A friend of mine sent me a link to The Chosen a year or so ago. We watched the first and only season and instantly fell in love with it. It’s a very well done series about the Savior’s ministry and although it takes quite a bit of artistic license in its telling of the story, it’s done so very well and is incredibly uplifting.
I have since shared the link with many friends and have contributed to the producer’s efforts to raise money for Season 2. For Season 1, they raised over $10M. More than any other crowdfunded film project in GoFundMe history. They hope to do 8 or more seasons and will need about $10M per season. I highly recommend The Chosen to anyone who has yet to see it. You can click on the link below to watch the first episode and season for free:
Here’s a quick sampling:
I think the reason The Chosen has been such a huge success is because of how real the characters are made to feel. Jesus, for example, says things like, “Hey good to see you boys!” He belly laughs and smiles ear to ear on more than one occasion. He feels real. Authentic. Relatable. Approachable. Human, although God-like. He speaks and acts like you might imagine a real person in real life would, even if the Son of God.
Of course, the actors and director know full well, they are not perfectly depicting the characters they are trying to portray, but without question, they have brought a tremendous amount of real-life personality to these seminal figures. Capturing and portraying authenticity is no easy task in the world of cinema, especially when depicting the Savior and other old world prophets.
Authenticity in real life is an even more refreshing thing to witness. Most people want real. Especially from the preachers of religion. Those who are stiff and scripted and speak fancifully in a way that is not relatable may indeed be loved and may even be revered, but they are not going to be very effective, in my opinion. They can control meetings and membership and tempo and curriculum and hierarchy, but they will not truly convert souls unto Christ. Not when approaching the effort in a superficial, scripted way. And certainly not when being dishonest or unwilling to address people’s real-life concerns and questions.
A friend of mine recently highlighted remarks made in a Face to Face by Elder Rasband. His post covered the comments Elder Rasband made about how they, the 15 prophets, seers, and revelators, receive revelation—through a process of collaboration, drafts, and edits. Bare Record’s post led me to watch the full event, which you can find below.
The news of how the Brethren receive revelation may be disappointing for those who still believe they “see the Lord” (as did Joseph) or hear His Voice. Their process is the same as for anyone trying to be inspired but clearly is NOT prophetic by the standards of Scripture. Yet, somehow their way is viewed as better than our own.
Elder Rasband teases in this particular Face to Face that he was grateful that a “couple of his words” made it into the final cut and that when they had all written their drafts, they gave them to the Prophet for him to put it all together. In other words, although all 15 men are prophets, seers, and revelators–the newer the prophet you are, the less important and less respected and less inspired you are by your peers (and possibly by the membership too). None of it feels “genuine” or authentic. It feels mechanical and scripted. I.e. NOT prophetic.
As I tuned in I was very surprised to see that the Church filmed this episode of Face to Face on their Goshen, Utah film set. Apparently, they had planned on filming the event from the Sacred Grove in upstate New York but changed their plans officially on August 10, 2020.
It would be at about that same time that the filmmakers and supporters of The Chosen were fasting and praying to find a location where they could film their second season. And It was at about this same time that the Church agreed to let them “use” the Goshen location. (I don’t know if it’s being donated or rented out). The director of The Chosen made the announcement of the new film location on August 19th, only 9 days after the Church announced its change of venue. Surely, negotiations to use the Goshen location would have been ongoing for weeks if not months before officially securing it. The Chosen view the location as a miracle from God and an answer to their prayers.
But, one may ask, why did the Church change venues at the last minute for its Face to Face to the new set of Season 2 for The Chosen? Why Goshen? I don’t know the answer but, I find it strange that the Church would just happen to move their big event to a location it had just rented out to the amazingly popular Christian series as if wanting to associate itself with the success of the production. The timing is suspect at best and the location for this type of event I believe is unprecedented. It feels very much like the Church is trying to benefit from the popularity of The Chosen, which for me, is a very superficial and shallow thing to do. The least they can do is FUND several seasons! At least then, they can say they helped the cause, instead of surreptitiously trying to promote themselves.
In watching the Face to Face with Elder Rasband, I was struck at how unauthentic it all was. The entire event is supposed to be homey. I think it’s meant to be a modern-day “fireside chat with one of the 15 prophets.” In-person and up close are meant to carry the day. Not scripted and stiff, and evasive.
In this event, every question from the LDS youth of the world is handpicked and responses are all planned in advance. The setting feels extremely stiff with all of the handpicked audience sitting 6 feet apart and all donning the politically correct masks, even though outside on a desert film set. The message seems to be all about exactness. Exactly 6 feet apart. Exactly obedient. Exactly scripted. Exactly in line with the Men who lead the Church.
The first two questions to Elder Rasband are truth claims questions. One from a young Latter-day Saint man named Harry who is considering leaving the Church. Elder and Sister Rasband’s response is effectively, “Don’t you dare leave! If you do, your life will be ruined!” They then turn the audience to a film about a young man who was going to commit suicide, because he was not a member of the Church. The story was nice enough, but I had to wonder how Harry must have felt. “If you leave Harry, your life will be meaningless and you too will likely want to commit suicide. It’s the Church or it’s eternal Misery!”
