Monday, February 06, 2017

The Indecency of Simply Ignoring Indecent Content

Over the past few years, I’ve posted several articles about sex and nudity in films and television. I am grateful for the opportunity to compile material from several of these posts into a new article for Reformed Perspective Magazine. The post went live last week, and it is entitled Here’s the problem with just closing your eyes during the sex scenes. This article is a good summary of some of my main points.

photo credit: ATENCION: via flickr, CC

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

A Tale of Two Sexual Assaults on Jennifer Lawrence

The first assault against Jennifer Lawrence was heavily discussed in the news and on social media. The second has received comparatively little fanfare. The first incident resulted in an FBI investigation, subsequent prosecution, and an upcoming sentencing. The legal ramifications of the second incident are practically nonexistent. The overall response to the first was outrage. The response to the second was indifference.

What were these two incidents? The first, as you may have guessed, was the 2014 iCloud hack in which private/nude photos of several female celebrities, including Lawrence, were stolen and published online. The second incident involved the filming of Jennifer Lawrence’s first sex scene (for the sci-fi movie Passengers). Let me set the stage by sharing three similarities between the photo hack and the sex scene.

First, in the aftermath of the photo hack, Lawrence experienced anxiety. “I was just so afraid,” she later said. “I didn’t know how this would affect my career.”

Similarly, when dealing with the sex scene in Passengers, Lawrence experienced anxiety—before and after the shoot: “I got really, really drunk. But then that led to more anxiety when I got home because I was like, ‘What have I done? I don’t know.’”

Second, in the aftermath of the stolen photos, Lawrence reached out to one of her parents:

I promise you, anybody given the choice of that kind of money [for making The Hunger Games] or having to make a phone call to tell your dad that something like that has happened, it’s not worth it.

In the aftermath of the sex scene in Passengers, Lawrence once again reached out to one of her parents—this time, her mother:

[I]t was…my first time kissing a married man, and guilt is the worst feeling in your stomach. And I knew it was my job, but I couldn’t tell my stomach that. So I called my mom, and I was like, “Will you just tell me it’s OK?”

Third, in response to the stolen photos, Lawrence experienced intense grief. “I was outside crying,” she said, “and [my dog] Pippi jumped up on my lap and started licking up all my tears, and I couldn’t put her down for hours. And I mean, hours.”

Likewise, Lawrence experienced grief over the sex scene in Passengers. As evidenced by the quotes we’ve already looked at, her grief was shown in the coping mechanisms she used to eliminate distress, sorrow, and regret.

WHERE THERE’S A WILL, THERE’S A CONSCIENCE

It is true that there are some obvious differences between the stolen photos and the sex scene. For example, the first incident took place against Lawrence’s wishes, whereas the second took place with her consent. I point out the similarities above, not to prove that the situations are identical, but that they are both morally problematic. The scenarios may not be the same, but they both are serious.

For the purposes of this article, let’s summarize the differences this way: the photo hack was a violation of Lawrence’s will, while the sex scene was a violation of Lawrence’s conscience.

In our individualistic society, violence to a person’s will is quickly labeled as evil—and rightly (if not sometimes inordinately) so. That’s why no reputable news source attempted to explain why the hacked photo incident was no big deal. It was a big deal. In the words of Jennifer Lawrence herself, it was “a sex crime…a sexual violation.”

When it comes to violations of conscience, however, our hypersexualized culture is not so quick to respond. We’ve become acclimated to sex as an entertainment tool, not realizing that mainstream actors are routinely coerced and manipulated into performing sex and/or nude scenes. In the face of overwhelming societal pressure, they often submit to things they otherwise wouldn’t do.

As I have researched the pornification of our entertainment over the last few years, I’ve come across more and more stories from actors (mostly women) who describe their experience filming sex scenes with words like “embarrassing,” “mortifying,” “humiliating,” and “terrifying.” In fact, there’s an eerie similarity between how movie stars feel and how porn stars feel about shooting nude and/or sex scenes. Their feelings matter little, however, in the face of producers, directors, and audiences who don’t know and/or don’t care about their plight.

