Gerardo Marti. Hollywood Faith: Holiness, Prosperity, and Ambition in a Los Angeles Church. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2008. xii + 234 pp. $68.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8135-4348-2; $25.95 (paper), ISBN 978-0-8135-4349-9.
Reviewed by Kathleen Hladky (Florida State University)
Published on H-Pentecostalism (December, 2009)
Commissioned by Gene Mills (Florida State University)
Christianity, Hollywood Style
Scholars of popular culture have long noted the ways that Christians struggle to reconcile secular activities and technologies with their religious convictions. For some, involvement in "worldly" endeavors is taboo, with secular culture shunned as anathema to purity and Christian living. This is not the case for the subjects of Gerardo Marti's book Hollywood Faith. Like the majority of Christian conservatives in America, the members of Oasis Christian Center believe that Christians should transform technologies, entertainment, and other elements of popular culture into vehicles for evangelization. In a congregation consisting primarily of Hollywood hopefuls, actors, filmmakers, writers, and other entertainment industry workers, Marti draws our attention to the way that a newer form of Christian Pentecostalism, often coined Word of Faith or neo-Pentecostalism, fits well among the Hollywood working class. Word of Faith churches are marked by a belief that true Christians are entitled to financial prosperity and success. In Word of Faith communities, wealth and conspicuous consumption are considered to be markers of divine blessing. Though the Word of Faith movement is global in scale, Marti offers scholars a case study that connects the teachings of Word of Faith to the success of Oasis Christian Center and helps us understand why the church appeals to members who are working to fulfill dreams of fame and fortune.
In an effort to contextualize Oasis, Marti pays close attention to the historical relationship between Hollywood and Christianity, as well as to the growth of the entertainment industry in secular and religious communities. The impact of Hollywood's history and suspicion of Hollywood within Christianity become important lenses for understanding how members of Oasis are able to negotiate the dreams of Hollywood with the maintenance of their conservative Christianity. Taking the work of Emile Durkheim as an interpretive lens, Marti shows how Oasis provides a moral community that makes sense of its surrounding context for its congregants. Oasis's teachings about prosperity are central to this process, as congregants' dreams and aspirations are validated through Oasis's affirmation of material wealth and worldly success. By emphasizing the religious value of ambition and aspiration, Oasis helps makes spiritual sense of congregants' worldly struggles and goals.
This final point directs the reader toward another central theme of Marti's book: Oasis congregants tend to be on the losing end of Hollywood's ultra-competitive brand of capitalism. Oasis therefore provides a community based on moral, rather than market, values. Here is another of Marti's key contributions in the book: Oasis is on the vanguard of not only Pentecostal Christianity but also perhaps American religions in general, because it provides a religious venue for dealing with increased job insecurity, economic casualization, and the flexibility of the American workforce that is an increasing part of the American economy. In such an unsettled economic environment, congregations like Oasis provide a sanctuary of stability and community to individuals who increasingly experience the isolation of working temporary project-based jobs, and not feeling allegiance to any particular organization or work-based community.
Of primary interest in the text is Marti's attention to the multicultural and multiracial composition of the community. Martin Luther King Jr. famously stated that Sunday at 11 a.m. is the most segregated time of the week. Nearly half a century later, only 7 percent of congregations in America are substantially racially diverse and only 2.5 percent of congregations in America have significant black and white populations. Unlike most American churches, Oasis has been able to achieve significant racial and ethnic diversity. Over the years, this marked diversity has become a cornerstone of how Oasis congregants describe their community as uniquely and specially blessed by God. According to Marti's study, members of Oasis tend to downplay race and racism as factors in their lives. Instead, they emphasize the importance of individual choices and actions over potential constraints that might be a result of prejudice or systematic inequality. Interestingly, in the absence of race-based religious community Marti notes that elements of "the black church" remain visible at Oasis. As a community of primarily lower-class and middle-class workers, many of Oasis's congregants look to the church for assistance in networking, finding employment opportunities, and having "strength and empowerment to face the ongoing struggles of day to day life" (p. 161). Moreover, Oasis's worship services rely heavily on the African American musical tradition.
Throughout Hollywood Faith, Marti contributes to the study of Pentecostalism and contemporary Christianity by drawing attention to topics too often overlooked by scholars of religion: the relationship between religion and work, multiracial Christian congregations, and the Word of Faith movement.
: Holiness, Prosperity, and Ambition in a Los Angeles Church
If there is additional discussion of this review, you may access it through the network, at: https://networks.h-net.org/h-pentecostalism.
Kathleen Hladky. Review of Marti, Gerardo, Hollywood Faith: Holiness, Prosperity, and Ambition in a Los Angeles Church.
H-Pentecostalism, H-Net Reviews.
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