Karen Covell / Michael Westfall Interview
KAREN COVELL is a television producer, Director of the Hollywood Prayer Network (HPN) and co-founder and producer for JC Productions, an independent television and music production company.
Ms. Covell challenges us to view Hollywood as the World’s most influential mission field and she advocates that American’s pray for the people in the entertainment industry.
Karen is well versed and very knowledgeable about the workings of Hollywood and the film industry so I have invited her to participate in this interview.
MICHAEL WESTFALL: I would like to welcome you and thank you for your participation in this interview. I have several questions to ask you. You are head of a very important ministry covering a very important industry. When and why did the Hollywood Prayer Network, (HPN), begin and how many members do you now have?
KAREN COVELL: Thanks Michael. The Hollywood Prayer Network started in July of 2001. I began it out of Hollywood Presbyterian Church in Hollywood and it has been growing every since. We now have over 5,000 members, representing over 10,000 praying units across the world. And people are joining us on-line every single day!
We have 14 local chapters in the United States, Canada, Thailand and Italy. We have almost 500 “I to I Prayer Partnerships” which are matched pairs of an intercessor outside of Hollywood committed to pray for a Christian who is an industry professional in Hollywood. My goal is to have every Christian in Hollywood and in other entertainment industry cities across the country to be prayed for as missionaries as they work, live and minister in the media. We now also send out HPN Media packets, which include our brochure, our 15-minute DVD entitled “The Hollywood Crisis,” talking about how God is moving through prayer in Hollywood, and our Remote Prayer Stickers, which are stickers that fit on the front of any TV Remote. They say “STOP and pray for this show!” This encourages Christians to pray for the media they’re watching.
MW: What inspired you personally to become active and can you explain just what HPN does?
KC: I have a three-fold reason for my inspiration to start HPN. First of all, as a TV Producer myself, and being married to a composer, I saw that we are working in the world’s most influential mission field. Washington DC is the global seat of power, but Hollywood is the global seat of influence. I knew that Christians had turned away from Hollywood decades ago and since then the programming has been getting darker, more compromising, etc. I believe they started to see giants in the land and they became afraid, thinking they were too big to conquer. It became obvious to my husband Jim and me that more Christians needed to be back here in this mission field, working and ministering so that we could “take back the land.” Jim and I and some friends who also worked here truly believed that though there were (and still are) giants in the land – they are NOT TOO BIG. We believed that if we started asking people to pray, inviting God to come in, bring in solid believers and do a miracle here that we could see Hollywood be redeemed. We are now part of a community of over 5,000 Christians in Hollywood, there are 19 active ministries here (www.hollywoodconnect.com), there are believers in key positions in studios, TV networks, production companies, etc. and we are indeed seeing God doing miracles here. We are seeing answers to our prayers.
Secondly, I want Christians to pray for the people in Hollywood to change “the church’s” heart and perspective of this mission field. I want to have Christians around the world think about the media they are watching, listening to and downloading, and think about the people involved as children of God who need to experience His unconditional love in their lives. I want the Lord to melt the hearts of the angry Christians and empower them to pray for the lost in Hollywood, instead of hating them or refusing to have any part of the media in their lives. Prayer melts hearts and as people pray for Hollywood, their hearts start to transform and they can’t hate us any more! And we have many, many examples of that working as well.
I often plead with Christians not to hate the people in Hollywood for Jesus commanded us to love EVERYONE. “God so loved the world that He sent His one and only Son, not to condemn Hollywood, but that Hollywood might be saved through Him.”
Also, we ask Christians not to participate in mass boycotts against entertainment companies in Hollywood because we can’t make these people ACT like Christians; we have to pray for them to BECOME Christians. I have never met anyone in Hollywood who has become a Christian because of a boycott or a hate letter. But I have met many media professionals who hate Christians and God because of people boycotting their company, their TV show, etc. However, we are also seeing industry professionals becoming Christians because they are friends with Christian co-workers who are loving them to Jesus. It’s very exciting!