This objectification of human beings made in God’s image is a prevalent evil affecting all types of films, from Fifty Shades of Grey to The Wolf of Wall Street. It encourages us as a viewing audience to dehumanize actors in our minds, if even only unconsciously.

Going back to Lawrence’s experience in Passengers: it is clear she felt guilty about sexually acting out with a married man. Her conscience fought her during the process. Even so, she was able to later summarize the experience by saying, “[E]verything was done right; nobody did anything wrong.” (She even publicly joked about the experience shortly before the movie’s release.)

So what happened there? How did she go from guilt to acceptance? How did she go from thinking something was horribly wrong to thinking nothing was wrong? One of two things happened.

Option #1: She gained some maturity; her conscience was strengthened.

Option #2: She lost some of her innocence; her conscience was seared.

I’m going with option #2. Lawrence’s conscience, tethered to a society consumed with its own entertainment, was dragged through the mud. It then got up, wiped itself off, and followed the culture’s cues by denying there was ever any mud to begin with.
                                  
No one person attacked Lawrence during the filming of her first cinematic sex scene. The assault was a group effort. We as a culture are the perpetrator.

A CONSPIRACY OF IGNORANCE

Based on Lawrence’s public statements, the photo hack of 2014 was likely the toughest thing she has yet experienced as a celebrity. It traumatized her with grief and shame. It made her feel vulnerable and fearful.

Similarly, the sex scene in Passengers was, by Lawrence’s own admission, the toughest thing she has yet experienced as an actor. It traumatized her with grief and shame. It made her feel, as she put it, “the most vulnerable I’ve ever been.”

How does our society react to statements like that? With a yawn. A shrug. A blithe wave of the hand. We’re too enamored with the entertainment provided for us on the backs of burdened consciences. We’re too secure in the reality that what we don’t know, or don’t fully understand, won’t hurt us. We’re happy in our ignorance.

Sure, many of us are not acting with ill will. But make no mistake: our ignorance is not Jennifer Lawrence’s bliss.

photo credit: jenlawfilms via flickr, CC

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR (2016) – Film Review

When it comes to movies featuring the Avengers, I’m definitely in the minority. My emotional response has wavered only between mild disinterest to outright boredom—especially when it comes to anything related to Thor and/or The Hulk. Similarly, Captain America: The First Avenger left me completely underwhelmed. I loved the character of Cap himself—how could I not?—but found his origin story uninteresting.

That all changed when I saw Captain America: Winter Soldier. With tense action sequences, a healthy dose of espionage, a palpable sense of danger, a deliciously entertaining supervillain, and deft handling of moral/political themes, Winter Soldier rocked my socks off. My wife and I wanted to watch the film again even before it had finished.

The announcement of Civil War thrilled me with the possibility of watching another Cap-centric Avengers film. At the same time, I knew the bar had been set quite high. Could Cap (the superhero) entertain Cap (the moviegoer) as much as he did the last time around? That’s the question I’m here to answer today.

As a reminder, I rate movies based on three criteria: potentially objectionable content (C), artistry (A), and my personal opinions (P).

CONTENT (C): 7 out of 10
Of the recent Avengers movies, Cap’s films tend to be cleaner in the areas of sexual innuendo and profanity. True to form, Civil War steers clear of the pointless innuendo that tarnished the last Avengers ensemble (i.e., Age of Ultron). The profanity is about what we’ve come to expect from a Marvel movie.

With all the action set pieces, there is a heavy amount of violence—including one scene late in the game that ended up being more disturbing than I’d have anticipated. Then again, maybe it was just me. Whatever the case, the movie definitely isn’t for younger audiences.

ARTISTRY (A): 8 out of 10
After watching the trailers, I was concerned about character motivations: would Steve “All About Authority” Rogers fighting against his chain of command and Tony “Do Whatever I Want” Stark fighting for greater government oversight work? Thankfully, it did. In fact, the filmmakers respected audiences enough to give plausible reasons for both superheroes’ positions. We genuinely empathize with both Steve and Tony, as they each have solid rhetorical points to make.

