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