Tuesday, July 22, 2014

A Candid Conversation about Objectifying Actors

In recent online discussions related to Hollywood’s secret rape culture, I’ve come into contact with some delightfully likeminded individuals like E. Stephen Burnett, Editor at Speculative Faith. While we may not see eye to eye on all the related issues, we are still, as Stephen has said, “allied on what really matters.”

Because the pornification of mainstream entertainment involves principles and practices that really do matter, I wanted to share a recent conversation I had with Stephen. Or, more honestly, this is a conversation in which Stephen said a lot of great things, and I wanted to share them with my audience.

I’m still mulling over some of what he said, and my approach to questionable entertainment may still likely differ from his own. Nevertheless, I genuinely appreciate the integrity of his beliefs: how he desires to apply Biblical wisdom to controversial topics like this, and how his convictions have encouraged and challenged me. Below is a segment of our online conversation.

E. Stephen Burnett: My question was about your critique of Into Darkness for (among other things) its gratuitous stupid objectifying woman-in-underwear visual. (Hey, but I’m sure it’s okay because: Art, and also because other Christians have been very very very very bad.) Would you apply the critique equally to specific episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation, such as the exceptionally ghastly one in series 1 in which the crew beams down to 1980s Soft Porn Planet when male and female supermodels are strutting around a California park in high-hipped white-bedsheet bikinis and also lounging around rubbing oil? And if you would, would that also mean we’re not supposed to see that show? Of course, long before immodesty or objectification critiques kick in begin the It’s Just Ridiculously Asinine critiques...

Cap Stewart: Honestly, I haven’t watched TNG since I was a kid, so I have little memory of anything about the show (other than that I loved watching it). Anyway, it sounds like I would apply the same critique to that TNG episode from season 1. As far as practice goes, my wife and I currently follow these basic set of guidelines:

  • If sexual objectification exists in a film or show (even if it’s only for a few seconds), we will not financially support it.
  • If a film or show we’re interested in DOES have a questionable scene or two, but isn’t pervasively raunchy, we may pick up a used copy of it (or borrow it from the library) and skip those scenes.
  • With any potentially questionable TV show episodes (the occasional Monk or Star Trek episode, etc.), my wife previews them first.

In the case of recent(ish) films like Oblivion and Into Darkness, we waited until the DVD was released and borrowed it from the library.

E. Stephen Burnett: Hmm. I asked because methinks this can ultimately end up an impossible standard both in cultural context and a personal context.

Cultural context: Ultimately this will make no market impact because such a motive for “financial support” is impossible to discern. I “support” films like The Avengers not because I especially want to see Scarlett Johansson in arguably tight leather but because they’re awesome. If I withdrew support or added more, no one will know exactly why and therefore the “dent” or pushback in popular culture ends up negligible. (With something like Game of Thrones it’s a bit different because one could argue the majority of the series intends to endorse plain porn.)

But the best reason to suggest that this kind of boycott is not required of the Christian is this: the Bible never endorses it, and in fact when the subject comes up about meat sacrificed to idols Paul is blatantly uninterested about who gets the money for the meat and what they do with the money; his only goal is to put “freedom” in perspective and ensure that everyone is using his freedom wisely to love spiritual siblings.

Personal context: If the payment of money toward folks who are clearly using it to objectify other folks nonetheless bothers you, then of course, don’t do it. You might even go to extreme lengths (such as library loans, etc.) to avoid this stigma. And this is even more required if you believe viewing such things is personally sinful for you: BOYCOTT THEM.

But I only seek to prove 1) boycotts to affect/change culture are rarely successful when they’re about stories of mixed worldviews and meanings and even genres (such as Star Trek: TNG versus the nasty Game of Thrones); 2) it’s nearly impossible to avoid financially supporting the Thing even through buying used copies or borrowing from the library; the cultural Thing is still profiting from your endorsement; 3) Scripture doesn’t require this standard, so if you practice the standard it falls directly under the “meat sacrificed to idols”/“if you believe it’s sin, it’s sin for you” Scriptures.