With superheroes numbering in the double digits, Civil War handles all the characters, and the introduction of a few new ones, adeptly. I can understand how some people might complain about the new heroes having little setup involved in their introductions. At the same time, Marvel has spent years setting up the main Avengers, and if they had standalone films for every single Avenger before moving forward, we’d all probably be complaining about how the studio was taking forever to get things going. Besides, more standalone films are on their way, which will give even more depth to characters about which we don’t know a lot (yet).

Probably the film’s biggest weakness is related to the movie’s villain. While his motives (once we learn what they are) are perfectly understandable, his methods are questionable. They remind me somewhat of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, and the needlessly elaborate gymnastics [*SPOILER ALERT*] involving the antagonist’s desire to get Harry to touch a portkey. In Civil War, too many elements need to fall into place in order for the villain’s plans to succeed. By the end of the film, the suspension of disbelief has stretched too thin to hold incredulity at bay.

PREFERENCE (P): 9 out of 10
The suspension of disbelief mentioned above isn’t enough to ruin the movie for me, but it does weaken the impact of the ending. I have trouble feeling the supposed gravity of the situation after learning just exactly how the villain expected to pull off his grand scheme.

Even so, I still find Civil War to be like Winter Soldier in that it is a genuine thrill ride. The character interactions, moral dilemmas, and numerous action set pieces—not the least of which is the battle for which the movie gets its name—all combine into a flat-out entertaining experience.

Captain America’s films handle their political themes well. I especially appreciated one character’s exhortation about how sometimes you need to do what’s right even when the entire world (or so it seems) is telling you you’re wrong. The religious symbolism accompanying the scene is genuinely appreciated.

It also doesn’t hurt that my least two favorite Avengers are MIA in this film. Yes, I’m talking about Thor “The Mighty Bore” and Bruce “What the Heck is My Motivation” Banner. I’m sorry, but I feel nothing for these characters, and their exclusion in Civil War works strongly in the story’s favor.

One thing all the Avengers movies do is blend gravitas and humor exceptionally well, and this is no exception. We’ve grown with these characters over the years, so it feels like watching friends laugh and fight together. The same goes for the new recruits as well—especially Spider-Man. Even though we’ve seen the web-slinger in two separate franchises in the last several years, it is this Spiderman who takes the cake (and I mean that in a good way). Simply put, I loved the experience of watching these friends, new and old, duke it out on the big screen.

CAP grade: 80%

Monday, March 28, 2016

“God’s Not Dead” and the Bastardization of Christian Filmmaking

If you’re a fan of the 2014 film God’s Not Dead, and if you’re excited about its upcoming sequel, you and I probably have several things in common. We likely agree that historic Christianity is becoming less and acceptable in the public sphere. We likely agree that many of our nation’s college campuses are becoming more and more hostile to individuals who adhere to any form of absolutes. We also likely agree that there is an increasing need for believers of all types—students, teachers, pastors, filmmakers, etc.—to engage with our world in an effective and countercultural way.

It’s actually because of these shared beliefs that I’m majorly concerned with the popularity of God’s Not Dead (and other movies like it). And it’s because of these shared beliefs that I want to explain my concerns to you.

I’ll put aside most of the artistic issues I have with the film. (For that, I’ll direct you to my cyber friends Steven D. Greydanus and Peter T. Chattaway). My main focus here will be on the movie’s message. In short, the film utilizes three dangerous techniques to craft its story: caricatures, wish fulfillment, and deception.

1. Caricatures

Don’t you hate how Christians are repeatedly misrepresented in movies and television? It’s as if screenwriters take no thought to learn what true Christians are actually like. We end up with a lot of hypocritical, narrow-minded, and/or worldly characters who don’t rightly represent the vast majority of genuine believers. It’s highly unfortunate at best, and outright shameful at worst.

This misrepresentation is exactly what God’s Not Dead does to all three of the main atheists (or antitheists) in the film. All of them are evil or absurd in the extreme: no redeeming qualities, no shades of gray. Each of them is one-dimensional, robbing them of any real humanity.

What do atheists think about this? Blogger Neil Carter says it well:

In the end the central injustice of this movie is its failure to fairly represent a class of people whom Christians purport to love. But it’s not loving people well to misrepresent them this badly. This movie caricatures, dehumanizes, and depersonalizes people like me, portraying us in the worst possible light.  How could I not find this movie disgustingly offensive?