We do encourage people to write letters of encouragement or concern so that you’re showing that you are taking the time to express your views about something you feel passionate about. Network and Studios and Advertisers will be more moved to change what they’re doing if they get thousands of personal letters, emails and phone calls, versus receiving 50,000 mass postcards. However, this tactic must still be accompanied by prayer because ultimately it’s not only the contact that we want changed, it’s the heart of the people creating the content that God is most concerned about.
Thirdly, I want to have the Christians in Hollywood prayed for by Christians on the outside. I see Christians every day in Hollywood who are here despite their pastors or parents desires. They come without any support from their family or church. They are discouraged because they came out here to use the gifts and talents that God gave them and want to minister here as well. Yet, they are told that coming to Hollywood will compromise their faith, they’ll be selling their soul and they won’t be able to maintain their relationship with Jesus. They don’t get any support from home and they fell conflicted in their “calling.” I challenge the people back home to get excited about their friend or family member wanting to be in Hollywood and to pray for their friend or family member as a foreign missionary as if they were going to Africa, India or any third world country. The work here is just as important and actually much more far-reaching than even the work by missionaries in those far away countries. So, if the church would commission their “arts missionaries”, pray for them, send them off with their blessings, and even financially support them as they are starting out, then we would see even greater Kingdom work in Hollywood because the Christians here will be supported and empowered by the Church and by their community back home.
My desire is to have the Church become again the Patron of the Arts! We need to see that God loves creativity and creative people and that we should celebrate His handiwork through the work of His people by praying for them, supporting them, and empowering them. And I believe that all starts with prayer!
MW: Where would you like to take this organization going forward?
KC: I have a few goals for HPN. I would like to have every Christian in Hollywood prayed for by a Christian on the outside as their Media Missionary. We now have almost 500 “I to I” Prayer Partnerships (Intercessor to industry Professional) and we need over 4,500 more.
I would like to have churches all over the country embracing the arts and the artists in their church. I pray that they will replace boycotts and hate letters with prayer and financial support for those people working on quality projects, along with encouraging them to use their gifts and talents for God’s glory IN the secular entertainment industry.
I would like to see the thousands of non-believers, seekers, humanists, atheists, new-agers, etc. in Hollywood come to a personal relationship with Jesus.
I would like to see Christian investors and donors financially supporting the arts – both the artists and the film, music and TV projects that Christians are trying to create and produce.
I would like to see God’s presence so visible and tangible in Hollywood that it would lead to a revival! And a revival in Hollywood will bring a cultural revival.
MW: Most Americans have no idea about the demeanor or belief system of today’s movie moguls. Are these studio decision makers different from mainstream America or do they care about our nation’s values and morals?
KC: The majority of the Hollywood decision-makers and cultural influencers (celebrities) are not Christians. However, many of them consider themselves in some way “spiritual.” Many are seeking significance, purpose, meaning and peace, but they are looking in all the wrong places. They think that fame, money, power, meditation, gurus, tarot cards, crystals, alcohol, affairs, drugs, workaholism, etc. will fill them up. Others claim to have no spiritual belief system at all, and then some have created one or are following a certain belief system that doesn’t make them have to change their lifestyle. Many industry professionals are very politically and socially minded, and that often becomes their religion as well. Their Bible is the New York Times. Many give generously to charities such as AIDS relief and they consider themselves good people, moral people and people with values. They don’t want to hurt or mislead the people in America; they want to be good people. They just don’t understand that their worldview is morally destructive. And they get angry when we tell them it is. They do not want to be told what to do (as all of us don’t) and they believe that they truly have their hands on the pulse of America. They are lost and so the things of Christ make no sense to them because God’s truths are spiritually discerned.
