past few months have reminded us that power isn't the answer. In Hollywood, many of the recent accusations have been made toward people who for the most part were pretty invincible in this industry. When it came to movies or television, these were men who could easily make or break careers, and have done just that for decades. But now, they are being accused and ridiculed in the national media.
Ultimately, "power" didn't protect them as much as they thought.
Most Christians would agree that when it comes to impacting our culture today we don't actively pursue "power" as much as "influence." But in the research for our book, we discovered that's not how the culture views us. We discovered that most of the criticism of Christians today comes from a perceived pursuit of power. We did an informal, casual survey of nonbelievers we work with in the entertainment industry about what they dislike about Christians. The single biggest response was about influence—but it wasn't what we expected. Instead of reporting that Christians were not influencing them enough, they said things like:
- "Stop telling me how to live my life."
- "I'm sick of Christians trying to push their agenda on me."
- "Don't tell me who I can marry."
- "Just leave me alone."
- "Stop shoving your message down my throat."
- "When did you become the lifestyle cop?"
After that experience, we looked it up in several different sources. Here are a handful of the words that could be used in place of the word influence: Power. Rule. Authority. Bias. Direct. Control. Instigate. Induce. Dominate. Persuade.
The truth is, even in our well intentioned efforts of trying to influence culture for the better, we must be very careful that we don't convey the pursuit of power. In so many ways, it's the exact opposite of the message Jesus preached, and yet it's the single biggest reason many non-believers push back from the message of the gospel.
In his book "The Jesus I Never Knew," Philip Yancey wrote: "As I read the birth stories about Jesus I cannot help but conclude that though the world may be tilted toward the rich and powerful, God is tilted toward the underdog."
It's a powerful reminder that when Christians pursue positions of power, it not only puts us in a dangerous position personally, but it creates a perception that can actually hinder our ability to share the gospel message.
But we want to change the world, so what do we do?
We lead. We inspire. We motivate. But most of all we love. And during it all, we should never forget to do it as Jesus did – in a Spirit of humility and service. Only then will we make the kind of mark that actually changes lives.