(RNS) — “The Chosen,” the wildly popular TV series based on the life of Jesus and his followers, will soon be available to prisoners at more than 300 correctional institutions in 49 states, courtesy of Prison Fellowship, a criminal justice reform organization founded by evangelical Christians.
Katherine Warnock, head of original content for “The Chosen,” told Religion News Service in an email that the partnership provides the show a new venue in which to introduce “the authentic Jesus to the world” across faiths, party lines and social status.
The show, produced, written and directed by evangelical filmmaker Dallas Jenkins, is the first multiseason drama to hit Floodlight, a streaming platform launched by Prison Fellowship three years ago as a way to get free, faith-based inspirational content into prisons at the height of the pandemic.
Floodlight also pipes other Christian programming into prisons, including worship services from the global megachurch network Hillsong, the Christian 12-step program Celebrate Recovery and from Alpha, a British evangelistic organization known for its 11-week Christian fundamentals course.
James J. Ackerman, president and CEO of Prison Fellowship, told RNS that “The Chosen” is the type of program Floodlight was designed for.
“I think ‘The Chosen’ is the most accessible video presentation of the gospel I’ve ever seen. Anybody can watch ‘The Chosen’ and begin to understand who Jesus was, why Jesus came and what Jesus did. Because video is the broadest means by which people receive content, it is a great evangelistic tool.”
The new partnership was initiated in January by the Come and See Foundation, a nonprofit founded last fall to generate charitable support for “The Chosen.” Come and See Foundation connected with Prison Fellowship via mutual acquaintances at Stand Together, the anti-poverty foundation founded by Charles Koch (of Koch brother fame).
Both the effort and the message of Jesus itself recognize the worth of those who are incarcerated, according to Warnock. “Culturally there is a stigma that surrounds incarcerated men and women — a stigma that communicates that they are less than or lower on the humanity scale,” she said. “The life of Jesus and the very stories we are telling through ‘The Chosen’ fly in the face of that preconceived notion.”
Jesus, she added, “went out of his way to shake up those very societal norms.”
“The Chosen” has already racked up more than 500 million episode views and is available in more than 60 languages. In November, the show shocked the film industry when it debuted the first episode of its new season in movie theaters and grossed $8.75 million in sales on its opening weekend.
Coming just as Prison Fellowship’s in-person ministry to prisons is resuming after the COVID-19 pandemic, Ackerman said, “The Chosen’s” appearance will give prisoners plenty to talk about with the organization’s volunteers, who can provide free Bible resources to supplement the series.
“We love what they’re doing and what they’ve created. It’s a movement,” Ackerman observed. “’The Chosen’ made the gospels human, and made them accessible and understandable by people of all backgrounds, which is why it will be so well received in prisons.”
“The Chosen” will begin streaming on Floodlight later this month and will be available in June on DVD through Prison Fellowship’s Storehouse, an online resource center for chaplains.