Bullhorns and Boycotts

Five days ago, the preschool-oriented Disney show DocMcStuffins aired an episode that featured an interracial lesbian couple in a domestic situation with two small children and the results have been completely predictable. Gay rights advocates have heralded the show as a groundbreaking representation of the diversity of modern families and conservative Christians have called for boycotts of Disney, perceiving that the show is pushing homosexuality on preschoolers.

I have to admit that my attitude is changing. My understanding of Biblical morality is secure, but I am beginning to question the knee-jerk reaction that conservative Christians (myself included) have toward these incursions of secular immorality into modern media – especially children’s media. Christian parents rightfully recognize our duty to protect our children and to guide their development in a Biblical way. However, is the cycle of outrage and boycotts really accomplishing a measurable goal? I think our conclusion might change if we face some hard truths.

The first hard truth is that we’ve lost the war over secular media. Boycotts aren’t going to change that fact. The toothpaste is out of the tube. Entertainment industry exists to produce shows that people will pay to watch, and for the most part, consumers (including many Christians) have continued to spend that money as media has charged forth in the normalization of immorality. That is not set to change any time soon. Yes, I know, “if all the people that call themselves Christian would unite…” Think about this for a second. Countless churches struggle just to get people to come to church once a week consistently, serve occasionally, and put enough money in the offering plate to keep the lights on and the pastor’s kids out of rags. But your plan requires so many people to commit to denying their entertainment appetites that it makes a measurable dent in the income of a $36.5 billion-dollar company! Good luck. The fact is that you aren’t going to boycott your way into changing culture.

The second hard truth is that much of our energy is being wasted directing moral outrage at a culture that doesn’t comprehend moral absolutes. The Christian understanding of family, morality, and even the innocence of children stems from foundational ideas that our culture doesn’t accept or even understand. There is a reason that they portrayed the couple in the cartoon as both interracial and lesbian. In the thinking of our culture the two qualities are in the same spectrum of diversity that should be celebrated and promoted for no other reason but that it is diverse. That’s why they simply chalk up the controversy to a small group that is afraid of seeing people on screen different from themselves. (After all, they don’t actually discuss homosexuality at all in the show) They don’t understand why you would be concerned about having to explain to your four-year-old what a lesbian is. To secular culture, it’s a perfect chance to suggest to her that she might be a lesbian – or perhaps even a boy trapped in a girl’s body. The difference stems from the radically different understanding that Christians have of what is real. Christians believe in absolute truths such as unchanging moral values and objective definitions of things like gender, self, and family. Our culture has spent more than a century pummeling these ideas out of the collective conscience of its people. To them even the concept of absolute morality is incomprehensible. The end purpose of life is to find yourself, but since the idea of “self” isn’t even a real thing to be discovered, the purpose of life has defaulted to doing what feels best next. In a world containing only feeling and opinion, when Christians appeal to Biblical moral standards, or suggest that God’s truth transcends man’s feelings, our society sees people who have the audacity to suggest that one mere opinion is right and others are wrong. The only way to change that perception is to fundamentally change the way people perceive truth first by introducing them to Truth, and second by an often slow process of re-learning that is not very achievable with bullhorns and boycotts.

The third hard truth is that hypocrisy is endemic within Christian culture when it comes to sexuality in media. I get it, there is something particularly disturbing when a preschool show becomes the tool of introducing your child to homosexuality. However, we’ve tolerated so much up to this point that it’s sometimes hard to take the outrage seriously. For decades, there have been hardly any movies or TV shows that don’t include immoral sexuality. How many of these shows that depict (or give the impression of) hook-ups, cohabitation before marriage, multiple sexual partners, premarital sex, dating sex, and so much more, do Christians tolerate with barely a thought? How then do we have the moral high ground to suddenly throw out a flag and call for a boycott the moment that homosexuality is depicted? Think of the last family-oriented movie or TV episode that you saw that implied, for example, cohabitation between an unmarried man and woman? Did you notice? Did you call for a boycott? Did it even matter? Why are we more upset about one version of sexual immorality than another? Could it be that we simply find the one brand of sin more personally agreeable? Inconsistent moral outrage looks an awful lot like hypocrisy.

The way that I see it, given the above realities, if we want to avoid the onslaught of sexual immorality into our living rooms without extreme measures like limiting our viewing to Leave it to Beaver reruns, we must apply ourselves to wisely selecting media for our family that will have a positive impact and be spiritually appropriate for each of the souls entrusted to our care. Clearly, this will be more difficult as shows that used to be considered “safe” require careful screening. It means that more and more of the new stuff coming out will simply have no redeeming factors to make it worthy of consumption. No more sitting children down and letting them watch Disney Junior without supervision. No more trusting MPAA ratings (hopefully most of us were already there) to decide which shows are appropriate. Yes, and maybe a little bit more of introducing our families to the classics. A whole lot of careful discernment is in our future. However, discernment doesn’t require buckets of uncontextualized public outrage and soapbox pontificating. We aren’t trying to force sinners to stop sinning (that’s our Savior’s department), we are simply making the wisest choice for ourselves and our families.

