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Rick Santorum shifting his religious passion from politics to the movies

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum may or may not make another Republican bid for the White House. But at the moment, he’s taking his Christian zeal into another direction: the movies.

Over the summer, Santorum became the chief executive of EchoLight Studios, a Christian film company based in Dallas.

And during his appearance at the regional conference of the Conservative  Political Action Conference (CPAC) this weekend in St. Charles, Santorum will air an extended clip of his new Christmas movie, “The Christmas Candle," slated to be released right before Thanksgiving.

Friday night, Santorum pitched his movie – with the 20-minute clip -- before several dozen conservatives gathered at the Rock Church of St. Louis in Brentwood.

The group was made up primarily of African-Americans and Hispanics, most of them not members of the church but of the targeted minority groups that Republican organizers such as Christopher Arps said their party – and Santorum – need to connect with.

In his remarks at the church, Santorum talked about values, not politics, and the importance of Christians taking more leadership in media outlets like film, which he said have an outsized influence with the public.

“The popular culture is shaping this country today more than politics,’’ Santorum said, adding as an aside that “politics is a mess right now.”

He pointed to the large screen behind him, and the smart phone screen in his hand. “These screens are shaping the moral imagination of all of our children,” he said. “And the people who produce the stuff that comes on these screens, by and large don’t share the values of most Americans.”

Children are seeing images on the screens that their parents “would never allow in their house’’ but ignore since they’re on a screen, Santorum continued.

“They have lies, we have truth, but they are not ashamed to put their lies up there and try to change the country. And they are winning. Let’s be honest, they’re winning. And the culture is suffering. Families are suffering.”

Santorum said he got into the film industry because he wanted to make “a good movie’’ that had good images as well as a good message. While not opposed to all violence and sex, he was critical when filmmakers approached both as “glorified as an end to itself.”

But despite his objections, Santorum said such films are having an impact because they are made well. So his plan is to create well-made movies with Christian values, so that his children could occasionally see on TV “someone who actually tries to live good, decent moral lives and they aren’t made fun of because they are people of faith.”

Santorum is hoping that “The Christmas Candle’’ – set in 1890s England and featuring Scottish singer Susan Boyle – will be seen as one such movie. The film centers on a young pastor who had fallen away from his faith, and appears to be getting a second chance to make a difference.

“It has a ‘Downton Abbey’ kind of feel to it,” said Santorum, referring to the popular public-television series.  But at the same time, “The Christmas Candle” has a religious message “about receiving the gift of the birth of Jesus.”

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.

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