Carter is right. You don’t caricature, insult, and demean skeptics and unbelievers if you want them to actually engage with you in a meaningful conversation. You can’t practice deception and then expect people to trust you, let alone hear you. It’s Evangelism 101.

2. Wish Fulfillment

Like many Christian films, God’s Not Dead takes places in an alternate reality, where circumstances unfold unnaturally or illogically so as to work toward a contrived outcome. The suspension of disbelief is heightened to nearly insufferable levels.

Consider just a couple examples. First, the film gives us a view of persecution so watered down that it’s practically meaningless. In an early scene, the movie sets the stage for its main protagonist, college student Josh Wheaton; he is told what his experience will be like in the philosophy class he signed up for: “Think Roman Colosseumlions, people cheering for your death.” That’s the kind of persecution young Josh has in store for him, according to the movie. (I guess it’s possible to interpret that line of dialogue as hyperbole, or even as a stab at humor, but nothing about the film lends itself to such an interpretation.)

What does Josh’s experience actually entail? His atheist professor ends up giving Josh three 20-minute segments in three separate classes to explain his faith to the entire class. And other than one girl asking Josh a question during his first presentation, there’s never even a hint of mob mentality persecution.

This is in stark contrast to what Christians actually experienced in the Roman Colosseum. Violent deaths aren’t usually inspiring, and yet historical accounts of Christian martyrdom fill us with a strong sense of catharsis. Why? Because martyrs show us most clearly how a person can lose the whole world and gain his soul. All his losses are temporary and all his gains are eternal.

In spite of what the movie foreshadows, Josh’s victory over his college professor isn’t anything remotely like that. He ends up losing nothing and gaining everything—including the accolades of pop culture icons in front of a massive crowd. (Technically Josh does lose his girlfriend, but it’s obvious almost from the beginning that he was better off without her anyway.)

One more example of wish fulfillment: Josh’s victory is based on a string of unrealistic circumstances. He is somehow able to prepare three apologetic presentations, complete with Hollywood-level visual aids, in a matter of a few days. Each presentation leads to a completely unreasonable response from his professor: dastardly threats after the first presentation (even though the professor wasn’t seriously challenged at all), a vulnerable confession after the second presentation (after Josh did directly challenge the professor’s authority), and a complete meltdown during the third presentation (which, with its infantile rhetoric, wouldn’t goad anyone).

As a result, every student in the entire class—each of which agreed just a few days before that God is dead—demonstrably joins Josh’s side and declares that God is not dead. To top it all off, this little squabble somehow makes it into the news, which quickly reaches the ears of the folks at Duck Dynasty, who mysteriously collaborate with the Newsboys to interrupt their concert that weekend to give a shout out to brave young Josh.

These contrived plot elements are nothing more than fantasy masquerading as reality. That’s not inspiring; it’s stoking up the fires of paranoia and victimization.

3. Deception

This isn’t so much a third factor of the movie’s message as it is a result of the first two factors. The film dishonestly handles almost every thematic element it touches: human nature, logic, philosophy, character development, etc. We’re not just talking about being sloppy. We’re talking about lying. In a court of law, it’s called perjury. Does anyone see a problem with Christians—supposed proponents of truth—resorting to lying as a rhetorical device?

Even as the end credits roll, several real-life court cases are highlighted as the supposed inspiration for the movie. YouTuber Kevin McCreary (a.k.a., Nostalgia Christian) actually researched every single one of these cases (which he begins discussing at the 32:40 mark). Here’s what he discovered:
                                                                                                                        
…most of [the court cases] don’t have anything to do with religion, but rather political issues that tend to be more conservative. And without exception, they’re cases of Christians filing lawsuits against schools. . . . Not a single one of them are cut-and-dried cases of Christians being mistreated, and they all result in the Alliance Defending Freedom [an organization that gets an ad at the end of the credits] making a lot of money.

