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Chased Off YouTube

Church’s film about persecution booted for violating “community guidelines.”

Josh Troester created the film “Chased” as a tool to illustrate a New Life Church sermon series: What might an underground church look like in an American context?

But a surprise reality subplot unfolded after Troester, communications pastor of the Springfield, Missouri, Assemblies of God congregation, uploaded the 33-minute production to YouTube. Within minutes, he received a message from the giant video-sharing site informing him that Chased had been removed as “inappropriate.” The message informed Troester that the film violated its “community guidelines.”

Troester reviewed the site’s guidelines, which ban nudity; sexual, harmful, dangerous, violent, graphic, or hateful content; copyright infringement; threats; spam; misleading metadata; and scams. The message did not specify the film’s particular violation.

Believing the film’s removal was an error, he appealed. Chased begins with Matthew 10:22: “And all nations will hate you because you are my followers. But everyone who endures to the end will be saved.” Troester felt baffled as to how the film violated guidelines. Troester’s nonprofit production company 7:13 Productions copyrighted and owns the footage and music.

“We put a lot of work into making sure that copyright infringement could never be a valid claim against us,” he says. Violence in the film is only implied. “We kept it where a preteen audience can watch it.” Asserting that Chased aims to incite action against a religious group — in this case, Christians — would be absurd.

“The intention of this video is to showcase stories against an American background of Christian persecution, to raise awareness” of the global issue, Troester responded. “We aren’t making any political statement of the future of the country. Our goal was to take Christian persecution and make it a more relatable topic in the Western world.”

Although in a growing number of regions of the world these perils for Christians are daily challenges, setting such realities in the U.S. would still be regarded as dystopian fiction, a hot film genre that includes 1984, Divergent, and The Hunger Games. But Troester notes that especially the latter two film examples “are forecasting a hypothetical world — a country with major oppressive gaps between rich and poor.”

In contrast, to inform the Chased project, he and scriptwriter Emily Weaver pored over news of actions in the world’s worst places for Christians. Their research provided a rich vein of story possibilities. The film sought to honor martyrs by telling actual stories of persecution and raise awareness that would inspire viewer action: pray for persecuted believers, give to missions in countries where Christians are persecuted, and prayerfully consider going.

In stark contrast to Hollywood fictionalized dramas, Chased cost only $13,000 to create, funded primarily through crowdsourcing and $3,000 from New Life. Troester used volunteer actors and crew recruited from within an hour of Springfield, but he rented some equipment and hired U.S. Missions Chi Alpha University of Alabama campus missionary Josh Ellen to score an original soundtrack.

Two hours after Troester appealed, YouTube replied, saying the company’s review of the video concluded it indeed violated community guidelines.

“There’s no option for further action,” Troester says. “It’s very difficult to contact a human at YouTube.” The video sharing site’s email came from a “do not reply” account, hence attempts to respond would not reach the sender.

Although Troester’s preferred sharing site for the video would be YouTube, the smaller site Vimeo allowed him to upload Chased, even suffering a crash when many tried to watch it at the same time. Since its Feb. 23 release on Vimeo, it’s received around 1,000 views per day.

“God has actually provided the platform,” he says. “The YouTube ban has opened a lot of doors for us. We’ve utilized the publicity and it’s gotten it into a lot of hands — local publicity as well as national.” Prominent among national media that have covered the story is TheBlaze.

Pictured: (From left) Assistant Director Ryan Garrett, Writer Emily Weaver, Casting Director Bradley Carpenter, Director of Photography Nathan Cole, and Director-Producer Joshua Troester. The film's crew members all are on staff or attend New Life. 

Deann Alford

Deann Alford is a journalist and author. She attends Glad Tidings of Austin, an Assemblies of God congregation in the Texas capital.