Acting on God’s leading
Mayor Alan Autry is serving his second term in Fresno, Calif. He recently spoke with Associate Editor Scott Harrup about his years in Hollywood, in public service and serving Christ.
PE: Numbers of our readers will remember you from the television series In the Heat of the Night and your role as police officer Bubba Skinner. What are some of your memories from that period in your career?
AUTRY: It was a great experience, not only on camera but also off camera. We had a wonderful group of folks to work with. It was a time in Carroll O’Connor’s life when he wanted to do something meaningful socially and cinematically. Its whole mission was to be good quality family entertainment and hopefully say something of importance along the way.
PE: What led you into acting?
AUTRY: I played professional football as a quarterback for the Green Bay Packers for three years. When I got released I had to make the decision what to do with my life. I was 25. Around that time I saw the first Rocky movie and I thought to myself that I would like to be a part of making that kind of film.
PE: Talk to me about how you came to trust Christ as your Savior.
AUTRY: I went through some difficult times in Hollywood and gave in to some of the temptations you encounter there. I was very insecure and scared. But I wasn’t admitting any of those things to myself. I got to the point where I was so miserable and my life was so out of control that I went to a place I visited as a kid. It was a favorite fishing spot in Riverdale. I got down on my knees and prayed, “Lord, if You’re there, I need Your help. I’m confused and hurting. I think I’m dying.” And I felt God speak to my heart that the things I had been chasing all my life were not really important. He told me I couldn’t earn the things that only He could give — His love and forgiveness. That hit home to me there in a way I had never felt before. I’d always believed in God and in Jesus Christ, but at that moment I experienced God at a different level. The Bible tells us that when we are at our weakest, God is strong.
I had been acting for about eight years. When I got up off my knees, my priorities changed. I realized my daughter didn’t need a rich or famous dad; she needed a dad who was there. A dad who would hold her when she had a nightmare, someone who would tell her right from wrong. I needed to be a good friend and a good son. When I went back to my home, I realized that God was going to expect me to approach the movie business a whole lot differently to glorify Him in every way that I could. I told God if He would deliver me, I would do my best to be obedient.
PE: When did you make the transition into political service and what precipitated that decision?
AUTRY: After working on In the Heat of the Night and Grace Under Fire, I worked on Sons of Thunder with Chuck Norris. I saw how his faith permeated that set and the godly way in which he ran his production company. When that series didn’t sell, I had to make a decision. I discerned that God wanted me to serve Him in another way. I believed He wanted me to run for office and do the best I could to bring our city of Fresno together. We had a divided city. There was a gulf between the haves and have-nots. I believed my life experience could give me a perspective in bringing unity. We are a story of one community, not a tale of two cities. I acted upon that voice, tried to be obedient to God’s leading, and the voters elected me.
One day, I hope to be involved again in films. A fellow once told me, “You know how to make God laugh? Tell Him your plans.” So, while I hope to get back into movie production with my company, Dirt Road Entertainment, my plans will have to coincide with what God wants for me.
PE: A lot of Christians look at the film industry and politics almost as lost causes. What can believers do in order to become more effective in the entertainment industry and in community leadership?
AUTRY: I would encourage anyone who has the desire to get into public office to do so and to give back to their community. We always complain as Christians about the policies that come out of government that undermine the will of God. We see those kinds of problems in our school system, for example. But where are the Christians who are willing to give their life to become a teacher or a professor to change some of the liberal ideas that are being taught? Where are the Christians who are running for office? We need believers in positions of influence. We can’t just sit on the outside and complain that the nation’s policies at local, state and federal levels are not in keeping with the godly principles our country was founded upon. We have to get involved.
And we have to be willing to pay the price. People dig things up on you — things you did and even things you didn’t do. Under that kind of scrutiny, even strong Christians blink before they will get into the public arena. But we have to get beyond that if we feel God’s calling. We’re required to act when we discern the voice of God. And, sure, sometimes people wonder if it’s their own voice calling them to go in a certain direction or if it’s the Holy Spirit. Sometimes we have to stay with something and pray on it until we clearly discern it is the Holy Spirit leading. But once that decision is made — Davy Crockett said it best I think — “Make sure you’re right, then do it.” I say, “Make sure the voice in your head is the right one, then do it.”
The same holds true for a Christian who wants to make a difference in Hollywood. What we’re seeing out there, all the movies we complain about, come out of a set of beliefs. Mel Gibson, God bless him, had the clout to do a film, The Passion of the Christ, that is one of the most important films in our lifetime. But we can’t just say, “I don’t want to be an actor, a part of Hollywood, because it’s full of a bunch of sinners and people I don’t agree with.” It’s a tremendously influential industry, particularly on our youth. We have to get in there and turn on a light instead of cursing the darkness. I encourage Christians to get into acting and work their way up so their vision gets represented.
We have to remember that Jesus went right in with sinners. He ate with tax collectors. I believe Scripture is clear that we are to be involved and change things. “Come out from among them” is not a command to go and live on an island. I believe it means we are not to give in to temptation. We have to remember Jesus’ whole mission was to save sinners. The Bible’s message to Christians is clear: Don’t retreat. Don’t run. Get yourself spiritually strong enough to resist the temptations that are going to be put in your way. But by all means get involved in these powerful areas of our society and do your best to bring godly principles into your policies and into your movies.
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