If you share my goal, I encourage you to start following the legal battle between VidAngel and Disney. VidAngel offers a service that allows you to specifically choose the content that gets played from movies and TV. Almost all of the media giants have consistently opposed such services, but while Christians don’t have the power to change Hollywood, this is a battle that we can win.

We aren’t going to change our culture through bullhorns and boycotts. Society changes when people change, and unless we look to the core issues that drive our culture’s plunge into the abyss of moral relativism, then all we are doing in the meantime is throwing cups of water on to a vat of burning gasoline. It’s time to start considering what we hope to accomplish, what we can accomplish, and what God wants us to accomplish when we engage secular culture on these issues. Until then, most of what we are saying just sounds like a whole lot of noise to them.

–Thomas Hersman

Ideas Matter Too

I have heard it said that people are more important than ideas. I don’t think anyone would disagree with that statement, but I wonder if sometimes it doesn’t quite tell the whole story. I think I understand what it means – that we can’t forget that each human is more than a collection of ideas to be catalogued and thrown in the bin with all the similar minded people. Every person has a story and a different set of reasons for reaching their conclusions about life. Consequently, no one appreciates having broad assumptions made about them based upon a few specific characteristics of their own belief system. In failing to consider this, we risk becoming the empty mouthpiece of a dry philosophy, and we will certainly obscure what makes the Gospel message most compelling – the individual and personal love of our Savior. Yes, people are more important than ideas, but ideas also move people, and forgetting that fact carries its own perils.

Like fish that don’t realize they are wet, most people grow up with a foundational worldview (a set of ideas through which they view the world) that they simply assume is true. Whether purposefully imparted by church, school, or family, or absorbed by default from the community to which they have the most sense of belonging, worldviews are deeply engrained, and most of us spend very little time pealing back the layers of the onion to find out what really makes our personal philosophy tick. Our foundational worldview continually imparts its slant on our perception of reality, and few of us take notice.

The Great Commission calls us to make disciples, not just to introduce others to the abstract idea of Jesus Christ. For a disciple, Christ is more than simply a mental note, like the fact that Antarctica exists, a realization that has little affect upon my daily life. Disciples place God and His Word at the top of the pyramid under which all else that we believe and perceive is defined. Disciples are made through the work of the Holy Spirit, but that is not some automatic mystical process. The renewing of the mind of a Believer requires a reworking of our worldviews. That is why Christian beliefs seem so bizarre to modern secular society. Yet, Christians spend a disproportionate amount of our time trying to explain our conclusions about life, reality, truth, and morality to people whose worldviews are incapable of properly handling them. Biblical values of sex, gender, family, and morality are gibberish to a mind that believes man is nothing more than an animal. The case for the sanctity of human life falls flat within a worldview that holds nothing as objectively sacred. Yet, we often go around in circles matching our assumptions with others’, and making no more progress than two people arguing with each other in different languages.

The problem is not new. Paul faced it in the book of Acts when taking the gospel to Greek culture. In Acts 17, rather than starting with the Hebrew Scriptures as he had done in other places, He first established God as the one true God. If he had not done so, the Greeks in Athens would undoubtedly have placed Jesus in the pantheon, along with all their other Gods. Paul was a monotheist. The Athenians had to see Christ through the eyes of a monotheist if they were to become genuine Christ-followers. Modern missionaries find that genuine believers are produced out of a solid foundation of worldview concepts, and that unless at least some part of that foundation is laid, converts are much more likely to merge Christian teaching with their current beliefs than to see Christ and the Gospel as life-changing, worldview defining realities.

While a proper understanding of the Gospel can only come from within a worldview that is willing to accept things like monotheism, the supernatural, and objective truth, the impact of worldview continues beyond the moment of sharing the Gospel. Our purpose is to develop a thriving, committed community of believers that think, act, and live as Christ did. Yet, each Christian exists in the shadow of external worldview forces. Our influences may be as ancient as Plato and Aristotle, or as recent as the encroachment of a post-truth culture, but each one has the potential to affect how we think about God, His Word, and the Christian life. Christians tend to take these assumptions with them when they read Scripture, bending it to their preconceptions rather than allowing it to define their worldviews. Yet, unless we are equipped to evaluate these foundational assumptions, most of us will never realize that we are approaching God’s Word through a colored lens. Unfortunately, Christians tend to spend much more time circling the wagons to protect our traditional assumptions than considering how they may be affecting us. Understanding our own worldviews help us to comprehend why we reach our own conclusions and why other Christians reach theirs, so that we can unite on the essentials and reject ideas that are truly incompatible with Christian beliefs.

Yes, people are more important than ideas, in the sense that we are dealing with real, live humans with eternal souls, and not simply the faceless representatives of some philosophy or ideology to be defeated at all cost. However, we must not have such an individualistic focus that we forget that ideas much bigger than each of us guide our thinking and affect our perception of truth and reality. If we are ill-equipped to account for how they impact a person’s understanding of Christian beliefs, we may find that the most careful and impassioned message of truth can be lost in translation.

–Thomas Hersman