Cap Stewart: Good thoughts. My convictions in this area made a drastic change about 1.5 years ago, due in large part to my reading of Wayne A. Wilson’s superb book Worldly Amusements. As a result, my standards have been evolving as I’ve sought the best ways to love God and love my neighbors (including actors) through my engagement with entertainment. What you say about various types of “support” is valid, and it’s something I would do well to wrestle with.

E. Stephen Burnett: As I wrestled with yours — thus my question.

...Even if you pay full price for a movie and then end up hating it, you can say so — and that might be a deadlier influence on culture than withdrawing altogether.

But of course the prime motive remains not to Change Culture but to glorify God both personally and as part of His Church, the only lasting influencer of culture. So if you’re okay with seeing even a good film…and going to heat your pizza like I do when [hanky panky happens], then that’s still ultimately a good way to exert personal discernment and to influence culture positively.

Cap Stewart: “But of course the prime motive remains not to Change Culture but to glorify God both personally and as part of His Church, the only lasting influencer of culture.”

Absolutely! Even if my meager efforts don’t radically affect the Hollywood system, they will be more than worth the effort if I love God and love my neighbor more as a result.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Problem with Telling People to “Do What You Love”

Like most kids, I wanted to be a variety of things while growing up: painter, firefighter, carpenter, and astronaut (although the movie Space Camp cured me of that desire). After developing an interest in cinematography in my pre-teen years, I pursued schooling in the visual arts.

God has graciously blessed my efforts. I’ve been involved in media in some form or capacity ever since officially entering the workforce. I’ve participated in video and film production, photography, radio, and social media (to name a few)—and I’ve loved (most) every minute of it.

“Do what you love” is a cultural mantra I haven’t really questioned. After all, it’s worked for me. Well, a few days ago, I read a challenging blog post by Gene Edward Veith entitled “Unfulfilling work as vocation.” In the article, he lists some random thoughts about the Christian doctrine of vocation. His insights, and the articles he links to, have continued to germinate in my mind.

The ultimate question I’ve had to ask is not so much, “Is it inherently wrong to do what you love?” On the surface, the answer is simple. Of course it’s not wrong. But when you start to look at the root motives for why we do what we do, a potential problem arises.

According to Jeff Haanen (whom Dr. Veith quotes), “do what you love” can actually be elitist. How so?

…it undermines work that is not done out of “passion.” Moreover, it severs the traditional connection between work, talent and duty. The vast majority of the world’s workers are not working because they love the job, but instead are simply providing for their loved ones, and they had little choice in the matter.

To quote Dr. Veith himself:

Contrary to the common assumption, vocation is NOT about self-fulfillment, self-aggrandizement, finding your greatness, finding meaning in your life, or doing what you love. Vocation is about loving and serving your neighbor. That means, in practice, denying yourself for your neighbor. . . .

It’s true that lots of people are asked to do work that they do enjoy and find fulfilling. But no one is entitled to that. It’s possible to find satisfaction and pleasure in just about any kind of work, but sometimes you have to learn to do that. But even the good, wonderful, fulfilling jobs have their trials and crosses.

Some helpful advice for all believers (again, from Jeff Haanen):

Ironically, when we think about work, chasing after our own happiness will never bring us happiness. It is in serving others and pointing beyond ourselves that happiness is tossed in along the way. To find happiness, forget about passion. Give yourself to what the world needs. Or better yet, give yourself to God, and let him use you as He sees fit.

The Christian’s purpose in whatever work he or she pursues is the well-being of one’s neighbor. Our vocational goal, first and foremost, should not be personal fulfillment. “Do what you love” is great so long as it is a means to the true end: serving and loving others.