What people like Harry and Harriet (the other truth claims questioner) want, is someone to be real with them. In my opinion, they just want authenticity. They crave real answers to real questions. And what they get is the inauthenticity of a geriatric version of High School Musical. Lots of theatrics and nice music. So much “niceness” and so many smiles, but no real answers.
Here a just a few of the comments online from those who sympathize with Harry and Harriet:
Why do we need to shelf these items? If these are truly men of god, why can’t they answer the questions? Instead they dodge it and say “just shelf it” well I’ve shelfed it for 36 years and my shelf is broken because of the weight.
Same here. They can’t answer the questions, because if they do, they admit to being wrong.
The thing is……many of us HAVE opened up and sought truth from the Holy Ghost when the leaders of the church were unwilling or unable to provide it. The truths we have found from the Lord speaking through his spirit are that the church and its leaders are not what they claim to be. While this is inconvenient for the church and its truth claims, what we have learned is, nonetheless, true. There is no need to shelve these items. The Lord will answer your prayer. The truth, the knowledge, the answers may not be what you WANT them to be, they may not affirm what you have believed your entire life, but they are real. I am so glad that the Lord has made me aware of this and that I have found a deeper, richer spiritual experience in a different church.
The music felt a little American Idol for me.
The thing that got me was hearing elder and sister Rasband respond to a question from a member wondering if they should resign from the church with a video about an individual struggling with mental illness and suicide…. How are those related exactly?
It is so sad how they are given the opportunity to say the right thing and they totally blow. Their responses to concerns were completely irrelevant. Someone struggling with Truth Claims of the church needs answers!
I was disappointed that when a person mentions struggling in the faith over doctrine or history that the issues are never explored. Why is this so? It would seem only natural to want to know what people struggle with in order to shepherd them in the faith. I personally have struggled with discrepancies between the Book of Abraham text and what Egyptologists report from scholarly translation of the fragments in the possession of the church. Nobody in the church seems willing to talk about this or my concerns with the various versions of the Joseph Smith story..
You’re not alone. Anyone who is observant and objective will recognize that the church is dodging the issues. At the very least…the very LEAST…Rasband could have directed the questioner to the Gospel Topics Essays that address these issues on the church’s own website!! But he couldn’t even bring himself to do that. And why?? Because he is aware that many people have left the church precisely BECAUSE of what they learn from the Gospel Topics Essays. Talk about your dereliction of duty!
I really do not like that they screened and prepared the questions and “answers” in this meeting. It feels very staged. I would have liked to have seen honest real answers off the cuff. The emotional manipulation here is intense for those still inside the church bubble. Take one foot out of it and you can see what this really is. Sadly, many never will for fear of losing family and friends, and that’s a legitimate fear. Especially if you live in Utah.
Sadly, many who struggle, see these Face to Faces with “the Prophets” as shallow and unhelpful. The above questions and comments are sincere and worthy of consideration. Why can’t these men be more relatable? Approachable? Off the cuff? Real? I’d invite you to watch the Face to Face for yourself if you haven’t already.
There’s a story that Sister Rasband shares where she was hit by a car as a little girl because she did not listen to the Spirit warning her. Elder Rasband thanked her (no fewer than 1,000 thank you’s in this F2F) and told her while getting choked up that “Their family’s faith has been built on her telling this story so many times over the years.” I’m sorry but the exchanges between Elder and Sister Rasband seem very unnatural. You can watch and decide for yourself.
I also do not like that Elder Rasband stops midway through and asks the audience to #hashtag the event and to “follow the prophet” on social media. Reminds me of the scene in the Truman Show where out of the blue, Truman’s wife takes a moment to thank the Show’s sponsors:
So much advertising. So many hushed tones. So much superficial reverence. So many thank you’s. There’s even a “scene” where Elder Rasband stops the tape and reinforces that HE and HIS WIFE KNOW the SAVIOR! This is their gift! According to him, it’s other people’s gift to believe on their testimony. Sure seemed like Elder Rasband was checking off a box to reinforce to the audience his assignment to be a “special witness.”
Another interesting moment is when Sister Rasband refers to “Anti-Church literature.” I always knew this as “Anti-Mormon” literature, but I assume that Sister Rasband is trying very hard to not use the word “Mormon” in any way, in accordance with the current prophet’s teachings. A little awkward. I wonder if the Church will buy websites such as: “memberofthechurchofjesuschirstoflatterdaysaintsandgay.com so as to be exactly obedient to President Nelson’s teachings.
All in all, the lack of authenticity carried the day. Now, having said that, there are incredibly talented people who sing and there are people there who are amazingly sincere, who surely God loves and watches over. But, Mormonism has sadly become something that appropriately feels very staged and scripted. It belongs on a movie set. They would do well to learn that real, raw, and authentic are always better than staged, scripted, and phony. They need to learn from The Chosen, rather than trying to hijack their spotlight. Again, the Church would do well to give The Chosen millions of dollars. It would be a far better investment than in the City Creek Mall or in the Book of Mormon Musical (aka Hale Theater), which is a very “anti-Church” production.