In an attempt to portray themselves as better than other forms of faith-based media, the producers of a new Christian TV show engaged in the most stereotypically evangelical scheme ever: They depicted themselves as victims of persecution when no such thing was actually happening.
The show is The Chosen, which generated plenty of (earned) media after a successful $10 million fundraising campaign. It attempts to tell the story of Jesus as if it were a multi-season prestige drama. Since its premiere in 2019, though, the best thing you could say about it is that it’s not as eyeroll-inducing as other Christian shows… but unless you’re a Christian starving for Christian content about Christianity, you’re almost certainly not binge-watching this… or even regular-watching this. (The first season is available on YouTube. Season 3 just began filming. There are supposed to be seven seasons in all.)
But since the initial fundraising campaign ended years ago, the show hasn’t generated much attention at all outside Christian circles. It’s arguably popular within those circles, allegedly racking up 200 million views (or 350 million, now) and getting stellar ratings on places like Rotten Tomatoes and IMDb… but don’t take those numbers at face value. The “views” don’t necessarily mean that many people watched a full episode—it just as easily includes paid ads that interrupted your news feed when you were scrolling through Facebook and just ignored—and the ratings on those websites mean Christians are stopping by to rave about it, but no one else is even bothering to watch it. They’re not even hate-watching it. It’s just not on anyone else’s radar.
With all that in mind, the team behind the show decided to market the show with a series of pretty innocuous billboards across the country.
All of that is fine. Nothing to write home about. But a couple of weeks ago, those billboards appeared to be vandalized. Even one of the actors on the show joked about how his ex must’ve seen the ad.
The implication was that people were so furious about the show that they vandalized the billboards so that Christians wouldn’t watch it, directing people instead to a website called ChosenSux.com.
But Christian vandalism is just as predictable and bland as Christian media.
If you wanted to vandalize the billboard, you wouldn’t draw a cartoonish mustache on Jesus, sign your work “The Devil,” whine about the show’s “stupid plots,” or use the phrase “poopy butts.” (Seriously. It said that.)
All of that is just boring. Real vandals would have directed people to lesser known Bible verses, or drawn more scandalous images, or just ripped up parts of the sign. I’m not advocating any of that. But those kinds of things have legitimately happened to billboards erected by atheists.
Turns out the “vandalized” billboards were just a part of the marketing campaign. Because Christian persecution in the U.S. isn’t real, the people behind The Chosen had to create a persecution narrative against themselves. They literally “ruined” their own signs so they could portray themselves as victims. Of the 70 billboards in the campaign, 48 were “defaced.”
Now the creator of the show, Dallas Jenkins, is apologizing for the failed campaign.
“I made a big mistake,” he said. “I want to apologize to you who are watching who saw those billboards, as a core, passionate, loyal fan of the show, and felt defensive of the show … and didn’t know that this was us, didn’t know that this is part of the marketing campaign. The reason you didn’t know is because we didn’t tell you and we told you too late. In retrospect, last night, I was up very late, stressed about the fact that I screwed up and there’s no excuse for it. I want to give you my heart on the matter with a sincere apology.”
Jenkins is no stranger to lying about Christian persecution to deceive hard-core believers. His father, as Slate notes, is Jerry B. Jenkins, one of the men behind the apocalyptic Left Behind series, in which “born-again Christians, left on Earth after the rapture, [battled] the forces of the Antichrist.” But as we’ve seen so many times, when believers want to sell you Jesus, they’ll rationalize any kind of bad behavior on their end as necessary to achieve their ultimate goal.
The truth is no one cares about this show enough to get mad about a bunch of billboards. And when supporters of the show found out the truth, they felt deceived. So, at least in that sense, they finally got an honest taste of Christianity.
In an effort to convert people to Christianity, Jenkins and his team perpetuated one of the core lies that turn people away from the faith altogether: The false narrative that Christians are victims of senseless attacks by non-Christians.
The Chosen set out to be different from shitty Christian media but is now in the spotlight for being just as pathetic and predictable as a God’s Not Dead movie. It’s no way to win over a new audience. But maybe it’ll help turn the old audience away from them.