Faith, Media & Culture

Here’s today’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith, media and culture.

Making a difference. With NBC’s A.D. The Bible Continues off to a solid start in the ratings, few would dispute that Mark Burnett and Roma Downey are at the head of the list of media innovators who, in various ways, are helping bring faith-fueled content and messages to the world. But there are others who deserve recognition who you may not have heard of. Here are eight of them:

1. Charley Humbard (President and CEO, UP TV) – The son of famed televangelist Rex Humbard founded the Gospel Music Channel in 2004 and rebranded it as UP TV in 2013. The savvy executive is steadily building a slate of programming that reflect and promote the values of his Christian faith while being accessible to a broad audience as, per the network’s slogan, Uplifting Entertainment.  While the network carries its share of classic shows (i.e. Dr. Quinn, Growing Pains, Touched by an Angel) it has quickly become a major provider of original content, including weekly TV movies, reality shows (Bringing Up Bates, The Holderness Family) and scripted fare. The family drama Heartland (a Canadian import) premieres its eighth season tonight (4/8) and Ties That Bind, a scripted drama produced especially for UP, is planned for this summer.

Below is a network promo for The Music in Me an uplifting (there’s that word again) musical drama about a small town girl who had given up her dreams of musically performing only to rediscover her joy of singing/songwriting as an adult through her work with a failing church choir.  The film, which stars singer/songwriter Debbie Gibson and E.R.’s Gloria Reuben (E.R.”), will premiere this Sunday (4/12) at 8:00 PM (ET). I’ll be posting a review later this week.

2. Margaret “Peggy” Kim (Founder, iStandtv) – The multi-award winning (including a Peabody) former History Channel exec is currently at work building iStandtv, an online TV streaming network aimed at bringing hip video content to young adults whose values aren’t particularly served by MTV.

3. Terrence Lovett (Founder and CEO, Christian Library on Demand/EnLive TV) – Lovett, a military veteran, launched his global Christian entertainment streaming video company as a means of utilizing emerging mobile and smart TV technologies to distribute Christian and family friendly content around the world. Lovett says he has created a Christian marketplace to access Christian and values-based consumers and is now actively seeking new content and program sponsors to build on his distribution system.

The Christian Library on Demand (CLD) streaming content is available through the Apple, Google and App Stores. The EnLive Smart TV App can be accessed on Smart TVs with Google TV, Samsung Smart TV Hub, & Yahoo! TV! For more info on Christian Library on Demand and EnLive TV click here.

4. Richard Scurry (V.P. Development/CFO, Bible Literacy Project) – Believing that ignorance of the Bible amounts to cultural illiteracy, Scurry co-founded the non-profit, non-partisan Bible Literacy Project with Chuck Stetson in 2001 to encourage and facilitate the academic study of the Bible in public schools. The group’s funding comes organizations such as the John Templeton Foundation, the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, and the William H. Flowers Foundation, as well as individual donors. In 2005, the Bible Literacy Project published The Bible and Its Influence which, according to the group’s website, is the first student textbook for academic study of the Bible in public high schools. Since its publication, the program (created for high school students in grades 9-12) has gained national recognition for its scholarly approach to teaching about the Bible in compliance with First Amendment guidelines. The Bible and Its Influence can be taught as an English, social studies, or humanities elective.

5. Chris Stone (CEO, Faith Driven Consumer) – Brand strategist Chris Stone founded Faith Driven Consumer as a means of connecting Christian consumers with companies that are relatively compatible with a Biblical worldview. Likewise, the organization helps companies — including media companies — reach out to faith-motivated American consumers. That group is estimated to include about 41 million strong adults (about 17 percent of the U.S. population) who spend around $2 trillion annually.

Faith Driven Consumer has earned recognition for rating Hollywood films and other entertainment offerings based on predictions regarding how well they will resonate with faith-driven audiences. The group’s Faith-Friendly Film Review system serves as a key resource for consumers and the media to evaluate entertainment choices. For example, the organization recently awarded the National Geographic/Scott Free Productions television movie Killing Jesus 3 out of 5 stars for faith compatibility. 

This past week, the group gave a rating of 4.5 out of 5 stars to the first episode of new NBC series A.D. The Bible Continues, which details the events recorded in the four Gospels and the Book of Acts.

In a statement about the show, Stone said “We believe A.D. is going to be a mega-hit; it has the potential to be the most successful faith-based TV franchise in history. Like the celebrated box office blockbuster THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST a decade ago, A.D. combines one of history’s greatest stories with superb writing and excellent production values. We’ve watched Hollywood struggle to reach the coveted faith audience with projects like Noah and Exodus that failed to resonate, and maintained all along that the ‘magic formula’ to reach us is straightforward—tell the story in a way that is consistent with the biblical narrative and message and give it the highest production value possible. A.D. will prove this point, and NBC will reap the rewards for respecting the audience and getting it right. We also believe that this series will resonate with non-faith audiences. The story is so gripping and compelling that people of all backgrounds will want to tune in just to see what happens next.” 

And, indeed, as noted above, NBC does appear to have a hit on its hands with A.D., suggesting that Stone knows what he’s talking about.

6. William Vanderbloemen (President/CEO, Vanderbloemen Search Group) – With prior experience as both a pastor and a human resources manager, Vanderbloeman founded to be a hub connecting churches and faith-based organizations (including media companies) with talented and experienced staffers that share their core spiritual values. He is the author of Pastoral Succession That Works (Baker Books, 2014) and considered one of the leading experts on the issue of pastoral “succession planning” for churches and ministries. 

7. Eduardo Verástegui (Co-Founder, Metanoia Films) – The Mexican actor/singer was building a successful secular career when he decided to devote his creative talents to putting forth stories of hope and faith.  That led to his co-founding of Metanoia Films which, in 2006, produced Bella, a pro-life drama starring Verástegui that won the People’s Choice Award at that year’s Toronto International Film Festival. It also picked up the Heartland Film Festival‘s Grand Prize Award Winner for Best Dramatic Feature the Smithsonian Institution‘s Legacy Award for the film’s positive contribution to Latino art and culture.

On April 24th, Metanoia Films, in association with Mark Burnett and Roma Downey, will release Little Boy in theaters. I’ve seen it and though my official review is yet to come, I can tell you now that the World War II-era story a boy’s prayers for the safety of this soldier father is masterful filmmaking. Verástegui shaved his head for his supporting role as a priest in the film which stars his friend Kevin James, along with Emily Watson, David Henrie, Michael Rapaport, Ted Levine, Tom Wilkinson, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa and, in the title role, Jakob Salvati.  Catch the trailer below. BTW, solely an actor, Verástegui will also soon be seen James’ Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2.

8. Jerry Zandstra (Entrepreneur/Co-Founder, Inno-Versity) – With two Masters Degrees from Calvin Seminary, Zandstra has put his talent and faith to work as a businessman (including as an executive producer  movie producer of 2010’s The Genesis Code, in which he had  a supporting role) to bring the wisdom of the Bible into the economic sphere. At Inno-Versity, he and company co-founder Mark VanderWal, produce corporate training/leadership programs that, among other things, highlight the Biblical value of wisdom.

There are other unsung innovators to be sure. But these are eight I’ve met through my travels that I think you should be aware of.

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

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