The people in Hollywood are a tribe of people who fall under the definition of a “Hidden Peoples Group”, as defined by the US Center for World Missions. They are closed to outside influence, they have no direct access to the gospel, and they have their own culture, their own language, their own gods that they worship (the Oscar god), they have their own traditions, rituals and world view. So, yes, they are different from mainstream America, but they actually don’t know it! That’s why we can’t tell them how to act or what to do. We have to pray for them, build positive, loving relationships with them and then let the Lord work through us to touch their hearts. Just as we do when we send missionaries to the far corners of the earth. We don’t try to make the tribes in a third or fourth world country act like Christians. We send Christians to them, support the Christians with prayer and finances and trust that as they build relationships and use their gifts and talents to share Jesus with them, the tribe will come to know God and change their ways. It’s the same in Hollywood.
MW: Americans are upset with many of the films that Hollywood has been putting out. What is your perspective on the films and why are they not producing more family friendly films?
KC: That’s a very simple answer. We all create works that reflect our worldview. The people in Hollywood are creating films, music and TV shows that are reflecting their worldview, their broken and wounded childhoods and their belief systems that stem from all of their woundedness. If more of the people creating the media came from healthy families, they would be making more family friendly films. Most of them don’t even know what a healthy family is, so they have nothing to draw from. However, if the Lord touches their hearts, then they will be able to create products that will reflect their new worldviews as “new creatures in Christ.” That’s the only way that the films that Christians are upset with will change. We all only draw from what’s inside.
MW: Hollywood is a movie city with a reputation for its liberal slant. Do you share this view?
KC: Yes, Hollywood is a very liberal minded group of people. And it’s because social issues, political issues and non-biblical beliefs guide the people here. If there were more Christians here then the “slant” would be more conservative and spiritual than political and liberal.
MW: Does it concern you that some liberals may view your work as pandering to Christian conservatives? Have you found it difficult to find actors, producers, directors and decision makers sympathetic to your goals?
KC: I have never had people tell me that I am pandering to Christian conservatives when I focus on my faith, my love for others and my desire to serve others. That response only comes when Christians combine politics with their faith. I stay away from politics in Hollywood because that’s not what’s important. Jesus, His love, His forgiveness, His hope and His joy is what I believe is the most important message I have to tell and no one has been turned off when I offer that to people here. So, I have not found it difficult to find anyone inside of Hollywood who is not sympathetic to my goals. Ironically, the only people I have found questioning my ministry, my work and/or my love for the people here, are Christians outside of Hollywood. They are the only people who have gotten angry at me, questioned me, disagreed with me and argued with me. And I believe that’s because of either fear or a lack of information. Once I get a chance to explain why the Christian community in Hollywood is doing what we do, what results we’ve seen and what spiritual growth and break-through we’ve experienced, then even some of my toughest critics are able to change their views and come alongside us. And once I get to tell people not to be afraid of the people in Hollywood but to pray for them and love them, then that often breaks down walls between me and the church as well. We all just have to focus on Jesus’ message and then trust Him for the results. We stay away from politics the way that Jesus did in His time – and drove some people crazy, even in the first century!
MW: Does conservative Middle America influence Hollywood and do the Hollywood decision makers care about the messages that are in the movies they produce and how these movies impact our culture?
KC: Yes, Middle America influences Hollywood by the TV shows they watch, the music they buy and the films they download or go see. We cast our votes by what we watch and listen to. And Yes, Hollywood decision-makers care about the messages they produce, but they care about different messages than we do. Most Christians believe that Hollywood is run by money. But actually that’s not true. Hollywood is run by worldview. Producers and executives will put millions of dollars into projects that they believe in, but they are not interested in putting their money into projects with messages that do not reflect or support their worldviews – sometimes even if it will make them lots of money. I know of people who have turned down lucrative projects because they just didn’t like what the story was supporting or saying.
However, they are the same as Christians. We turn down projects that don’t support our worldview, so why should Hollywood decision-makers be any different? The only problem is that their worldview is not ours and we don’t like that. (And the Christian worldview is not theirs and they don’t like that!)
