Why Christians and Conservatives Should Engage Hollywood

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Joel Pelsue, co-founder and CEO of Arts & Entertainment Ministries, is a champion of quality Christian and conservative movies and TV shows. 

About 20 years ago, Pelsue says, he became frustrated with the lack of Christian discipleship within the arts community. As a musician, he knew that many artists were seeking Christian community, but didn't feel accepted by the church. 

Pelsue turned his frustration into motivation, and in 2004, he founded Arts & Entertainment Ministries with his wife, Michelle. 

“We are based in Los Angeles, and we mentor and disciple Christians who are engaged in [the] video game industry, film, television, writing, fine art, you name it,” he says. “If you're a creative, we're there to disciple you, and mentor you, and encourage you to be salt and light in the mainstream.” 

Pelsue joins “The Daily Signal Podcast” to discuss why conservatives and Christians should engage in the arts. He also explains how the political left uses movies and television to promote their ideology, and challenges conservatives to consider how they can be a positive influence within the entertainment industry. 

We also cover these stories:

  • At least two suicide bomb attacks outside the Kabul airport in Afghanistan kill 13 U.S. service members and at least 60 Afghans.
  • Republicans criticize the Biden administration in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in Kabul.
  • Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, a Democrat, announces a new indoor mask mandate, as well as mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations for K-12 teachers and staff, college professors and staff, college students, and health care workers.

Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript:

Virginia Allen: I am so pleased to be joined by the Rev. Joel Pelsue. He is the president, CEO, and co-founder of Arts & Entertainment Ministries in Los Angeles, California. Joel, thank you so much for being here.

Joel Pelsue: Thank you so much. Great to be with you, Virginia.

Allen: Let's just dive right in. Tell me a little bit about your organization, what you-all do?

Pelsue: OK. So, our organization is Arts & Entertainment Ministries. We are based in Los Angeles and we mentor and disciple Christians who are engaged in [the] video game industry, film, television, writing, fine art, you name it. If you're a creative, we're there to disciple you, and mentor you, and encourage you to be salt and light in the mainstream.

Allen: Now, you're a co-founder of the ministry. What's the history? How did you-all get started?

Pelsue: So, the co-founder, here's a big surprise, is my wife. My wife and I are both artists. She was a professional actress starting at age 15, both theater and film. I started playing orchestra pits at age 14. So I played clarinet, saxophone, flute, elbow, a few others. Grew up with that. And we both went to Westmont College in Santa Barbara, and we started leading artists to Christ.

We realized the church at that time really didn't know what to do with people with four earrings and purple hair and tattoos and sit next to you on the pew, much less what do they do once they become a Christian, stop making pagan or anti-Christian art, and they want to glorify God, but they don't want to do the Kincaid model or something like that, they want to go in the mainstream?

And one of my mentors later told me, “Sometimes what frustrates you with the church is indicative of your calling.” And that's true. It became a drive. I could see beauty in the Bible. God cared about these things, but there was a disconnect in the church. And so in seminary, other places that was a focus and eventually launched the ministry full-time in 2004.

Allen: That's a big mission to bite off this idea of, “OK, we're going to bring biblical principles, we're going to bring these truths into media.” And I think a lot of people can get behind that. Practically speaking, though, how do you actually do that?

Pelsue: Yeah, it's no small task. Well, one of the core issues we've found for the church, when I'm speaking to the church or speaking to artists, is there's a lack of theology and you can't live out something if you don't have the principles to believe them.

And when my wife and I [were] at seminary, my wife and I would sort of [fast] once a week, “God show us where it is in Scripture that we're missing.” And we came across Exodus 31. The first person filled with the spirit in the Bible is Bezalel. And so I went to the seminary library, those long tables. I pulled out about 12 commentaries. What do they say about this guy? And I found that most of the commentaries basically skipped the verse.

And it was crazy because I know in the New Testament, the first time you have a particular verb, Eris indicative, people would write a 100-page thesis. And yet here's the first person filled with the spirit of God—people skip him.

And then one commentary said, “Yes, he's filled with the spirit of God, but it's described in such detail, the artwork, that there's no creativity left for the artists.” And I want to throw the commentary across the room, but it was worth a couple 100 bucks, and I was a seminary student.

But what I saw there so clearly it is the modernism that has crept into our universities. We're looking for quantitative and qualitative statements in theology and art doesn't work that way.

So if you're drilled into that scholastic way of looking, then you just skip the artist because art de facto cannot have that much of an import into our theology. And yet what we discovered is the whole book of Exodus is God taking people from slavery in Egypt to a covenant relationship with the God who loves them. And a third of the book is artwork and it's incense.

And it's the priestly rose and it's the Ark of the Covenant with angel wings. It is elaborate, it is extravagant, and is all the senses. There's an incense, there's the anointing oil, the sounds of the animals, ox sacrificing, God activated all the senses.

So the arts are completely there when God created his own nation, his own culture. And so that was the place we began preaching on and teaching on that really seemed to help artists.

