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Christian Bale to portray ex-Living Hope Church leader Bishop in movie about pastor’s fall

Vanity Fair article basis of film; Bishop pleaded guilty in drug case

By , Columbian Assistant Metro Editor
Published:
3 Photos
Michelle Bishop, from left, and her husband, former Vancouver pastor John Bishop, return to the courthouse for John Bishop's sentencing for unlawful importation of a controlled substance-marijuana after a recess at the James M. Carter and Judith N. Keep United States Courthouse in San Diego, Calif., on Sept. 21, 2018.
Michelle Bishop, from left, and her husband, former Vancouver pastor John Bishop, return to the courthouse for John Bishop's sentencing for unlawful importation of a controlled substance-marijuana after a recess at the James M. Carter and Judith N. Keep United States Courthouse in San Diego, Calif., on Sept. 21, 2018. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian files) Photo Gallery

Oscar winner Christian Bale — who’s played a psychotic killer, Batman and former Vice President Dick Cheney — is set to star in a film about former Living Hope Church pastor turned convicted drug smuggler John Bishop.

Film producer and distribution company New Regency has acquired the film rights to David Kushner’s Vanity Fair article, “The Church of Living Dangerously: How One of America’s Biggest Pastors Became a Drug Runner for a Mexican Cartel,” the Hollywood entertainment site, Deadline, reported Monday. The deal also includes the life rights to Bishop, 58, and his adult son, David.

Bishop — who built Living Hope Church into a large enterprise housed in an empty Kmart building in central Vancouver — was ousted in the fall of 2015 after allegations of alcohol abuse, infidelity and other moral indiscretions came to light.

He was arrested in December 2017 for attempting to smuggle nearly 300 pounds of marijuana into the United States from Mexico. He later pleaded guilty and was sentenced the day before Thanksgiving 2018 to five years in federal prison.

Bishop is scheduled to be released Nov. 24. He is currently being managed by a residential reentry field office in Phoenix, according to federal inmate records. A spokesman for the Federal Bureau of Prisons said Wednesday that Bishop transferred June 2 from a satellite prison camp in Florence, Colo., to community confinement, meaning he is either on home confinement or at a residential reentry center or halfway house.

Fall From Grace

Living Hope Church was co-founded by former pastor John Bishop. John Bishop Part 1: The making of a man of God
More than 14,000 worshippers filled Portland’s Rose Garden arena on Easter Sunday 2007. Traffic backed up on Interstate 5. About 700 people were baptized in…
John Bishop faces sentencing today in federal court in San Diego on drug smuggling charges. John Bishop Part 6: Reflections from a single-wide trailer
The newsroom phone rang Thursday, Sept. 13 just before noon. It was Andrea Madison, a former Living Hope Church congregant and a friend of former…
Michelle Bishop, from left, and her estranged husband, former Vancouver pastor John Bishop, return to the courthouse for John Bishop’s sentencing for unlawful importation of a controlled substance-marijuana after a recess at the James M. Carter and Judith N. Keep United States Courthouse in San Diego, Calif., onSept. 21, 2018. John Bishop sentenced to 5 years for drug smuggling
Former Vancouver pastor John Bishop was sentenced to five years in prison on federal drug-smuggling charges Wednesday in U.S. District Court in San Diego.

“For privacy, safety and security reasons, we do not discuss any individual inmate’s conditions of confinement, to include transfers or release plans, nor do we specify an individual’s specific location,” Bureau of Prisons spokesman Donald Murphy said in an email.

Kushner — who’s also written for The New York Times and Rolling Stone, and authored a number of nonfiction books — told Bishop’s life story in 6,015 words, including Bishop’s, his wife, Michelle’s, and David’s account of their dealings with Mexican drug cartels.

Bishop gave a similar interview to The Columbian days before the newspaper published a six-story series on Bishop’s fall from grace that came out several months before the Vanity Fair article.

The account Bishop gave The Columbian, most of which he requested not be printed, largely diverged from the narrative he and his family shared with Vanity Fair. Kushner’s article did not reference any of The Columbian’s reporting.

Kushner did not respond to The Columbian’s request for an interview on the film deal Tuesday.

Michelle Bishop also did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

‘Entirely shocked’

News of the planned film elicited mixed reactions from local residents who know Bishop.

Andrea Madison, 64, a former Living Hope Church congregant and friend of Bishop, said she was “entirely shocked” to learn of the film.

“I’m going to be interested to see how they portray him,” she said in a phone interview Tuesday. “I just hope everything comes around to work out in everyone’s best favor. It’s been a long haul, and there’s a lot there — probably a lot of things people don’t know. I hope that this movie brings it to light.”

Gerry Breshears — a theology professor at Western Seminary in Portland who mentored Bishop — said he thinks the film will be among the “gossipy recountings of the failure of megachurch pastors.”

He said that narrative seems to be “profit-inducing for people” that “paints churches, in general, as abusive organizations when they’re very much promoting the good in the community.”

“People were really hurt in the destruction of Living Hope. Their pain is only going to be dragged out,” Breshears, 74, said in a phone interview.

Former Living Hope Church board member Ron Webb, 79, said he thinks “they’re trying to sell a story,” albeit an interesting one.

“I was a little embarrassed in a sense, because some of the language in the article was not the John that I knew,” he said of the Vanity Fair article. “That shocked me a little bit.

“I’m not ashamed of the fact that I knew him. He was a good friend, and it was a tragedy what happened. Sometimes we build traps for ourselves that we can’t escape,” Webb said in a phone interview.

He added that the film is a way for Bishop to generate income while he’s been unable to preach.

Living Hope Church co-lead pastors Doug Frazier and Neal Curtiss said Tuesday the church has not yet been approached about participating in the film, and they did not confirm whether it would participate.

“We hope that if a movie is made that it is a positive portrayal of the church coming through a difficult time and doing well, and also a truthful message about John and David and what they went through,” Curtiss said in an email Tuesday night.

“We are praying for the Bishop family and wishing them the best,” Frazier said in a phone interview.

Film’s script

According to Deadline, the film’s script will be written by Charles Randolph, who shared an Oscar with Adam McKay for scripting “The Big Short” — also starring Bale — and “Bombshell,” based on the sexual harassment case of Fox News’ Roger Ailes.

New Regency and Bale, with Ellen Goldsmith Vein and Eric Robinson of The Gotham Group, will produce the film. Randolph, Kushner and Margaret Riley will serve as executive producers, Deadline reported.

Bishop’s frequently changing story about his drug running for the New Generation Cartel in Mexico got him into trouble with federal authorities as he approached sentencing.

His plea deal, which would have allowed for a reduced sentence, collapsed by September 2018 after new evidence showed he repeatedly had been untruthful with prosecutors and the FBI.

Bishop attempted to appeal his sentence, but a federal appeals court dismissed his petition in September 2019.

Then, in February 2020, a friend of Bishop’s shared on social media that the imprisoned former pastor was suffering a brain tumor. Prison officials would not discuss Bishop’s health.


This story was updated Aug. 25 with additional comment from Living Hope Church leadership and the Bureau of Prisons.

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