Denzel Washington's Ministry of Movies
The star tells us how he studies the Bible daily, prays every morning and night, and sees his films as a form of preaching.
BY: Interview by Michael Kress
Denzel Washington is one of America'smost beloved
and critically acclaimed actors. A two-time Academy Award winner, Washington this week received a Golden Globe nomination for his role in "American Gangster," which also was a nominee for best drama, along with Washington's most recent film, "The Great Debaters
." His second directorial effort, "The Great Debaters" also stars Washington as Mel Tolson, a professor at a small African-American college in 1930s Texas who coaches the school's debate team to national prominence while also working as a union organizer on the side.
Listed second on Beliefnet's "Most Powerful Christians in Hollywood
" list, Washington also lent his voice to "The Bible Experience," an audio Bible featuring some of the country's top African-American stars. He spoke with Beliefnet about his relationship with God, a long-ago prophecy about his career, and why he made a film about a debate team.
Why did you make a movie about a debate team?
A good story is a good story. And this was a good one. It was one that moved me when I read it. It's sort of like "the little train that could," the "David against Goliath." It was just a positive and inspiring story that Oprah Winfrey's company [Harpo Films] had bought. They believed in it long before I got involved in it. And when I read it, I was equally moved and decided to do it--to direct it, and act in it.
In the movie, while arguing with the theologian Dr. Farmer, your character says, "Jesus was a radical." Is that a statement that you agree with?
In a way, Jesus was a radical. The character's point being that he came in, cleaned out the temple.
What role does Jesus play in your own life?
I was raised in the church. My father was a minister for 60 years. And I've been a member of West Angeles Church of God in Christ for, now, about 27 years, since I've been out here in Los Angeles.
I open the film with a prayer and end it with praise. The spiritual aspects of the film weren't even necessarily in the screenplay. But I added those. It was my desire to start the film with a prayer.
Why was it so important to put spirituality in it?
Because spirituality is important in every aspect of my life. I mean, that's why I'm here. That's what I've been blessed to do.
|'My Work Is My Ministry'|
When I was about 20 years old, when I first started acting, I was sitting in my mother's beauty shop. And a woman just kept looking at me. I was looking in the mirror, and I saw her across the room. And she said, "Someone give me a piece of paper." And she wrote down a prophecy. She said that I would speak to millions of people, and I would travel the world and preach to millions of people. And I didn't know what she was talking about. But this was March 27th, 1975, 32 years ago now, almost 33 years ago.
So my work has been my ministry. In fact, I asked my pastor, years ago, "Do you think I should become a minister or a preacher? And he says, "Well, that's what you're doing already." And he felt, as I feel, that that's what she was talking about back then.
I've always understood why I've been blessed to be put in this situation. And I'm more than happy to take advantage of it and to preach, if you will, about what God has done in my life.
How did being the son of a pastor help you prepare for this career?
I don't know. When I was young, actually, it was an obligation. You had to go. It wasn't necessarily what I wanted to do. But I lived in church morning, noon, night, weekends, Sundays, every day. So there was a time, between that time and as a young adult, where I moved away from the church because I was obligated to go. And I just found my way back, maybe 30 years ago, at 27--30 years ago, when I came out here.
How would you describe the role of prayer in your life today?
Even this film--every major decision I made, I made through prayer, about who I was picking to be in it, what it was I was trying to say, praying that the film was saying the right thing and that it would reach the right people. It's every aspect of it. Every aspect of it. It's how I start every day, and it's how I end every day.
What sort of prayers do you say?
There's a lot of thank you's. A whole lot of thank you's.
I started, I don't know how many years ago, just reading the Bible from cover to cover. And started with the New Testament and went back to the Old Testament, and went back to the New Testament. In fact, today I just finished the Book of Acts, where Paul is back in Rome and living in Rome and preaching, teaching. So that's how I start my day every morning.
Do you have a favorite biblical story or Bible book?
I don't know if I have a favorite. Right now I'm with Paul. So, I'd say that's my favorite.
Every year our pastor suggests that we start the New Year by reading the Book of John. So I think I'm going to do that the first of the year. But there's so many great stories. I couldn't pick one.
Do you have a favorite prayer you can recite for us?
One that we start the film with, that my mother always says, is:
"Heavenly Father, we come before thee, knee bent and body bowed, in the humblest way that we know how."
I always liked that. That's something that I've always remembered, and I promised her that I would share. So I'm proud to have the opportunity to share that.