09/10/2011 08:12 am ET Updated Nov 10, 2011

Jim Henderson Reality Show Pitch Would Pit Faith Against Faith

By Piet Levy
Religion News Service

SEATTLE (RNS) Jim Henderson has a pitch for Hollywood: "The 700 Club" meets "Real Time with Bill Maher" meets "Big Brother."

Henderson, a 63-year-old self-proclaimed failed Christian pastor and "spiritual anthropologist" living in Seattle, believes he may have found his real spiritual calling in reality TV, and has turned to YouTube to drum up interest in his idea.

From his experiences creating and running Off The Map, a 12-year-old organization that produces events exposing Christians to non-Christians (it has even paid outsiders to critique Christian churches and purchased the soul of an atheist on eBay in exchange for his assessments of church services), Henderson has developed a potential TV show called "Save Me!" that would put passionate believers of different faiths under one roof.

"Every day they go out individually and independent of each other to try and save people, and then they come home and try to save each other," Henderson said in a video calling for "true believers" who think "people who accept your religion go to your religion's heaven and those that don't go to your religion's hell" to submit audition videos.

"I like researching people's spiritual lives and in what way it influences them," Henderson explained in an interview. A TV show, more than a sermon, would be the best way to expose people to different ideas of faith, he argued.

"The most effect in terms of shaping people's spiritual imaginations is through entertainment... But the way that religion is treated (on television) is it's either turned into a cartoon or deified."

Henderson said "Save Me!" would do neither, even though it would follow such reality show trappings as weekly challenges (in this case, evangelization contests at bars and comedy clubs), celebrity guests (well-known religious leaders as mentors) and a big cash prize at the end, awarded to the congregation of the participant who gets the most viewer votes.

While Henderson himself is a Christian, he doesn't want "Save Me" to be a Christian show, and said casting would be open to Buddhists, Jews, Scientologists and atheists.

Henderson spoke about the show six months ago with a Hollywood producer, who was intrigued by the idea. Henderson wouldn't say the name of the producer, but did disclose that one of his best-known credits was co-writing the screenplay for a Rob Schneider movie.

At the producer's request, Henderson put a casting call video on YouTube Aug. 28, saying submissions were due Sept. 6. But he has netted less than six submissions, including a joke audition from a friend claiming to be a member of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, a farcical religion popular among some atheists.

That's not deterring Henderson, who said he planned to put out another casting call video and to pitch the potential program to
Christian universities.

Among those who auditioned were Aaron Taylor, an evangelist living in Farmington, N.M., who appeared in the 2010 documentary "Holy Wars," which followed his efforts to preach Christianity to Muslims.

"My motivation for possibly getting involved in 'Save Me!' is to try to present a witness for Jesus that transcends partisan bickering," Taylor said.

"For too long I feel the Christian world, and more specifically the evangelical world, has been locked in its own self-contained world where essentially people are preaching to the choir."