Allen: It's so fascinating. And so, so critical. We're talking with the Rev. Joel Pelsue. He heads the Arts & Entertainment Ministries in Los Angeles.

So, talk a little bit about the arts culture in Los Angeles and how really what we see come out of LA impacts the rest of America and the rest of the world. And why for you that was, “OK, I want to go there and I want to be a part of a movement of really influencing culture from the heart of where culture is influenced out of.”

Pelsue: Yes. Great question. And to clarify, we wouldn't be there and raising three children if we didn't believe God called us. But we went there knowing we have talent. We understand artists because we are artists and wanted to equip them. And it is challenging because the vast majority of people in LA are liberal, and politically it's gotten even more extreme as our country has become more divided.

One of the challenges we see, I remember when we moved there, reading an article [in the] LA Times, the Writers Guild was founded by socialists and communists who wanted to promote communism through film, through television.

And we had come there more to just free Christians to share their faith. And how do you communicate their faith in nuanced ways? Not evangelism, not these Christian movies, but in the mainstream, because it has the greatest impact. And it's hard.

There are many times, actors getting in a TV series, you sign a contract, you don't know what your character is going to do in three years. And so they're very difficult decisions. And I think the hard thing is, so many Christians have looked and said, “Well, you're going to get soiled,” or, “You're going to be compromised,” and you will, especially if you're not anchored in deep theology. But we need people there.

And every industry has its challenges. And as Christians, everywhere we go, there's going to be things that we screw up on and we need grace on, but we need to be there. And God transforms cultures through the arts, then God is going to use Christians and conservatives to transform the world through the arts as well. And we're seeing other industries pop up now, but it's essential that we're in the heart of the mainstream.

Allen: I've had the privilege of hearing you speak and talk a little bit about socialism and how these messages are really strategically worked into media. And I think that's something that from the outside we're maybe aware of, but as someone who's on the inside, who's very familiar with the film and media world, what does maybe the general public not know about the world of media, about the messages that are being pushed, and how far this goes back? I mean, is this just in the last 10 years that we've seen a massive agenda or is this from the beginning? What really are we up against as people who want there to be moral and conservative messages that are promoted in media?

Pelsue: That's a great question. Yeah. This is much deeper than 10 years ago. Even Ben Stein wrote a book called “The View From Sunset Boulevard,” I think is the title. It's out of print. But even back when he lived then in LA, when he was on “Ferris Bueller's Day Off” famously, he interviewed a bunch of writers and he realized even back then that 90% of the writers on TV all came from the same university with the same worldview that was pretty much socialist, communist mentality.

So the businessmen were always the bad guys, even back then, in “Columbo” and all these detective shows. The business owners were the problem and the poor were always victims. The police, it was half and half.

Ben Shapiro wrote a book, I think around 2000, did a similar thing. Before people knew who he was, he could say, “I'm a Harvard student and I've got this Jewish name,” and they just spill their guts to him and repeated the same experiment.

So it's been clearly documented, but no, this is going back 50, 60 years of people intently putting in little themes of communism, of socialism, of anti-entrepreneur, anti-small business people.

And I think it was Ben Shapiro who even asked one of the head writers for a TV show, “What if you made a businessman, an entrepreneur good?” And the guy said, “Well, that doesn't make any sense.” Like it was unthinkable to have a positive view of real capitalism or entrepreneurship. And this is what is stunning. The American public doesn't realize how ingrained this is.

And so we need more—there are Christians in LA, there are Christians in the industry, but we need, on a TV show, we need to have the writers to be conservative if we're going to make an impact. And so we need more and more people that are willing to do [that].

It's hard work and you're going to work with people you disagree with vehemently, but it's a noble task because the influence, we're exporting these TV shows around the world and little children are watching these shows. So it's critical that we're there. We can't give up because it's difficult. We can't give up because it's going to be complicated and hard. We need to go because this is strategically important.

Allen: Joel, is anyone doing this well? Are there any media companies or specific movies or TV shows that you can point to and say, “OK, they've got it, they're doing it professionally. They're promoting a good, solid message that we can get behind. We just need to kind of emulate that and perpetuate it further”?

Pelsue: That's a great question. There are people that are doing a good job inside some of the larger studios writing for some of the major productions, but I can't give you their names.

But I think some of the real strategic things lately for producing great content have been outside the system, whether it's crowdfunding in the Christian sector, like “The Chosen” video series, and they're raising millions of dollars, that's happening in video games and also in board games. There are other companies like Christian Cinema or others that are producing films.

They're just outside the system because they don't want that one unique sexual viewpoint thrust upon their script last minute and change the whole meaning or subverting a pro-capitalism, pro-free economy concept where the studios will change the meaning at the last minute.

So there are some studios outside. I'll be interested to see what Ben Shapiro and his group produce. They're producing movies, and we need more people with savvy to produce movies.