In spite of all this, some might argue that believers have found genuine encouragement from movies like God’s Not Dead, or that some people may have actually gotten saved as a result of watching these films. While those are real possibilities, it’s still no excuse for dishonesty in our discourse. God forbid that professing Christians play fast and loose with the truth because “the end justifies the means.” As Andrew Barber says in his excellent examination of Christian films, “The idea that one conversion validates even the worst means can be used to justify all sorts of evils.”

God’s NOT Dead…But So What?

It’s theoretically possible, I suppose, that God’s Not Dead 2 will be an improvement on its predecessor. However, the filmmakers have shown no remorse over how they handled things the first time around. In fact, it seems clear that they’re copying everything about the original film that made it a financial success. Heck, even God’s Not Dead 2’s release date is problematic: April 1 (what many Evangelicals like to self-congratulatingly call National Atheist Day). Seriously? Are they being unnecessarily offensive just so they can get another one of their fingers in the eyes of their atheist neighbors? God’s Not Dead 2 is looking like it has all the subtlety, grace, nuance, and Christian spirit of the first film—that is to say, none.

Brothers and sisters in the faith, if we continue to push artistic and moral trash like God’s Not Dead on the world, we will only continue to sour the taste of Christianity in the mouths of those in our culture. By playing in a fantasy world of our own making while simultaneously vilifying those who disagree with us, we will fail to engage with our culture in any meaningful way. In fact, we will actually damage the very gospel message we seek to proclaim.

When we play dirty like the filmmakers of God’s Not Dead have done (and are still doing?), we show ourselves to be so desperate to spread our message that we will stoop to any level in order to get our society to hear us. In effect, we act as if…well, as if God is functionally dead. As if it’s solely up to us to make a difference in the world. We tarnish the best news in the universe, all for the sake of our own therapeutic hubris. And that is something for which we should be greatly ashamed.

Monday, February 22, 2016

RISEN (2016) – Film Review

They could have called it God’s Not Dead. But then it would have been cheesy, corny, and other food-related adjectives. Risen is devoid of most cheese and corn: no caricatures, no wish-fulfillment fantasies, and no deceptive ethos-building. It’s not a perfect film, but it is a welcome addition to the faith-based genre.

As a reminder, I rate movies based on three criteria: potentially objectionable content (C), artistry (A), and my personal preference (P).

CONTENT (C): 10 out of 10
Believe it or not, faith-based films often have questionable content—not the typical sex, violence, and profanity, but something just as problematic. What they often do is jettison artistic nuance and subtlety and instead beat audiences over the head with a blatant message that, true or not, alienates skeptics and ends up preaching only to the choir. Such tactics are morally and artistically deficient.

In the case of Risen, no such overt message exists. The film is obviously sympathetic to Christianity, and religious thematic elements abound, but such is the nature of the story being told. The life, death, and resurrection of Christ are ripe events for existential exploration, and this movie does an excellent job (for the most part) of showing and not telling.

There’s even an appropriate amount of ambiguity. The last line spoken in the movie leaves one character’s spiritual state open to interpretation. There’s a potent pause in the middle of what he says, and as grammarians know, how you punctuate a sentence can radically change its meaning. So is the case here, and it’s a welcome way to end the movie. It reminds me of the ending to Inception; the audience is given room to contemplate.

It should be noted that there is a fair amount of violence and gore related to battle killings, the crucifixion of three individuals, and the inspection of a few bloated corpses. This isn’t anywhere as brutal as The Passion of the Christ, but it’s still intense.

ARTISTRY (A): 7 out of 10
Unlike your typical faith-based feature, Risen has some serious caliber talent both behind and in front of the camera, and it shows. The originality of the central plot—a manhunt for the body of Jesus—puts a fresh and engaging spin on a familiar tale. Except for a few minor cases (including the first speaking role in the film, unfortunately), the acting is stellar. An especially artistic aspect of the movie is its cinematography, which, if my memory serves, only gets more and more beautiful as the narrative progresses.

Some might say that the opening battle is sub-par, being that it’s a small scale set piece. But that’s just a Hollywood-conditioned mindset talking. (It was an automatic emotional response I initially had, in fact, so I’m pointing the finger at myself first.) The truth is, not every battle in human history resembled the Orc siege at Helm’s Deep, and that’s perfectly fine.

