Something Refreshingly Pro-Jesus On Netflix! Jesus Is Calling … on Netflix’s ‘Beef’
Are you hurting and broken within? Overwhelmed by the weight of your sin? Jesus is calling…”
I’ve sung these lyrics from “O Come to the Altar” countless times. I’ve heard the song at church, at conferences, in my car … but never did I expect to hear it on a hit Netflix show.
It wasn’t just the song. The entire church scene from Beef felt pulled from my life. As the worship band sang, the camera panned through the room to reveal congregants with their eyes closed and hands raised, a sea of black hair swaying in a rhythm that I knew all too well.
The sanctuary was well worn and outdated, the kind of space that could easily be converted into a multipurpose room. Mismatched chairs in rows served as pews, and the tilted commercial vertical blinds didn’t really block out the light. The doughnuts after the service were all too familiar. The only way it could’ve been better is if they had eaten rice, kimchi, and bean sprout or radish soup.
In the Netflix dark comedy Beef—currently the most popular show on the platform—actor Steven Yeun costars as Danny Cho, a struggling contractor who gets involved in a road rage incident. He’s had a hard life, and in a rock-bottom moment, he walks into a church sanctuary. Danny feels out of place in a room that aesthetically is anything but conducive to worship, yet he gets immersed in the communal praise around him. He cries, and a pastor comes to pray over him.
The worship hit especially close to home for me; not only did it remind me of nearly every Korean American immigrant church I attended growing up, but I also used to serve at the Los Angeles church whose band appears in the show. Hearing lyrics about God’s grace extended to us in our brokenness was so familiar that it felt exposing, nostalgic, and even embarrassing at the same time. The experience was so authentic, it almost felt contrived.
For many who grew up in the Korean American church—or in Asian American Christian communities whose church experiences were shaped by Korean American Protestantism—the worship scenes from Beef were instantly recognizable and generated a visceral response. And the reactions proved to be a bit of a Rorschach test.
For some, the scene evoked fond memories of growing up in the church in the 1970s, ’80s, ’90s, or 2000s. It brought to mind those powerful spiritual moments at church that marked their weeks, months, or even years. It brought them back to a time and space where they felt like they truly belonged—a place of shared culture and shared faith.
Viewers who knew these kinds of churches may have longed for the communities they had growing up, imperfect but loving in their fellowship. One Korean American pastor friend shared that it reminded him of the moment he said yes to Jesus in college, even though he grew up as a pastor’s kid.
Others saw Danny’s tearful visit to the church more negatively. They remembered the ways they were manipulated by church leaders, disillusioned by a performative spirituality, and hurt by the people they were told to trust. The church sanctuary in Beef took them back to spaces where they were ostracized, exploited, and even abused—toxic and traumatizing places that they have worked hard to escape.
One reason the worship scenes felt real to us and could immediately trigger our memories may be that the worship was real. That’s what Citizens LA pastor Jason Min, whose praise band played for the church scenes, shared with me.
By Min’s account, they were actually leading worship before the cameras, not performing or pretending to do so. Many of the extras in the congregation came from Citizens LA church, and they worshiped like they do each Sunday morning. I know because they were my worship band when I lived in LA.
Their worship in Beef resonated before it even aired. The show has an all-Asian cast, and many of those who were working on the set or in the background commented that the worship set scenes impacted them.
Min told me that people at the filming commented on the peace they felt or said that singing the lyrics to “O Come to the Altar” a hundred times did something to them. They shared that they didn’t know whether it meant they would go to church or go back to church but that they would be sitting with what they experienced for some time.
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