And yes, they know that their projects impact culture, but they also often believe that their projects are just reflecting culture. And maybe they’re right… As Christians we need to first look at ourselves and question what media we’re personally watching, supporting and spending money on, because we could be sending the wrong kind of messages to Hollywood. As parents, do we know what our children are watching and spending their money on? Statistics show that Christians are buying the same kind of media that non-Christians are buying. I think a lot of the issues that you’re bringing up may bring us back to our own walks with the Lord and our personal choices that we’re making. That’s just a thought to ponder.
MW: I have several friends in the movie industry and we do get into some interesting discussions about what the answer is to making movies more family friendly. I know that you and I have had some great debate. I also know that you respectfully do not appreciate my more direct and vitriolic approach towards Hollywood. I do on the other hand appreciate your approach of using the power of prayer. Certainly we should be praying for the people in this industry, but why should conservatives frequent the movie houses or TV screens that expose their families to offensive material? What is wrong with sending a clear message of disapproval of certain films that cross the line of decency by conducting boycotts?
KC: I thank you for your support of prayer. That is very encouraging to me. And actually I also agree with you that Christians should NOT “frequent the movie houses or TV screens that expose their families to offensive material!” I think Christians must start making decisions not to support immoral or offensive product. I know that if no one watched the Playboy Channel, it would not stay on the air. That’s a fact. So, we must all make personal choices to guard ourselves from filling our minds and hearts up with anything that is not of God. Those personal choices are much more powerful than mass boycotts. I am and have always been supportive of personal “boycotts” or merely personal discipline to say NO to what’s not good for us. That won’t make anyone hate us, but it will send a powerful message that we don’t want to see that type of product. It’s the mass postcards that are useless. It’s trying to get people to stop going to Disneyland when Disney supports gay marriage. That’s a mass boycott that sends the wrong message. All that’s saying is that Christians are judging non-believers and we have the attitude of “I’ll show you.” So, what is the natural response to that? “I’ll show you back!” And the game continues. The more effective response would be to stop watching the shows that offend us and then start a mass movement of prayer for the executives who are making the decisions to support gay marriages, or sexually graphic programs or shows full of language, etc. and watch the Lord do miracles in the hearts and lives of these executives as millions of Christians pray. And the result of that? Not only will people change, then their programming will change, but they will be attracted to Christians because we’re praying for them and not hating them. It’s a thrilling paradigm shift that I’m praying Christians all around the world will have soon! And it’s more effective!
MW: HPN material talks of a writing campaign where viewers write personal letters to producers, directors to TV shows or films. How successful has that been?
KC: Personal letters are very successful, as I mentioned above, if they are sincere and personal. The major networks all work with the premise that every personal letter they receive represents 10,000 other people who feel the same way. That’s powerful. However, they throw away every single pre-printed post-card, mass boycotting letter and email with thousands of signatures, because they believe those people are just joining a movement and may not really feel the same way as the one who takes the time to write a letter expressing their personal views. A producer of a feature film will respond much more personally and be moved more powerfully by a personal letter expressing someone’s joy or concern for their film. But, if they read in the paper that thousands of people are not going to buy any of their studio’s merchandise or go to their theme park because this producer’s movie is offensive to them, then the producer will either laugh or say, “I’ll show them” and be motivated to do the same thing again, or something worse because he doesn’t want anyone to “tell him what to do!” That’s human nature. The personal touch is what’s effective. And if a producer gets 25,000 personal, loving letters about his film, you can bet he’s going to pay attention. But, the letters have to be kind, respectful and intelligent. We are told to be willing to “give an account for the hope that is in us, but with gentleness and reverence.” The Christians need to think through what they want to say and why their perspective should be considered and that takes time, effort and commitment. Are we willing to do that? I hope so. And again, those letters MUST be accompanied by the motivation to lead the person to Jesus and they must be covered in prayer.
MW: Hollywood has such a huge presence and influence in our nation. Why aren’t more people in the film industry speaking out on values and moral issues, or are there other Hollywood voices speaking out? If so who are they?