It could also be argued that the insertion of some material in the last third or so of the film (scenes taken from the latter part of the gospels) doesn’t contribute much to the narrative, and could in fact prove confusing for those not familiar with the gospel story. My wife compared it to a Marvel superhero movie, in that it includes a lot of references to plot points and characters that only Christians will catch and/or understand. These scenes almost make it feel like the movie is meandering without a specific goal in mind.

At the same time, if we consider that the narrative follows the character arc of someone whose entire worldview has been challenged to the core, the meandering nature of the final section of the movie could be thematically appropriate. A lot of it depends, I guess, on audience expectations.

It’s also nice to see that the followers of Jesus are living, breathing humans, not overly saintly and unrelatable (unlike, say, Charlton Heston’s Moses after the burning bush sequence in The Ten Commandments). The forcefulness of Peter’s character, in one scene especially, is deliciously potent.

PREFERENCE (P): 8 out of 10
It took me a little while to warm up to the movie, but once the manhunt was underway, my enjoyment level exponentially increased. I absolutely loved all the details related to the search for Christ’s body: the political maneuvering, the interrogations, tracking down the disciples, and so on. Riveting stuff, that. With the addition of a surprising amount of humor, I was hooked.

A lot of reviewers have complained about how the film shifts its focus at the midpoint—what students of screenwriting guru Syd Field call the point of no return. It’s an effectively dramatic scene, and it in no way lost my interest. I remained engaged as Clavius’ investigation took a more personal turn, leading him to even aid his former adversaries in a sequence that I thoroughly enjoyed.

Only when the back-to-back miracles started in the final fourth of the film did I start to lose interest. It felt disjointed and aimless (as I already mentioned above). Perhaps a second viewing would prove to be a more positive and cathartic experience.

Whatever the case, I still appreciated how the screenplay handled the interactions between key characters. The conversation between a Roman tribune and Jesus, for example, could have been so cheesy and/or ham-handed, but it better revealed the true nature and character of God in its quiet assurance.

I also liked how the film avoided a complete whitewashing of the cast, giving us (among other things) one of the most authentic looking Jesus figures thus far in a film. It’s a most welcome change from the Hollywood casting status quo.

All in all, I’ve turned into something of a fan boy of Risen. I can’t wait to watch it again and own it on DVD. It may not be the artistic masterpiece that The Passion of the Christ was, but it is more accessible, more entertaining, and (ultimately) more uplifting.

CAP grade: 83%

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Ten Year Anniversary: My Decade of Blogging “Silence”

I recently came across a fascinating study by psychology professor John Hayes at Carnegie Mellon University. He evaluated pieces of music written from 1685 to 1900 by composers who are now considered successful. The focus? To answer the question, “How long after one becomes interested in music is it that one becomes world class?”

Professor Hayes narrowed the selection down to 500 compositions, written by 76 different composers, all of which are performed regularly in modern times and are generally considered to be the cream of the crop. He then created a timeline for each composer’s career, seeking to determine how long they had been composing music before writing these masterpieces. Here’s what he discovered:

[V]irtually every single “masterwork” was written after year ten of the composer’s career. . . . Not a single person produced incredible work without putting in a decade of practice first. Even a genius like Mozart had to work for at least ten years before he produced something that became popular. Professor Hayes began to refer to this period, which was filled with hard work and little recognition, as the “ten years of silence.”
                                                        
Even though my blog turns ten years old this Saturday, I can’t really call this my ten years of silence according to Hayes’ standards. I haven’t rigorously, or even steadily, been publishing content during that time. Over the years, I’ve sometimes posted several times a week, sometimes once a week, and more sporadically during other periods. Even so, when I wrote my very first blog post, I didn’t have a ten year plan in mind.

Yet I’m still blogging (at least occasionally), with plans to continue on into the future.

This time last year, I had planned on continuing my once-a-week posting schedule. But I had no clue that a career change was right around the corner. I’ve always claimed that I would never go into business for myself, and if you told me that’s what I’d be doing in the second half of 2015, I’d have said you were a couple tacos short of a fiesta platter. But here I am, an independent contractor offering copy writing and content editing services, as well as identity theft and legal protection services.
                                                   
And I’m absolutely loving it. Who would have guessed? Certainly not me.

