It is in Raymond Harris’ nature to build things. He is an architect by profession, designing large retail and commercial buildings. The kind of structures that are important to the country’s economy. The kind of structures that are a big deal and have made Raymond successful financially. But now Raymond and his wife, Marydel, are using their wealth to help build other important things.
Raymond and Marydel are partners with moviemakers Jon and Andrew Erwin. October Baby, Mom’s Night Out and their most recent release, Woodlawn, are all films made by the Erwin brothers. More important than their financial successes, these movies take the gospel and Christ-centered narratives and distribute them like Trojan horses in a way that is not particularly mainstream in Christian circles.
“This is the Roman road of the 21st century,” said Jon Erwin. “This is America’s second-largest export.” And it remains, along with television, one of the most difficult mediums in which Christians can create art. One reason for this is that it is very expensive to make films of the caliber the Erwins want to be successful. Over 1,000 movies have been made (most of them in the last 25 years) with a budget of $50 million or more. Raymond Harris, quite contrary to the majority of Hollywood, sees his business ventures as a way to properly steward what God has provided.
The Harrises connected with the Erwins nearly a decade ago when they helped fund a short-film project that the Erwins were freelancing. Raymond was on the board of Crown Financial Ministries, which produced the films. The brothers had previously worked as cameramen for ESPN. “We didn’t really know what we were getting ourselves into, and [Raymond] just stood beside us and was empowering as a real believer in us,” said Jon. “We struck up a friendship.”
“With every great movement of God, there’s a leader we remember. But what we don’t know is there’s always some sort of financial benefactor that’s empowering the work. Every time the world has changed, those two always go together.”
Since then, the Harrises have offered emotional support, wise counsel and financial backing to the Erwin brothers as they make movies with gospel-centered themes, providing what Jon calls “a way to share the gospel wider than it’s ever been spread and faster than it’s ever gone.”
“We have the numbers and the resources to get a generation back and to share the gospel with the world,” said Jon. “It’s so great to see people like Raymond and Marydel step up. With every great movement of God, there’s a leader we remember. But what we don’t know is there’s always some sort of financial benefactor that’s empowering the work. Every time the world has changed, those two always go together.”
The Harrises helped fund the Erwins’ first movie, October Baby, about an abortion survivor searching for her past. Raymond shrugs it off as just part of his natural path of pushing the gospel forward. He can do this because he does not truly consider his money as something that belongs to him. Rather, he sees himself as a steward of God’s gifts.
Raymond speaks casually about his and his wife’s role in being facilitators for these films. “I’m not smart enough to figure out what’s the next thing that’s going to take off for the gospel,” he said, “I just kind of fell into this. I try to be obedient when I hear the Holy Spirit whisper.”
Raymond’s obedience has helped the Erwin’s movies go from homegrown to home runs. Their latest movie, Woodlawn, a story about football and racial reconciliation based on true events in 1973, has been a box office success, making over $15 million in its first few weeks.
“How do you really transport the gospel?” asked Raymond. “You’re going to do it through a secular medium—like the movie business. My perspective is that everything we do in business should be done to the glory of God.”
“All I do as work is spiritual; it’s holy. Everything should be done to advance the kingdom of God.”
Raymond’s perspective on funding movies is no different than his perspective at his day job as an architect. “People ask, ‘How do you integrate your work and your faith?’ I say, ‘You don’t have to. Work is your faith, and faith is displayed in your work.’”
“All I do as work is spiritual; it’s holy. Everything should be done to advance the kingdom of God. We affect a lot of people in how we handle our business. We can either do it according to God’s principles or we can do it with a secular, non-religious approach. To say, ‘I’m in ministry, so what I’m doing is sharing the gospel,’ is not any more holy than what you can do in the movie business by employing a lot of people and sharing the gospel through film.”
1 Timothy 6:17-19 is a reminder of the Harrises attitude toward stewardship:
As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.
“I’ve learned that God owns everything, and that we’re just entrusted with what He’s gifted us,” said Raymond. He knows deploying his time and resources and pouring into others is vital work.
“The most important thing that I’ve internalized is that God really does own it all, and my work should reflect the gospel. We have secularized work and spiritualized ministry. That’s not found in the Bible. There’s nothing more holy and spiritual than excellent work.”