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How ‘The Chosen’ Star Jonathan Roumie Became a Poster Child for Christian Causes

Jonathan Roumie
Jonathan Roumie portrays Jesus Christ in the series “The Chosen.” Photo courtesy of Angel Studios

(RNS) — “All right, let’s give it up for Jesus!” said Jonathan Falwell, son of conservative Christian activist Jerry Falwell and the campus pastor at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia.

Thousands of students cheered in the packed stadium on Feb. 3 as Falwell gestured to a man on stage in a leather jacket, skinny jeans and a neon-orange sneaker and beanie combo.

Jonathan Roumie, the 48-year-old actor who plays Jesus in the wildly popular TV series “The Chosen,” grinned and pointed upward. He’d just finished speaking at one of Liberty’s mandatory worship services, promoting the season three finale of “The Chosen” and his new film, “Jesus Revolution.” As the Q&A wrapped up, Falwell urged Roumie to “do the Jesus accent.”

“Everyone here is loved by God. We’re here to tell all of you that God loves you. No matter your flaws, no matter your weakness. God loves you,” Roumie declared in a Middle-Eastern accent.

Weeks earlier, Roumie was greeted by shouts at The March for Life in Washington, D.C., where he began his anti-abortion speech by reminding the crowd of his humanity.

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“I’m not the real Jesus. Let’s just get that out of the way. TV Jesus, real Jesus,” said Roumie, gesturing first to himself, then skyward. “Jim Caviezel movie Jesus,” he added in a playful nod to the actor best known for his role as Jesus in Mel Gibson’s 2004 film, “The Passion of the Christ.”

There aren’t many people who need to preface speeches with reminders they are not, in fact, God incarnate, but Roumie is part of an elite club of creatives who have starred in widely known portrayals of Jesus. And, as his fame grows, Roumie has discovered, like Caviezel and others before him, that portraying Jesus can be a pathway to an unusual kind of stardom. It’s a type of celebrity that, as with U.S. Christianity itself, is wrapped up with the country’s politics — in Roumie’s case, the conservative variety.

Roumie, raised by an Irish mother and Egyptian father in a Catholic home in and around New York City, speaks often of how he spent eight years in L.A. booking one-off gigs before landing “The Chosen.” Roumie previously played Jesus in church passion plays and in three short films for “The Chosen” creator Dallas Jenkins.

Director Dallas Jenkins, left, and actor Jonathan Roumie, portraying Jesus, discuss a synagogue scene for season three on the set of “The Chosen.” Photo courtesy of Angel Studios

The fan-funded series has won over many critics. Rhonda Burnette-Bletsch, department chair of biblical studies at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania, pointed to Roumie’s performance as central to the impact of “The Chosen,” saying, “I think that The Chosen is making Jesus human in a way that conservative Christians and Catholic Christians are more comfortable with.”

In addition to his divinity, she said, Roumie’s Jesus is one that “can crack a joke,” or “wink at someone and tease his followers.”