These thoughts have challenged me over the last week or so. I pray they prove beneficial to both my desires and my duties. In the meantime, I plan to continue enjoying my job as the blessing that it is, while learning to better discern between the means and the end. This is, after all, no small matter. The glory of God and the good of my neighbor are at stake.

As a takeaway for my readers: I recommend reading the two articles I cite above in full:

Unfulfilling work as vocation


photo credit: kevin dooley via photopin cc

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

How to Tell if You’re Treating Actors Like Whores

The conversation I overheard took place between three Christian men. Maybe that’s why I found it so disturbing. Their words revealed a flippant attitude toward sexual manipulation—in this case, of underage girls. What’s worse, it was excused on the grounds of entertainment. The shocking callousness has stayed with me to this day.

The topic? A popular television series they had all been watching. Here’s what I heard them say. (The names I’ve used are not real.)

LEO: I’ve watched the first 5 seasons. I attempted to start season 6 the other day, but I just couldn’t take it. I made it only twenty minutes into the first episode before the hyper-sexualization of everything, including 15-year-old girls, did me in. So Nate, give me your best judgment: is there enough of a payoff in terms of storyline development to make another go at it worthwhile?

NATE: Orson would be the best judge of that. I stopped during season three.

ORSON: The finale of the latest season is, for me, quite a pleasant surprise in terms of the positive direction we may be heading for the seventh, and final, season.

At first glance, the conversation doesn’t seem that scandalous, does it? The moral callousness isn’t blatant, but it slinks through the discussion like Harry Potter under his invisibility cloak.

The main question brought up was this: When is it okay to hyper-sexualize actors—in this case, several minors—for the sake of entertainment? When are such actions worthy of our patronage? The answer, it seems, is when we’re fairly certain that the story is heading in a positive direction. That makes the sexual objectification okay. In other words, the end justifies the means.

To help make things even clearer, let me paraphrase Leo’s thoughts in this way: “I’m disgusted that the filmmakers hyper-sexualized everything about the show. The shameless objectification of actors was appalling to my senses. However, I’m willing to put my moral revulsion aside as long as the emotional payoff is rewarding enough to me as a viewer.”

Let me be the first to say that I don’t think Leo, Nate, and Orson are perverts looking for new ways to feed the lust monster. On the contrary, they seem to take seriously the matter of personal purity. The problem is, that’s all they seem to be concerned with. And too often, I think it’s all we’re concerned with as well.

As patrons of Hollywood, we’ve gotten into a consumer mindset that disregards most every other factor in favor of us having a positive, cathartic experience. If the story is interesting enough, and if it “demands” the objectification and dehumanization of actors, then the needs of the story win out.

In contrast, Paul calls Christians to give up their rights if it means hurting the conscience of others (see 1 Corinthians 9 and Romans 14). We’ve got it backwards: we financially support the violation of others’ dignity—even in the case of “willing” actors—so we can benefit from their moral and emotional compromises.

Granted, the context of Paul’s teaching on this matter is the relationship between members of the church, but I don’t think that gives us an excuse to disregard the well being of unbelievers. In the end, the conversation between Leo, Nate, and Orson shows how “love your neighbor as yourself” does not affect our entertainment choices like it should.

Let’s examine a current movie in light of the “law of love” principle and see how it applies. Transformers: Age of Extinction recently came out in theaters. It’s no secret that the past Transformers movies have blatantly objectified their female leads, and this entry into the franchise follows suit.

Speaking of underage girls, Steven D. Greydanus mentions how Nicola Peltz is “Bay’s youngest sex object yet.” Peltz herself is 19, but in Age of Extinction she plays a 17-year-old girl who is the willing victim of statutory rape—a fact which she and her 20-year-old boyfriend rub in her father’s face throughout the film.

The movie makes sure to rub Peltz’s body in the audience’s face as well. Andrew Parker writes, “[Micahel] Bay gets his pervert on thanks to shooting Peltz like a sex object and then chastising his audience for viewing her as such, before finally giving his audience the most ludicrously reassuring pat on the back to tell you it’s cool to ogle teens.” And Peltz isn’t the film’s only victim, according to Diego Crespo: In true Bay fashion, every woman in the movie is treated like a sex object. . . . The camera fetishes [sic] their every motion. It makes Victoria Secret commercials look subtle.”