So Happier Far will likely not be updated on a regular basis for at least a while longer. (Running your own businesses, while incredibly fun, happens to suck up most of your time.) The blog’s not dead, but it may be a while before we get back to a consistent schedule.

Nevertheless, I’m dedicated to pursuing the craft of writing. If I want to write books in the future (and I do), I’ll want to maximize my influence by spending more time on my metaphorical ten years of silence. This blog is a great place to do that.

To all my readers: thank you for your support, encouragement, and critiques. Thank you for visiting this site and sharing in the discussion. Thank you for allowing me to be one of the voices to which you have graciously lent your ears. I don’t ever want to take that lightly.

Promoting Porn for the Glory of God?

Pornography and Christian films. There’s a connection between the two that most people miss. And the longer we’re unaware of it, the more we’re hurt by it.

Last fall, the folks at Covenant Eyes graciously allowed me to explain this connection on their blog. (I—ahem—forgot to post a link to it here until now.) Here’s how the article begins:

It has happened too many times to count: professing Christians have defended the use of porn as a tool for truth and beauty. That may sound like an absurd statement, but it is not unfounded. In order to properly illuminate the problem, we need to address something that will initially seem off topic: the ways Christian film critics respond to faith-based films. (Please bear with me.)

If you’re embarrassed by heavy-handed Christian-themed movies, you’re not alone. The subtext of many faith-based films—poor acting, a mediocre script, perfunctory production values, and the like—indicates that Christians value substance (right thinking) over style (good aesthetics). This may be subversive to the filmmakers’ intent, but the message is still there.

Film critic Jeffrey Overstreet succinctly explains it this way: “Style is substance….If you change the style of something, you change what it can mean.”

You can read the entire article here.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

A Plea to Supporters of Planned Parenthood

For the purposes of this blog post, let’s forget the unborn. I won’t ask you to change your views on abortion. In fact, we’ll put that issue completely aside.

The reason I’m willing to do that is because we have more common ground than might be readily apparent. Our divergent paths cross at least on one point: the sexual abuse of minors. Pro-life and pro-choice advocates can agree that it is a despicable evil for anyone to exploit underage children.

What does Planned Parenthood have to do with any of this? The answer is sobering, and I will divide it into two separate points below. In short, I want to show how Planned Parenthood is habitually guilty of aiding and abetting the sexual abuse of minors.

1. STATUTORY RAPE (NON-CONSENSUAL)

The website Child Predators has documented over 50 cases in 22 states in which an underage girl was sexually assaulted, taken to a Planned Parenthood (or PP-affiliated) center for an abortion by the perpetrator, and was not reported to authorities. If you do a little online research, you can find news articles confirming the details of these cases. Dates range from 1980 to 2012; about half took place after 2000.

Why is this such a big deal? Because it is illegal in all 50 states for an adult to engage in sexual activity with a minor. Furthermore, healthcare workers are required by law to report each incident of even alleged sexual assault.

Consider the facts of just one case from 2012. Timothy Smith took his stepdaughter, whom he had been sexually assaulting for years, to a Planned Parenthood clinic in Denver to get an abortion. The employees at PP learned that she was only thirteen, and noticed that, even though Timothy claimed to be her father, they both had different last names, and she referred to him as “Tim” instead of “Dad.” She received the abortion, as well as an injectable birth control shot—something to which she objected, but her stepfather overruled.

During all of this, the clinic workers at Planned Parenthood committed several acts of criminal negligence, including
  1. A failure to verify any of the information the stepfather gave them regarding the pregnancy, even though it was suspicious
  2. A failure to confirm consent from a birth parent before performing an abortion on a minor
As a result, Timothy was enabled to continue raping his stepdaughter for two more months before finally being caught by the girl’s birth mother. Later that year, he plead guilty to two counts of sexual abuse.

In all of this, keep in mind that a majority of sexual assaults are never reported. So, statistically speaking, the findings above represent just a fraction of the cases in which Planned Parenthood and its affiliates have turned a blind eye to the sexual abuse of minors.

