Besides friends, family, and foes, you would expect a film-buff Christian to be looking for movie stars amid the celestial saved, right? And I admit, I’m hoping for John Wayne and Elvis to also be there along with Abe Lincoln and Peter, Paul and Mary (the apostles and Jesus’ mother, not the singing group, although good luck to them too). There’s, of course, another celeb I’m hoping for. I won’t mention his name as I don’t want to sound judgmental, but though an unabashed fan, I’ve read a lot about him that would suggest he did it too much his way.
Perhaps you feel this same compassion for those who have entertained us throughout the years. When it comes to film personas from the past, we are especially affectionate. For instance, who didn’t like Jimmy Stewart? It would be nice to see him up there, wouldn’t it?
Elvis recorded several gospel albums and managed to incorporate a spiritual or two in most of his concerts. That’s not something done by many rock-n-rollers. Newsman Sander Vanocur relayed a story about Elvis on a PBS special that spotlighted the entertainer’s love of gospel music. According to the journalist, the story goes that a group of girls at a Presley concert lifted up a huge banner that declared, “Elvis is King.” It caught the performer’s eye and he said to them and everybody else in attendance, “There’s only one King, and that’s Jesus Christ.”
Does such a public declaration secure a person’s place in Heaven? Does the recording of hymns? Well, you gotta give me, it’s a hopeful indicator. ("Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven,” Matthew 10:32.)
As for the Duke, there are many examples of him reverencing the Creator and acknowledging Jesus as the Son of God. Even toward the end of his career when rating codes had slackened, enabling movie stars to profane God's name on screen, John Wayne never did. And in several films, including Three Godfathers, She Wore A Yellow Ribbon, Operation Pacific, The Cowboys, and Chisum, he was seen either leading others in prayer or discussing God's authority. What's more, on the first day of filming The Alamo, Wayne, who produced, directed and starred in the picture, had a minister on the set to pray over the production.
On a segment of The Dean Martin Show in the mid-1960s, Wayne made a point of letting the audience know he would make sure his newly born daughter grew up guided by the Psalms and the Lord's Prayer. In the early 1970s, a televised interview showed Wayne gathered with his family at mealtime, Duke's youngest saying grace and ending it in “Jesus' name.” I remember thinking, somebody taught that boy to pray in “Jesus’ name.” Is it a stretch to assume it was his dad?
Certainly, it would be naïve to think we know a man by his carefully protected public image, but an acknowledgement of God must have been important to John Wayne for some reason. Since he didn't need to be reverential in order to maintain celebrity, could his reasoning be based on a spiritual awareness?
After hearing Jimmy Stewart state in a TV appearance that he was grateful to God for his blessings, I then learned that he and his wife attended a Presbyterian church in Southern California. Of course, there are many people who attend church who have yet to accept Jesus as their Savior, but again, it’s a pretty positive indicator when you see a major movie star attending a house of worship. Because most don’t.
Solomon wrote, "As water reflects the face, so a man's heart reveals the man" (Proverbs 27:19). I choose to believe the above actions reveal something about these men’s take on things yet unseen.
So, who do you want to meet in Heaven? Besides those we’ve known intimately, maybe you also tend toward seeing someone famous. Or, perhaps the first to come to mind are the disciples, or men or women renowned for sacrificing their lives for their faith. From an earthly perspective, those would be incredible moments. But I suspect that after standing before God and His Son, we’ll look upon everyone in Heaven as special. They’re special to our Creator. (“For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight,” Ephesians 1:4.) He sees something special in each one of us.
I’m looking forward to meeting everyone up there, including you. (Well, someday. Let’s not rush this thing.)
Phil Boatwright celebrates 25 years of writing about Hollywood from a Christian perspective. Besides providing a monthly column for Baptist Press, he reviews films for www.previewonline.org. He also is a regular contributor to "The World and Everything In it," a weekly radio program from WORLD News Group, which also publishes WORLD Magazine.