Now, can I say that it is universally and categorically sinful for anyone to go see Transformers 4? No, I cannot. Such a sweeping statement would be unwise and uncharitable.

What I can do, and what I encourage you to do, is ask the following questions (about Transformers or any other movie):

  • If an actor (or group of actors) is being objectified (which often indicates he or she experienced some form of manipulation on set), do you financially support it anyway because the story looks interesting or thought-provoking or entertaining enough?
  • When it all is said and done, is your patronage of a film unaffected by whether or not actors are shamefully dehumanized and/or abused?

If your answer to the above questions is “Yes,” then no matter how well your own personal purity is protected, you are treating actors like whores for your own personal gain.

That may not be your intention. Your desires in and of themselves may be far from perverse. But you’re still being a party to the objectification of actors made in God’s image. Metaphorically speaking, you’re fine with touring a pimp house—just so long as the sounds of abuse are quickly replaced by relaxing music on the drive home.

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Two Popular Myths About the United States

I don’t normally get political because that’s not what this blog is about. But because we’ll be celebrating our nation’s independence this week, I wanted to honor the occasion by looking at two common misconceptions about the U.S. government. Here they are:

  1. There is a constitutional separation of church and state
  2. Faith-based concepts should be kept out of the public realm

Let’s see if I can address these highly controversial topics in the least controversial way possible.

1. There is a constitutional separation of church and state

The U.S. Constitution does not guarantee a “separation of church and state”—at least, not in the sense the phrase is understood today. In fact, that particular phrase appears nowhere in the Constitution.

So where did the wording come from? We find it in a letter written by Thomas Jefferson to the Danbury Baptist Association. This group of Baptists was concerned about a potential restriction on their freedom to pursue religion as they saw fit. “Our sentiments are uniformly on the side of religious liberty,” they wrote, “…[and that] no man ought to suffer in name, person, or effects on account of his religious opinions.” If you read their letter in its entirety, you’ll see that they were not concerned about America being friendly toward religion. They were concerned about the establishment of a state religion that infringed on the rights of dissenting individuals.

Jefferson agreed with the Danbury Baptists. His response involved citing from the First Amendment (that congress would “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”) and thus assuring the Baptists that this clause established “a wall of separation between Church and State.”

It has been argued ad nauseam about what that phrase means, and I won’t delve into the argument here. All I will say is that the First Amendment guarantees American citizens the freedom publicly to participate in (among other things) religion, speech, and the press. These rights are equally important and should be defended with equal devotion.

2. Faith-based concepts should be kept out of the public realm

This myth is closely associated with the previous one. As an illustration: During an argument I once overheard, one man made the following statement: “There is a very clearly defined separation between church and state, and arguments founded in faith have no place in the public sphere.” He said we need to have better reasons for policies than just “well, God says so.”

Now, there’s a certain sense in which I actually agree with this man. The United States is not a theocracy. Even so, such a blanket statement on this gentleman’s side of the argument ignores the reality that the seeds of our nation’s birth were cultivated in the soil of a “God says so” proposition:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.

The Declaration of Independence claims that all men should be treated as equals. Why? Because this newly established government says so? No, because something—Someone—greater than this or any government says so. Because there is a Creator who made us all equal and granted us certain rights.

The very reason the United States exists is because of its acknowledgement that “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God” supersede the attempts of overreaching tyrants. Our Founding Fathers appealed “to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of [their] intentions” and placed “a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence.” At its outset, the American way of life was bound to the idea that there is an Authority higher than any form of government.

For the sake of our purposes here, that Authority need not necessarily be the Christian God in whom I believe. The Founding Fathers represented a mix of religious beliefs, not the least of which was Deism. The point remains that they discerned an indissoluble link between human rights and Divine fiat.