2. STATUTORY RAPE (CONSENSUAL)

In 2002, an investigative group conducted a phone survey in which they called over 800 Planned Parenthood and National Abortion Federation centers throughout the country. In each case, the caller pretended to be a 13-year-old girl who was pregnant by her 22-year-old boyfriend. The purpose was to see how clinic representatives would respond to a presented case of statutory rape in which the girl was trying to keep her pregnancy secret. Here’s just a snippet from their findings:

[Planned Parenthood and NAF employees] were willing – and in many cases eager – to help this child hide from her parents and the authorities the fact that she was being sexually exploited. Toward that end they provide step-by-step instructions on how to circumvent state laws that were enacted specifically for the purpose of protecting children exactly like her in situations just like this. . . .

From start to finish, the attributes of the employees we talked to made it brutally obvious that this is an issue they deal with routinely. In fact, several of them volunteered that they get calls like this all the time.

You don’t have to take my word for it. You can listen to each and every phone call (if you really want to) here.

ALL SYSTEMS KNOW

As a pro-choice reader, you may have a hard time swallowing information given to you by pro-life sources. You’re afraid of confirmation bias, right? I can understand that.

Note, however, that the statistics and articles and media I’ve referenced or linked to aren’t mere hearsay. They are verifiable incidents, backed up by news reports and court records. As such, these facts are inherently damning no matter one’s political or ideological persuasion.

The Timothy Smith case is a good example of how Planned Parenthood has failed to implement any adequate reforms. After Smith was convicted in late 2012, a civil suit against PP confirmed that the organization still has a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. Court documents show that current PP training materials state, “PPRM policy is to not ask partner’s age” (listed under a section entitled, “Partner Looks A Lot Older”).

Or consider this example from 2014, in which an Arizona Planned Parenthood counselor intentionally miscoded a case of sexual assault as a consensual encounter. Or consider this 2014 report by the Alabama Department of Public Health, detailing how a Planned Parenthood facility “failed to report reasonable suspected abuse or neglect for a minor,” even though the child had been brought in for two abortions in the span of several months.

It would be one thing if we were talking about a few isolated events. Instead, we’re dealing with literally hundreds of incidents all across the nation, spanning over three decades. These problems are systemic. As a whole, Planned Parenthood has repeatedly shown its willingness to circumvent the law, to the possible—if not certain—detriment of its patients.

PRO-LIFERS AND PRO-CHOICERS UNITE

Over the years, I have witnessed the exposure of certain religious leaders involved in the sexual abuse of minors. These stories have saddened and sickened those inside and outside the community of faith. And rightly so. The abuse of power on display is worthy of opposition and even prosecution.

The same goes for PP’s actions detailed above. It won’t work to argue, as many have, that “Planned Parenthood still does a lot of good.” This excuse is inadequate at best and sleight-of-hand at worst. A foster parent who has molested only one of his children is unfit to parent; a politician who has covered up a felony so as not to hurt his campaign is unfit for office; a charity that hides the misdeeds of its leadership in order to save face is not a trustworthy ministry; and an organization with a penchant for putting its clients at risk of physical and emotional harm is not fit to keep its doors open.

The evidence is mounting, causing increasing public concern, even among the media. That’s why pro-choice advocate Bunnie Riedel finds it “disturbing” that PP has spent so much time circling the wagons rather than addressing the legitimate criticisms leveled against it. That’s why Vox editor Sarah Kliff similarly finds it “disturbing” and “damaging” that some Planned Parenthood officials dismiss their ethics fudging as a “specious issue.” That’s why pro-choice proponent Ruben Navarrette Jr. has solemnly agreed with the assessment that “Planned Parenthood’s system-wide conspiracy to evade the law…is now undeniable.”

So would you please join me in advocating for the elimination of Planned Parenthood? Our government, and society as a whole, must not stand idly by. To ignore the plight of the vulnerable among us is irresponsible and just plain crazy. I don’t say that because I’m pro-life and you’re pro-choice. I say that because we are all human, and we can—and should—unite in protecting the dignity, innocence, and humanity of those we all inherently agree are worth protecting: our already-born children.