Sadly, there've been Christians, wealthy Christians, throwing money at some movies. And it's sexy to be involved and, “Oh, I produced a movie,” but we need more savvy, I've consulted for many of these people, we need more savvy investors to really understand the industry. How do you get a return on the investment? It's still the entertainment business and you've got to be shrewd. If it was easy, everybody would be doing it.

Allen: As a conservative myself, as a Christian, I think you can look at the entertainment industry and it just feels, it feels overwhelming. For anyone who has a passion either to be an actor or to be behind the camera, to produce, and they're kind of weighing, like, “OK, do I want to weigh into this field and either have to kind of live two separate lives and not really let people know who I truly am or I just give up this dream?” What is your advice for people who have a passion for this industry, but they are conservative, or they are Christian, and they're really worried about entering this field?

Pelsue: Great question. My wife and our Arts & Entertainment Institute that we teach now online, we've done in London and LA, she teaches a whole series on Daniel. And I think the life of Daniel is the ultimate model. You have to come in saying, “Am I willing to count the cost, bite my tongue several places?”

Because Daniel worked under four kings, three different kingdoms, as a No. 2 guy. We don't know all the times he had to say nothing or just advise, “Let's try a different approach,” but he couldn't really share his faith or couldn't really promote fearing Elohim. So I think that's one of the models.

The other thing we tell people that come in—we have one of our guys, he's been on the board of the Screen Actors Guild, and you've seen him in all kinds of stuff, a working actor. But he tells people—he mentors people coming in, young actors—”How long are you going to give it?” And these young women and men come in, “I'll give it 18 months, three years.” And he says, “Then just don't call it a … career. Just have fun, explore LA, and go home and do a few background gigs.”

Because as I say, it takes eight years to become an overnight success. This is the long haul. You've got to come here, and it's expensive to live in Los Angeles. So go to a church, find roommates, find a support network, get plugged in, because that's a necessity. You need that support.

But you've got to say, “I'm going to be here eight, 10 years.” And crafting excellent is a given. If you don't want to work hard at the craft, don't come. You've got to be the best. Like Steve Martin said, “Be so good they can't say no.” You need to be that excellent and be on time and all those kinds of things. And really work to be creative about how you approach the industry, how hard you hustle, all those things everyone else is doing, and stay true to your faith in the process.

And if you come, come to us and we'll disciple you and mentor you how to be shrewd. Because Jesus said, “Be innocent as doves and shrewd as serpents.” And that's something Christians need to understand better. How do you be shrewd? Be wise, be smart on how you approach things. Be a good negotiator. Get a good attorney who's going to put the right clauses in your contracts so you don't get surprised with a nude scene or something else in season three that you didn't want to do. Get the right attorneys. All those little things are so important.

Allen: So if someone is listening to this and they're thinking, “I've had this dream to go to LA and pursue this,” they can contact you-all and you-all will kind of help, just at least give them some tools for, “OK, this is maybe some first steps you want to take for how, as a conservative, as a Christian, whatnot, you can enter this space and kind of know what you're getting into”?

Pelsue: Yes. And we have a network of other ministries that we connect with that we can refer them to for some of those dynamics. But yeah, they contact us, we can start training them right away and give them resources. Now, we have online courses. But yeah, our heart is to equip those people. How do you be salt and light in these very difficult but strategic places?

And the good news is he that is in you is greater than he that is in the world. God … if he calls you, he will give you the strength. He will give you the wisdom. He will give you that steel spine that you need, like Esther, in those difficult positions where maybe beauty got you in the door, but now you got to do something risky. And so you go in that confidence, but be wise. Yeah. Contact us, Arts & Entertainment Ministries, go to our website, and we would love to help you.

Allen: What exactly is on the line here? If we don't really engage in this entertainment space and if we just kind of step back and don't put a stake in the ground here, what happens?

Pelsue: Then we'll get more of what we've already gotten. I mean, it becomes a retreat mentality and we become a Christian ghetto. We cede everything and we will pull back to living in a Christian ghetto and we will give the entire culture over.

But the problem is it's not a ghetto where we can build high enough walls to keep them out. They will still keep pumping content through our iPads, through our iPhones, through our headphones, to all of our children. There's nowhere you can go and just say, “I'm free from this,” unless you completely unplug.

We have to engage. And not just for our own children, for the world.

These TV shows, these films, they're going to China, they're going to India, they're going to Third World countries. They're going to us, all the way across the world. They love America. They love American media. And so, if we don't engage, we're retracting our voice and saying, “We don't think it's important to be salt and light to the rest of the world through this media that everyone is consuming.”

Allen: Joel, thank you. Tell us again your website, how individuals can get involved and how they can support the work that you're doing.

Pelsue: Great. Yeah. So our website is www.a-e-m.org. You can go there. We have a YouTube channel, we have blogs, we have online courses, and you can email us there and we would love to help you. If you want to support our work, there's a place to donate on that page and you can help artists be equipped to be salt and light and be shrewd as serpents and make a difference for the kingdom, for conservative values, and for the Gospel.

Allen: Great. Joel, thank you so much. Really appreciate your time.

Pelsue: Thank you so much, Virginia.

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