Conclusion

Okay, so I’ve just made two controversial arguments. After reading them, you may have concluded that at least some of my political leanings could be categorized as “conservative.” Or you may have seen visions of me riding into the political fray on a rogue stallion, wearing an American flag, holding a double barreled shotgun in both hands, and firing rounds at anything that moves. Yes, political debates can so easily be derailed by generalizations and assumptions. To avoid that, let me quickly make a few clarifying statements.

There are several points I am not attempting to make with this blog post. First, I am not saying that anyone who disagrees with me on these matters is obviously a traitor worthy of deportation. That would be a gross and uncharitable assumption. Second, I am not saying that America was or is or should be a Christian nation. The true Kingdom of God is not of this world, and it cannot be reduced to being perfectly compliant with any man-made form of government. Also, I am not saying that we need to take back “our” nation from the radical secularists who have stolen it from us. This great nation belongs to all who live within its borders—religious or otherwise.

So what is my point in writing this blog post? Simply this: if we are going to have a productive debate about these and many other political issues, let us make every effort not to perpetuate falsehoods. Such confusion (intentional or unintentional) only serves to dirty the waters. And politics is a dirty enough topic to begin with.

photo credit: kyteacher via photopin cc

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

How I Almost Broke My Marriage

Hi, it’s Shannon again. Cap’s wife. Last time I wrote a guest article for Cap, the main thing on my mind was speaking to young wives about discontentment.

Many ladies wrote or spoke to me after that post and shared that they’d had the same struggle. So now that Cap’s asked me to write another post, I thought I’d share just how I came to be so passionate about battling discontentment—or in other words, how I almost single-handedly tore apart my marriage, and how God saved my marriage from me.

In August 2010 I discovered that, by misusing the Excel template of a friend who was much smarter than I, I had inadvertently been budgeting over $250 more than we could afford to spend monthly. (Math is not my strongest asset.) What’s more, we could not cut enough spending to stay within our affordable range. We had gotten married during the recession, so Cap’s company had a freeze on raises, and my grad school (in English Literature, not budgeting, obviously) hadn’t paid too well. We came to the point where we could barely afford to buy enough groceries for two meals a day.

My dreams of swiftly following my other newlywed friends into a house of our own were shattered. Heck, my dreams of Internet and meat for dinner were shattered. Here I was, watching my friends get houses and Netflix and new appliances—and I was stuck where I was with no way out.

There was a good amount of self-blame. But I had plenty of blame for others, too. How dare Cap’s company (wisely) freeze raises during tough economic times! How dare my friends (innocently) get houses and have the audacity to talk about them in front of me! How dare Cap (oh I went there) make so little money!

I became a basket case about every unexpected purchase. For example: Cap’s shoes wore out. I raised a fuss. That was $60 we were going to have to spend because he couldn’t take care of his shoes well enough. Sixty dollars because his company made him walk too much (I told you I was a basket case). Sixty dollars further away from ever getting a house. Cap never heard the end of it. I even griped when he splurged on flowers for me because they were too expensive.

Bitterness began to boil in my chest: God was to blame. He was sovereign. He caused all this.

It got to the point where there were long, frigid periods of silence between Cap and I while I “punished” him for whatever I was most recently disappointed about. It got to the point where I actually told him, “I wish I had known that this would happen before we got married.” His response: “Why, would that have changed your answer?”

I think it was initially that heartbroken question that made me realize, “You’re that woman from Proverbs 14:1: ‘The wisest of women builds her house, but folly with her own hands tears it down.’ And you’re not the wise one.” I was tearing down my house, my marriage, and my husband’s heart.

Cap graciously pointed me to resources, one of which was Jerry Bridges’ Trusting God: Even When Life Hurts. In that book, Bridges mentioned a psalm that had helped him in times of trial. My razor-sharp memory catalogued it as “Psalm 30-something.” Since I couldn’t remember the exact psalm, I decided to read Psalms 30-39. I had to hit Bridges’ psalm in there somewhere.

