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 thirty-year old. But Lusko, who’s already directed five feature-length documentaries including Tyndale Distribution’s top-selling DVD, Epicenter, and been 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. He is a genuine, mature voice for us in the midst of government scandals. 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.” Senator Fred Thompson who stars as a 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.”
The film begins with the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. and shows that 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 US Senator (Bruce Davison, Lost) and his allies for his refusal to support these radical restrictions.
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 the coming storm of persecution that will threaten the morals and freedoms of America. His faith is tested as he wrestles with questions such as, “How high up does the corruption go?” and “Whom can I trust?” The film also stars comedian Brad Stine, Dean Stockwell, James Higgins, and singer Natalie Grant in her first debut role.
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 a deliberate effort not to glorify it. After seeing Persecuted, you will be faced with these revealing questions, “How far are you willing to go to defend your beliefs?” and “Will Americans trade our First Amendment rights for political correctness?”
Sonoma Contributor Ginny Dent Brant, who grew up in the halls of power in Washington, DC, had the privilege of interviewing this inspiring young filmmaker at National Religious Broadcaster’s convention about this relevant and timely film.
SCH: What’s the story behind Persecuted?
DL: 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.
SCH: How did the idea for the film come to you?
DL: 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 which 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? No one is above this story. This story is a hard burden for me to carry because it causes me to ask questions of myself.
SCH: I’ve seen some of the active persecution against Christians that is an ongoing reality in many countries. Why do you believe this is an urgent issue for Christians in America, today?
DL: My generation (Millenniums) is totally hijacked by this entitlement idea that we will always have freedom and 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 healthcare, 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.
SCH: In your plot, the president and his allies try to pass the “Faith and Fairness Act” in an effort to bring all faiths together. Do you believe a plot like this could really happen in America today?
DL: All people with convictions should be concerned. When I screened this movie before Jay and Jordan Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice, they were interested because there is a bill before the UN that addresses hate crime legislation very similar to this. It’s closer to reality than one might think. And non-profit status is one card that will be played by the government officials.
SCH: I wholeheartedly agree with you. Christians need to be willing to give to God’s church as He commanded whether we get a tax deduction or not. I’ve seen up close persecution in the rest of the world and compared to them, we are a bunch of wimps. Daniel, you are a rare and refreshing Daniel-type figure to your own generation who desperately needs to hear the message God has given you. But the truth is, we all need to hear this message.
DL: God chooses the unlikely to do his work, and He has 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.
SCH: Tell us about some of the more politically known figures featured in this film? How did you choose your cast?
DL: Since I was young, I’ve always wanted to be an actor’s director, and I studied how actors work and what drives them. For this film, I placed a high emphasis on getting the best character actors not the most famous who would invest themselves into their roles. James Remar, whom Francis Ford Coppola says is one of the finest characters he’s work with, plays the lead role as the persecuted minister and Bruce Davison plays the corrupt politician. To add another layer to my characters, I like to play with opposites, so I placed Fred Thompson in a role as a Catholic priest, rather than play him as the politician.
SCH: 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?
DL: Yes, I’ve grown up in the mega-church culture and although no church is perfect, when people walk down that aisle, some they 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?”
When God gave me the vision for this film, I was praying heavily and listening to Voice of the Martyrs. I was so burdened for people all over the world who are suffering for Christ. They are praying for help. But where’s that help going to come from if we who are wealthy and successful are too busy enjoying “the good life” to do anything. Honestly, I’ve been stonewalled by the very people I believe God has enabled to bless and help these brothers, because it does not fit in with their bubble.
SCH: My father, Harry S. Dent, was part of that comfort zone for many years. He eventually saw as Luke 12:48 tells us, “To whom much is given, much is required.” And that became his mission.
SCH: I see you had a screening in DC. How did that go?
DL: It’s was extraordinary. Over 150 came and many were from the National Prayer Caucus. One of the leaders of this caucus, Rep. Randy Forbes told me, “This film reignites what we face on a daily basis in Congress. We have to go to court to keep “In God We Trust” on our nation’s buildings. It is indicative of a disease spreading across our nation.”
My own congressman, Steve Pearce of New Mexico, told me virtually the same thing, but added, “This was one of the best turnouts I’ve seen for a movie screening in DC.” He and many other elected officials have offered to help me promote this film.
SCH: In your film, the media comes to the aid of the hero. Journalists are sworn with an oath to promote the truth. What role do you see our media playing today? Are they seeking the truth or trying to keep us from the truth?
DL: Absolutely, many are keeping us from seeing the truth, because a large part of the media have a hook in them from the government. Some of the media enjoy the darkness and want to keep us in the darkness. If that becomes the moral standard in our country, then there must be an awakening among God’s people. We must see and know the truth.
SCH: How do you hope viewers will be inspired to act after watching Persecuted? What can concerned citizens do to prevent these things from happening here in the land of the free and the home of the brave?
DL: Get up every day and speak the truth. Everyone has a microphone in their sphere of influence. If we don’t speak up, we will lose our freedoms. This movie is a tool to do that. It is my hope that people will begin praying and seeing where God can use them so we can all make a difference for Christ. We must stand.
SCH: Ben Carson recently said at NRB, “If we are not brave, we will not be free.” And his words resonated with many.
Daniel Lusko is burdened for Christians such as Pastor Saeed Abedini who is being imprisoned in Iraq and he recently used the proceeds from his LA screening of Persecuted to aid his family. The screening was sold out. Lusko, who is wise beyond his years, 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.”
For more information go to www.persecutedmovie.com
Follow the link to read Ginny’s SCH interview with Producer George Escobar of “Alone Yet Not Alone”