Denzel Washington is one of Hollywood’s most profitable and respected actors. But the two-time Oscar winner (for 1989’s Glory and 2001’s Training Day) is also one of Hollywood’s most well-known Christians.
Denzel is the son of a preacher who lead a Pentecostal congregation in Mount Vernon, New York. He, himself, has been an active member of West Angeles Church of God in Christ for nearly 3 decades, reads his Bible every morning, and always chooses parts that he can “bend” in the direction of an uplifting message or a reflection of his deep personal faith in Jesus Christ.
Faith was everywhere in Washington’s post-apocalyptic film, The Book of Eli, which was marketed with “B-ELI-EVE” and “D-ELI-VER US” billboards. In the movie, Denzel played a mysterious machete-wielding traveler named Eli, directed by God to protect the earth’s last remaining copy of the Bible and to take it “out West” for safekeeping while villains seek to take it by force and use it as a “weapon” of control. Ultimately, the message of Eli, can be summed up by the axiom, “Do more for others than you would do for yourself.” It’s a message Washington was surrounded by as he grew up.
“We prayed about everything, everyday,” Denzel recently told members of the religious media in Los Angeles. “And we always ended with ‘Amen. God is love.’ I thought ‘God is love’ was one word. It took me a long time to learn what that meant. I don’t care what book you read or what you believe—if you don’t have love, if you don’t love your fellow man, then you don’t have anything.”
Though Washington isn’t a huge fan of the word “religion” and refrains from any sort of “I’m right, you’re wrong” talk, he is not ashamed to speak bluntly about his Christian beliefs.
“I believe that Jesus is the Son of God,” he says. “I’ve been filled with the Holy Spirit. I know it’s real. I was in the room. My cheeks blew up, I cried like a baby, and it scared me to death. It kind of scared me off it. I backed up and went the other direction, to be honest with you. I didn’t know what was going on. It was too strong. It has taken me many years to come back around.”
Sitting in his house recently, reading the Bible (he’s on his third time reading the whole thing straight through), Washington came across a passage about wisdom and understanding in Proverbs 4, which made him reflect on his life.
“I’m in this big house with all this stuff,” he observed. “I’ve heard that saying, ‘You never see a U-Haul behind a hearse.’ You can’t take it with you. The Egyptians tried; they got robbed. I said, ‘What do you want, Denzel?’ And one of the devotional words that day was wisdom. So I started praying on that. ‘God, give me a dose of that.’ I can’t get any more successful. But I can get better. I can learn to love more. I can learn to be more understanding. I can gain more wisdom.”
Washington believes in prophetic calling and tries to make the most of what he believes God has given him to work with: In his case, worldwide fame and one of the most storied acting careers of his generation.