KC: People in Hollywood are often speaking out about all kinds of causes and issues. Celebrities are leading campaigns against AIDS; they are raising millions of dollars for political, educational and social issues. And they are doing it because those are issues of value and morals for them. But again, the things that we see as moral issues are often spiritually discerned and the industry professionals don’t have the same foundation. They have the same desire to make a difference in the world. However, it’s just from a different foundation or perspective than some of ours. And actually, I think the industry pros would be much more impressed with Christians if they saw us as passionate about caring for the sick and the poor than we are about trying to make them act differently!
MW: Your work at HPN is significant. Are other pro-family organizations lending their support to your efforts?
KC: We’ve been interviewed by Christianity Today, Outreach Magazine along with the LA Times and many other Christian and secular publications. Jim Dobson, President of Focus on the Family has had me interviewed on his radio show. Also, on the end of our free DVD, “The Hollywood Crisis”, we have endorsements from Steve Douglass, President of Campus Crusade for Christ, Chuck Colson, President of Prison Fellowship, Father Willy Raymond, President of Catholic Family Theatre Productions, Paul Cedar, President of Mission America and Bruce Wilkinson, author of “The Prayer of Jabez.” We are also updating our DVD this month and adding a wonderful endorsement from Bob Reccord, President of The North American Missions Board. We are getting amazing support from organizations all over the world. And the list is growing. My prayer is that someday Focus on the Family will join us in praying for Hollywood instead of leading their mass boycotts. But, it’s the Lord’s timing and not mine! I’m thankful and encouraged by the growing support for looking at Hollywood as a mission field. And many are even acknowledging that it is indeed the world’s most influential mission field.
MW: In conclusion, you and your group have stepped into the public eye using the power of prayer to address one of America’s most pressing cultural issues, which is the movie industry. It has taken an amazing amount of backbone, effort and moral conviction to do so.
Can you tell a little about yourself and your other activities in the film industry? Also are there any other points or issues that you would like to address?
KC: I am a TV producer who works on Specials and Documentaries. I like projects that deal with real people in real situations. My husband is a composer and he writes music for film and television scores. We live in an incredible community of creative, sharp, talented people and our Christian friends in Hollywood are awesome. We’re raising our two boys (Christopher is 15 and Cameron is 11) to be second generation missionaries in Hollywood, and we believe that as Christopher studies to be a film director and Cameron continues acting, that they too will be tent-makers in the entertainment industry. I am a member of the Producers Guild of America because I want to work with and build more friendships with people of all faiths. We are committed to training Christians to be more culturally relevant in sharing their faith with others and we teach an annual 10-week class and have written a book by the same title, called “How To Talk About Jesus Without Freaking Out” (Multnomah Publishers). We also believe that the strongest way to share our faith and touch others is through storytelling. Jesus was the great storyteller of all time and so we love to tell stories. We have written another book (both books are co-authored by our dear friend Victorya Michaels Rogers) called “The Day I Met God.” (Multnomah Publishers) It’s a book of 32 true stories of people whose lives were radically changed when they had a personal encounter with Jesus.
I am also starting a new exciting prayer venture. On August 27, ’06 we will open a 24/7 prayer room in the Hollywood Presbyterian Church where our entertainment ministries are and we’re already signing up Christians in Hollywood to come and fill up 24 hours a day, seven days a week with prayer. We would love to have you join us in praying for the city and the entertainment industry of Hollywood from August 26 – September 2nd. That info is on the HPN website: www.hollywoodprayernetwork.org
MW: Karen, thank you so much for participating in this interview. Your answers will speak volumes to those who want to know about you and the importance of The Hollywood Prayer Network.
KC: Thank you so much for allowing me to share my heart with your readers. I appreciate you and your willingness to be challenged by a new approach to Hollywood and I pray that you and your group will join HPN in praying for Hollywood and the global entertainment industry.
Please check out these sites for further information on how to join and participate in the Hollywood Prayer Network. www.hollywoodprayernetwork.or
By Michael Westfall