Last weekend, Disney released their live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast. Some Christians and “Christians” have decided to forego watching this particular movie due to the controversial decision of the openly gay director to include a “gay moment.” Others have decided to go on a bit of an absurd crusade against the movie and/or Disney for the same reason. But I would like to focus on a third group – Christians and “Christians” who have both failed to distinguish between these groups and who have thrown all sense of decorum out the window in order to castigate their supposed brothers and sisters for having the audacity to choose not to watch a movie.
According to self-described Christian John Pavlovitz, “conservative Christians have crawled out of the church pew woodwork” to opportunistically and self-righteously squash joy and persecute “the LGBTQ community.” He lambastes evangelicals for this, claiming that their support of Donald Trump exposes this as hypocrisy.
Pavlovitz’ statements are not without merit.
Trump’s widespread support among socially conservative blocs is bewildering, given how well Trump exemplifies moral deficiency and crassness. However, this is only true of enthused support for Trump, of which there is admittedly entirely too much.
But not everyone who supported Trump in some fashion is exactly enamored with the man. We must remember that deciding whether or not to watch a particular movie and deciding whether or not to vote for a particular presidential candidate are two very different decisions. The latter is typically a matter of choosing the lesser of two evils. The former is not. Right or wrong, many people voted for Trump because – and only because – they found him in some way preferable to Hillary Clinton. This author’s mother did precisely that. Her reasoning was that the media would generally operate as a propaganda machine under Clinton, but would fulfill its purpose as a government watchdog under Trump.
Therefore, people like this can “support” Trump and abstain from movies which promote homosexuality with clear consciences. Even if they are mistaken. To call them hypocrites is foolish. Only earnest supporters of Trump who should know better deserve that label.
Pavolvitz’ article first came to my attention because a friend of mine shared it. This friend also pointed out that various other sins are rampant throughout film and television. This much is obvious. But this friend also reasons (though not in so many words) that we should afford positive portrayals of homosexuality the same acceptance we afford to positive, neutral, and negative portrayals of other sins. This is wrong.
If we assume that homosexual activity is no different from any other sin, then of course we should treat film portrayals of it just as we would portrayals of any other sin. However, in my opinion, any approach to modern media grounded in biblical teachings would result not in greater acceptance of positive portrayals of homosexuality, but in greater rejection of positive portrayals of other sins – particularly those to which we ourselves are susceptible. Glorification of violence, pervasive heterosexual sensuality, and profanity in various forms would all be prime candidates. I, like many, enjoyed the Bourne movies. But it should bother us that we find the violence appealing. It should even bother us if we do not and yet are willing to overlook it for the sake of our own entertainment.
Whatever movies we watch, we should always ask ourselves: is the entertainment value worth giving the creator substantial influence over my mind for two hours?
Clearly, there are other reasons to watch movies than entertainment, but entertainment is the dominant motivator for most consumption of films, particularly Disney films. This is applicable to all forms of media, but none more so than film and television.
Homosexual activity (as contrasted with homosexual attraction) is a sin. But in American discourse, it tends to receive disproportionate attention. There are both good and bad reasons for this.
Homosexuality is a current issue. We live in a time where acceptance in varying forms is rising. Some of this is good and some not so much. But the controversial issues – those topics which people are largely divided on – rightly garner greater attention. It is only fitting that we focus more on the sin of homosexual activity than that of murder, for instance, even though the latter produces much worse results. There is no point in discussing the morality of murder because virtually everyone agrees on that point.
Other reasons are not so reasonable. Among those abstaining from this movie, there are no doubt a great many who have failed to abstain from so many other sins – heterosexual immorality, alcohol abuse, or tax evasion to name a few (not to mention indulging in movies which glorify these things). This may be because they do not view such things as sin, which only shows how little effort they have put into actually learning what it means to be a Christian. Or they may know it, but refuse to deal with it because they enjoy it too much. This camp truly deserves the “hypocrite” label.
But most troubling to this author is a third crowd – those of us who know what constitutes sin and who avoid it for the most part but are unwilling to oppose such practices verbally for any number of reasons which usually boil down to some form of fear. However, by and large, the solution here is to cease the timidity with which we approach other issues and not necessarily to be less firm on this one.
I have hinted at it already, but it bears further explanation. The portrayal of a sin matters in determining whether we should accept it in the media we consume. After all, any faithful adaptation of the Bible would necessarily include depictions of murder, rape, theft, sacrilege, idolatry, prostitution, greed, betrayal, and all manner of things. However, there are two major distinctions to be made.
First, these depictions may be intended to convey some meaning, rather than to titillate. A scene in which Bathsheba enters David’s chambers is all well and good. But an adaptation which shows the full act without restraint would, I think we can agree, cross the line. I don’t profess to know exactly where the line falls, but there is a line.
Second, depictions of sin can be positive, neutral, or negative. That is, they can glorify, merely convey, or condemn the actions they depict. Racism in the original Birth of a Nation (aka The Clansman) is an example of the former. A fair amount of profanity in football and war movies could constitute neutral depictions. Racism in Remember the Titans or Blazing Saddles exemplify the latter.
For this reason, I contend that there is no inconsistency, no hypocrisy in abstaining from Beauty and the Beast while watching, say, Saving Private Ryan.
It is not my intent to convince anyone to avoid Disney or Beauty and the Beast. I myself may watch it if it becomes available on some filtering service. To boycott Disney over a single moment in one movie is somewhat ridiculous; it is typical of the too-common tendency to treat massive organizations as though they are single-minded individuals with no internal diversity or disagreement. As for avoiding the film itself – well, by all accounts, the homosexuality has been overblown in the media. Even so, simply abstaining from the movie is not tantamount to a “boycott,” which usually has some effect on the object of the boycott as the goal.
But more importantly, the idea is not to create a comprehensive list of movies people “can” and “can’t” watch. My points are mainly these:
- It is absurd to criticize anyone for merely choosing not to watch a particular movie.
- We in America who call ourselves Christians need to seriously rethink both the quality and quantity of entertainment media we consume.
The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!
In addition to Pavlovitz’ article, I also came across this photo:
This image is rife with inaccuracies, sarcasm notwithstanding, so let me briefly summarize:
- The woman falls in love with a person who merely has the form of an animal. Case in point: Beast is intelligent and capable of abstract thought and communication.
- The witchcraft is a pretty neutral depiction, and in any case is a mere hand-wave necessary for the plot (rather than some unnecessary add-in due to the director’s worldview).
- The depiction of homosexuality is not a neutral depiction merely “acknowledging that gay people exist” but an endorsement of homosexual attraction. We need no more proof than the openly, actively homosexual director describing the scene in question as “deliciously gay.”
- 2017-03-28 14:53 EST – Partially rewrote the Conclusions section for greater clarity.