When Judy’s 14-year-old daughter, Katie, was invited by a friend from church to a sleepover, Mum didn’t hesitate to say yes. After all, Judy knew the family and all the girls joining in on the "fun" were from their congregation. What could possibly go wrong? Well, in Judy’s own words: "The girls watched horror flicks. . . . Not wanting to be an outcast, Katie sat through one and had nightmares for months. For my daughter, the film was essentially a spiritual attack."
Always sweet and sensitive, Paula’s 4-year-old completely stunned her mother when she lashed out one day by calling her the "B" word. It didn’t take a psychology degree to realise where that out-of-the-blue vulgarity came from: The little girl had walked through the living room the week prior when movie dialogue included the same crudity.
Isolated cases? I don’t believe so. Consider these:
- One father explained how his 5-year-old began misusing the Lord’s name after getting an earful from an "innocent" animated feature.
- A woman described how a scene in a motion picture led her to start cutting herself and further escalated her deep depression.
The power of suggestion
Although movies, music, magazines, and so on, can inspire positively (think the Jesus film, Amazing Grace and a host of resources from Focus on the Family), the power of today’s media and entertainment to negatively sway human behaviour concerns me.
While documented evidence points to the influence of violent images on extreme behaviours, such as American school shootings in the last decade, I am more concerned about Judy’s daughter. And Paula’s. And Christians of all ages who don’t pay attention to the less egregious influences in entertainment.
Take, for instance, the virtual onslaught of sexual themes pervading today’s pop music, TV, toys, games and books. Even before children (especially girls) are aware of their own sexuality, they receive cues to start dressing and talking in sexual ways.
Consider also attitudes of disrespect among youth toward adults and the assimilation of profanity into everyday vocabulary, which can simply be picked up from commercials. Spiritual stumbles influenced by messages in media and entertainment happen in faith-based homes every single day. This recent e-mail illustrates the risk:
"As a young man I fell into a lifestyle of lust — not justified but easily explained by the shift in culture. I found that to feed my lusts I didn’t need to purchase Penthouse or Playboy or frequent evil places. I only needed to look as far as the nearest movie rental store."
Notice this young man wasn’t even surfing the Internet for porn or renting R18 films.
Though most of us wish our Christian faith somehow magically inoculated against bad influences, we must:
- take entertainment discernment seriously
- approach choices from a biblical worldview
- train children to make Christ-honouring media decisions
We all make decisions about entertainment and most do so with only one question in mind: Do I think I will enjoy this movie/game/CD? But what if that’s the wrong place to start? It’s important to realise that our enjoyment is not God’s highest priority. He’s much more concerned that we love and obey Him.
Jesus said, "If you love me, you will obey what I command" (John 14:15).Taking media seriously means our choices should be determined by God’s thoughts. Although this idea is straightforward, my experience tells me that living it out can be challenging.
The starting point
What are God’s thoughts on entertainment? Although Jesus never said, "Thou shalt not listen to gangsta rap" or "Thou shalt not watch PG-13 sleazefests," His Word offers guidance as to how we should monitor what influences us (Proverbs 4:23, Colossians 2:8, Psalm 101:3, Romans 8:5-12).
Aligning our choices with a biblical worldview means our choices will often run countercultural. Even well-meaning believers often have difficulty going against consensus — just as Katie did at the sleepover. But I, for one, want to please Him more than I want to be entertained.
Where’s the line?
Although I realise there are other factors such as age appropriateness, Christian maturity, personal weaknesses and grey areas, most decisions can be made "Christianly" if we would simply ask the question popularised a decade ago by the WWJD? bracelets. Although the fad is passé, the principle will never fade. Simply teaching children this practical step can protect them now and help them eventually adopt the practice for life.
The story ends well for the young man who e-mailed about the stumbling block movies had become for him: "One of the truths that God used to break these chains was the absolute need for me to cut all sources of this fuel out of my life. I found myself at first to be at an impasse. I desperately wanted to cut this sin out . . . but in American pop culture, I was flooded with the very things I wanted to avoid. This battle within me would have led to despair had it not been for God’s wonderful Word and the help of your [Plugged In] ministry."
I’m excited God set this man free. I get even more excited when fellow believers don’t get hooked in the first place. And that should be our goal — choosing wisely when it comes to entertainment, thus protecting our hearts and minds from the overt and subtle influences of evil.