Daniel Lusko, the writer, producer and director of “Persecuted,” hopes to “wake up a world that takes freedom and truth for granted.” That’s quite a task for a 30-year-old. But Lusko, who directed five feature-length documentaries including Tyndale Distribution’s top-selling DVD, “Epicenter,” and was inducted into the Director’s Guild of America as a feature film director, means business. His newest release is a live action, political thriller produced in collaboration with Gray Frederickson (Oscar-winning producer of “The Godfather” and “Apocalypse Now”), that is guaranteed to wake a sleeping giant – Christians in America.
Lusko’s goal is to reinstill and reintroduce freedom to all generations – especially his own. Gretchen Carlson of Fox News, who plays her first role in the film, called it “Timely, in regard to what some politicians might do in some cases to get things done.” She plays the journalist that assists Luther in proving his innocence.
Former Senator Fred Thompson, who stars as Catholic priest, deemed it “A wonderful ‘House of Cards’ type political thriller that imagines what would happen if the country’s most famous religious leader refused to go along with the politicians in Washington.”
Scheduled for nationwide release July 18, the film begins with the words of Martin Luther King Jr. and shows one man can make a difference: “A man who won’t die for something is not fit to live.”
“Persecuted” tells the story of evangelist John Luther (James Remar of “X-MEN”), whose ministry reaches more people than the evening news. Luther is the last hold out for a national endorsement to make sweeping reform in freedom of speech.
This man of God is framed by a U.S. Senator (Bruce Davison, “Lost”) and his allies for his refusal to support these radical restrictions. The film also stars comedian Brad Stine, Dean Stockwell, James Higgins and singer Natalie Grant.
This film reminded me of the film, “The Fugitive,” where a man must stay on the run while trying to prove his innocence. But this plot involves the government and the church.
Luther must expose those responsible, which brings him face-to-face with a storm of persecution that threatens the morals and freedoms of America. Although not an easy story to tell, Lusko admits, “God chooses the unlikely to do his work, and He sent Oscar-winning consultants to advise me. I knew God was in this story, and I could sense He was telling me to ‘keep going’ even when things were difficult.”
“Persecuted” has received Dove’s Family Seal of Approval with a Caution for Violence. Lusko felt he must realistically include violence which gave this film a PG-13 rating, but he made an effort not to glorify it. After seeing “Persecuted,” you will be faced with hard questions. How far are you willing to go to defend your beliefs? Will Americans trade our First Amendment rights for political correctness?
Lusko is burdened for Christians like Pastor Saeed Abedini who is being imprisoned in Iran. He used the proceeds from a recent Los Angeles screening of “Persecuted” to aid Abedini’s family. The screening was sold out.
Lusko said to The Christian Post, “We’re honored to stand shoulder to shoulder with such a courageous family … I hope the news of our standing with him reaches him in his prison cell and gives him the strength and courage to keep fighting for truth and freedom.”
At the recent National Religious Broadcaster’s convention I interviewed Lusko.
Q: What’s the story behind “Persecuted”?
A: When a government acts as if it is above God and the law and is acting on ideologies, then the end justifies the means. We are facing this in America today. “Persecuted” asks the question, “Is it in God we trust or the government that we trust?” If we trust in God, the Bible tells us to humble ourselves before the government and that can cause the government to humble themselves before God and serve the people. This movie is not for the right or the left, but for all people. The bottom line is our current government is not serving the interests of the people, and they are acting as if they are above the law.
Q: How did the idea for the film come to you?
A: I woke up one morning and the entire story was there with chills running down my spine. I saw a vision of a man running through the forest trying to prove the truth.
This man had chosen to stand up for the gospel at a time when his ministry was hooked by the government using its non-profit status. That government wants to reel them and other mega-churches in by pressuring them to support a bill [that] will give equal status to all religions and promote national security.
When this man says no, he is framed for a murder and pays a significant price. He has a choice like we all have a choice. Do we really believe what we say we believe in? If there is a real cost for the gospel and for freedom, are we willing to pay that price?
Q: There is persecution against Christians in many countries. Why do you believe this is an urgent issue for Christians in America?
A: My generation (Millennials) is totally hijacked by this entitlement idea that we will always have freedom … without paying a price.
Our Founding Fathers established the First Amendment to the Constitution so we could have freedom of speech and religion and our consciences could be clear. Yet, we are slowly losing our freedoms as evidenced in the IRS scandal, government health care, and the government’s constant removal of God from every part of our lives. This is an issue for anyone including an atheist who holds a belief to be sacred. Do you want to give that belief over the government in exchange for national security and material wealth? Beware! It’s a trap because in the end; the government can have control over it.
Q: In addition to abuse of government power, this film clearly hits on corruption of the church and the desire of some mega churches for wealth and power. Is this another theme you see in America today?
A: Yes, I’ve grown up in the mega-church culture and although no church is perfect, when people walk down that aisle some feel they are coming forward to “the good life.” But what if a pastor said, “If you come forward to profess Christ, there will be a cost. You may lose your life, be put in prison, or forfeit your job. Your name will be on the list now.”
How many people would come down that aisle? Franklin Graham told me, “There will be a winnowing of the church because there’s a price to be paid for the gospel.” Those people who are doing it for the comfort or pastors who are doing it for celebrity status will be weeded out. Fifty percent of pastors tell me they will not speak of persecution because it does not increase their flock. That bubble is going to burst. We have the opportunity to get inside that bubble through this film and ask this question, “If you had to speak the truth or lose your securities, what would you do?”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Ginny Dent Brant is an author, speaker, counselor and soloist. She is editor-at-large for Sonoma Christian Home Magazine. Visit www.ginnybrant.com.)