A rabbi, an evangelical and a Latter-day Saint were sitting together in a hotel lobby.
The rabbi turned to the Latter-day Saint and asked, “Why are you, as a Mormon, helping on ‘The Chosen?’”
The rabbi was Jason Sobel, a Messianic Jew who has served as one of several spiritual advisers for “The Chosen” series. He posed his question to Jeffrey Harmon, a co-founder of Angel Studios. Seated nearby was Dallas Jenkins, an evangelical and the show’s creator, writer, director and executive producer.
Harmon has heard similar questions from both evangelicals and those in his own faith, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, some of them pointed arguments against interfaith cooperation.
“I will probably see a thousand more messages from people telling me I am a ‘cultist’ and that I believe in a ‘different Jesus.’ I will certainly have many more Latter-day Saints refuse to trust the show because the message is controlled by evangelicals. But one thing can be certain, they can’t diminish my relationship with Jesus,” he wrote in a blog post:
“If Jesus can call his ancient apostles from a range of backgrounds,” he added, “including an apostate tax collector on the one hand to stubborn, illiterate fisherman on the other, why can’t he call evangelicals, Catholics, Jews and even Latter-day Saints to the creation of a TV series about his life and ministry?”
“The Chosen’s” impressive feat is that despite doctrinal and theological differences, it is resonating with audiences across various Christian denominations — Presbyterians, Baptists and other evangelicals, Catholics, Latter-day Saints and even nonbelievers — by keeping a straightforward central focus on the life and teachings of Jesus Christ.
The director and the actor who plays Jesus say they share a specific goal to unify viewers. The numbers show they have struck a chord.
Since the first season was released in 2019, “The Chosen” series has been viewed more than 200 million times and translated into 50 different languages.
Success in theaters triggered a “huge spike” in app downloads and increased media coverage, which has generated greater interest in the show, said Derral Eves, an executive producer.
“The Chosen” has a goal to reach 1 billion people and momentum continues to build.
“For me, this project is unifying people of different religions and backgrounds who can agree upon one thing, which is what Jesus taught, what he actually stood for, what he actually went and did in his ministry,” Eves said in a Sept. 24 interview with the Deseret News. “That’s the beautiful thing about this project.”
The unifying effect of Jesus has started to break down “religious walls” and has been one of the most “extraordinary” aspects of creating “The Chosen,” Jenkins said in September.
“By telling stories about when Jesus was here, those walls seem to come down. ‘The Chosen’ isn’t appealing to all religious faiths because we’re trying to, it’s because we are focusing solely on Jesus,” the director said. “With this Christmas special, or on social media, to see people of different faith backgrounds — LDS, Catholic, evangelical — all agreeing, all uniting around the fact that they love Jesus and want to see the Jesus of the Gospels known ... I know people don’t like to put their theological differences aside and some people want to take this opportunity to kind of drive home how different we are, but that doesn’t seem to be landing.”
Playing the role of Jesus in “The Chosen” has allowed actor Jonathan Roumie to meet several prominent Christian leaders, including Pope Francis. Roumie hopes his authentic human portrayal of the Savior fosters unity during these discordant times, he said when recently featured by Christianitytoday.com.
“I have a real heart for unifying people behind this one man that we see as the Son of God,” Roumie said in the article. “I think, in the divisive times we’re living in, we need to be aligned in Christ.”
Even so, the show still has its fair share of critics, including some evangelicals and Latter-day Saints who expressed concern about working with one another at the Jerusalem film set near Goshen, Utah, which is own by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Jenkins said.
“There’s always going to be a little bit of that,” he said. “But the overwhelming majority are just over the moon about the fact that the set has been such a great benefit to the show, and I believe the show has been a great benefit to the church. ... We don’t deny that we have some theological differences, some of them significant, some of them small, but on this we agree and we are thrilled to see Jesus made known, and the relationship has been extraordinary.”
With funding secure, producers expect to start production on Season 3 in March with plans to release episodes later in 2022. Episodes will be filmed both in Utah and Texas, Eves said.
“Now where pretty much all the disciples are now assembled, you are going see a lot more sub stories of them going out two-by-two and starting to spread the word,” Eves said.