An overflow crowd of hundreds gathered on February 1 in Newbury Park to watch the nationwide premiere of the documentary Letter to the American Church, based on New York Times bestselling author Eric Metaxas’ book of the same name.
The journey from book to screen began 18 months ago in the same building — Godspeak Calvary Chapel Church — when Metaxas was invited to talk about his then-new book. Afterward, two Hollywood veterans approached him with a proposition.
“They said, ‘This message needs to be a film,’” Metaxas told the Newbury Park audience during a Q-and-A on February 1. “I said, ‘I don’t believe you’re going to do it.’ … But somehow, they did.”
Actress and former Fillmore city council member Simone Alex and Rachel Tash, a former high-level executive for Sony Pictures Entertainment, produced the fast-paced, professional-quality documentary to warn Americans that our country faces similar cultural dynamics, dangers and choices as Germany did in 1933.
“What the United States is facing today and the direct parallels to early Nazi Germany are undeniable,” Metaxas says in the film. “In 1933, when the Nazis came to power, the German constitution still guaranteed freedom of speech and freedom of the press. However, in 1934, just a year after Hitler became fuhrer, it became illegal to criticize the Nazi government. Germans were not even allowed to tell jokes about Hitler. It was considered an act of treason. … The question is whether we might recognize those parallels and take action to avoid the fatal mistakes the German Church made during that time. If we do not, I am convinced we will face destruction in an even greater way than they did.”
The film version of Letter to the American Church has a distinctly local flavor, with footage of local school board protests and snippets of longtime Thousand Oaks resident Paul Kessler just shortly before his death allegedly at the hands of a Jordanian Moorpark College professor at an anti-Israel rally in November.
Over the course of the film, prominent voices in culture and politics illuminate the critical issues facing the nation and America’s churches. Of special concern is the spread of cultural Marxism, which they describe as a highly effective method for taking control of powerful institutions.
“Marxists must destroy the family, religion and property,” said popular podcast host and Turning Point USA leader Charlie Kirk in the film. “They must destroy people’s connection to the divine. They must destroy the nuclear family, and they must destroy your ability to own stuff. I believe Marxism is satanic; it’s demonic. It’s everything John 10:10 tells us about, where the enemy has come to steal and destroy … Marxism will always lead to totalitarianism, which is a smaller and smaller group of people that have more and more power.”
Metaxas added that there is “no better example of the church staying silent in the face of evil than in the recent COVID-19 pandemic when churches were deemed ‘non-essential’ by governors and mayors while marijuana dispensaries, casinos and strip clubs remained open.”
“Maybe the worst part of it,” he went on, “is that many pastors behaved as though it were their Christian duty to stay silent as their constitutional rights as American citizens were being stripped away before their eyes. Others said that complying with the lockdowns and pandemic restrictions is what Jesus would do.”
In a lively and humorous question-and-answer period following the well-received screening, the full-capacity audience heard how Metaxas and the producers were driven by deeply personal reasons to create the film.
“My grandmother was a Holocaust survivor, so I grew up with her telling me stories,” said Tash to the hushed gathering. “She was from Poland. They took her when she was a child; they threw her in a boxcar. They took her to Germany. She was in two different concentration camps. She was one of the lucky ones; she survived. She came to America. She became a citizen the right way. My mom was born here. I grew up with all these people that had survived the Holocaust and had been POWs, so I constantly heard it growing up. That was a very personal appeal to me to do the film, too, because I had grown up with it, and I had experienced and heard all these horrific stories. I just don’t want history to be repeated. I want people to know what happened.”
Metaxas’ father was reared in Greece during World War II, and his mother, who is 89, grew up in Nazi Germany.
“My dad and my mom made me understand that what we have in America is not normal,” he said. “[They said,] ‘Don’t take it for granted because we came from countries where we don’t have anything like what you have here.’ A lot of the kids I grew up with didn’t understand it the way I did because their parents didn’t go through the war. They hadn’t been hungry. They hadn’t seen the wicked face of communism. It’s because of my parents that I understand that we have a job to do. We do not deserve to be free. We do not deserve to live in this country, but God has given it to us as a gift. Now we gotta do something about it. We have got to take our gift of freedom, the voices we have, and use them.”
Simone Alex, who met Tash at Godspeak, said Christians and freedom-loving people of all stripes are “at a moment in time where we need to make a decision. We’re at a crossroads: you’re either going to do something, or you’re not going to do something.”
Tash related how she left a successful career for work of greater significance. As senior vice president of global theatrical marketing at Sony Pictures Entertainment, she oversaw the worldwide marketing campaigns for Spider-Man Far From Home, Spider-Man Into the Spider-Verse, Hotel Transylvania 3, Zombieland, Inferno, Venom and many other motion pictures. Her marketing campaign helped Spider-Man Far From Home become the highest-grossing Sony film of all time, reaching a box office total of $1.2 billion. Her marketing campaign for Spider-Verse helped Sony win the 2019 Oscar for Best Animated Feature Film.
Those days are behind her now, with better things ahead, she believes.
“When God puts a vision in your heart, you have to do it,” Tash told the gathering. “You have to put aside all your fears, your preconceived notions — you have to put it aside and do what he’s calling you to do. Otherwise, why are we here? We’re here to be the salt and the light. I walked away from a great job in Hollywood, a ton of money, all the Oscars, everything … to come over and build for the kingdom. That’s what’s important.”
Metaxas told the audience that penning Letter to the American Church was a uniquely urgent experience, though he has written several other popular books.
“I’ve never had the feeling I felt with this book,” he said. “I can’t say that about any other book I’ve written before. … I had this burning desire. ‘I have got to get this message out. God wants me to write this.’”
The film version features leading voices in America’s cultural dialogue, including Charlie Kirk, John Amanchukwu, David Engelhardt, Seth Gruber, and Victor and Eileen Marx. It will stream for free all day, February 8, on Epoch TV, available to all Epoch Times subscribers.
The producers and Metaxas also hope to screen it live in at least 1,500 churches this year. Tash thanked the “amazing prayer warriors” in attendance at the premiere and asked them to ”Keep praying that this message will spread far and wide, that the Church will see it [and] they will awaken.”
“The idea is to start a movement, to get Christians talking about this stuff,” Metaxas added. “We need to understand the Lord has given us the privilege of being alive at this moment. We are in a holy moment. This is the hour of the American Church. It really is. God is calling us to do something, to step up, to put our faith into action.”
For more information, see lettertotheamericanchurch.com.