I still don’t know what psalm he was referring to, but I found a wealth of help from the God I was busy accusing of unfairness every day. In Psalm 37, I began by scoffing at this promise: “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.

“Yeah, right,” I thought. “The desires of my heart are not coming true.”

Wait a minute, the Spirit broke in. Since when has it ever been good for you to get what you wanted?

Back when I was unsaved, I wanted to live my own selfish life, which led to suffocating pride and conflict with others. In college, I wanted to be a skeptic and question the Bible’s authority, which led to despair. When I first visited my church, I wanted to sit in for one Sunday and find a good excuse never to come back, not be introduced to grace and to the community that would become my family.

In saving me, God is partially saving me from what I want. I don’t know what’s good for me.

Maybe Psalm 37 is talking about the desires of my heart when I’m sane and thinking straight—that is, when I’m trusting God, who knows exactly what is best for me, to give me what He thinks I need. Maybe I don’t even know what the true “desire of my [sanctified] heart” is. Like Tim Keller says, God will only give you what you would have asked for if you knew everything he knows.”

In a flash, I realized what had happened. For once, my desire and God’s desire had been the same: I got to marry Cap. And my immediate response to getting what I wanted? A laundry list of other things I also wanted and now expected to receive. I had torn my house down demanding those things. I was humbled to the dust, and it was the sweetest humiliation I had ever known.

The rest of that year I remember as being one of the most precious times of my life. I began every morning by praying from Psalm 30:

As for me, I said in my prosperity, “I shall never be moved.” By your favor, O Lord, you made my mountain stand strong; you hid your face; I was dismayed. To you, O Lord, I cry, and to the Lord I plead for mercy.

My absolute dependence on God had never been clearer to me, and my need to trust Him with my life had never been more urgent.

Grocery shopping, which had once been the most stressful hour of the week, became a joy as I submitted to the constraints of our God-given budget. It wasn’t good for me to have all the groceries I wanted, I reminded myself throughout the store. It was good for me to be humbled and trust God with our budget. I returned from shopping exuberant at God’s grace in unexpected sales, and I discovered that the store brand is more often than not just as good as the name brand. (Kroger ice cream is way better than any of those expensive kinds, FYI. Seriously. Try Snickerdoodle.)

For the rest of that year, I received joys and sorrows happily from God’s hand. It got to the point that when Cap led us in purchasing a home the next year (yes, my worries were embarrassingly unfounded), I was the one who was sad to leave our apartment.

Even now, remembering, I am reminded to “Humble [myself] . . . under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:6-7).

I’m still tempted to be discontented for various reasons. But remembering what a mess of things I make when left to my own devices helps me accept God’s mighty hand more humbly and happily.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Three Lessons I’ve Learned in Five Years of Marriage

When you take your wife out to dinner to celebrate your wedding anniversary, you don’t necessarily plan on misspelling her name on her to-go box, taking a leisurely drive through a local cemetery, or filling up your tank at a seedy gas station. All those things did recently happen, and yet Shannon and I still enjoyed the evening. (She also forgave me for the spelling mistake—which is a big deal, coming from an English major.)

Yes, this past weekend Shannon and I celebrated our fifth wedding anniversary. The time has both taken forever and flown by. (Not quite sure how that happens.) In this short period, a lot has transpired. I won’t bore you with the details, but I did want to share three things I have learned—or, rather, am still learning—at the outset of this lovely journey called marriage.

1. You can’t rightly love if you can’t rightly see love

The more I grow in the Christian faith, the more I see how much of a difference there is between knowing something and believing something. I know God has forgiven me, but I often think and act like He’s still holding a grudge against me. I know God is patient and longsuffering, but I often think and act like God is fed up with my imperfections and recurring sins.

When I see God in this negative and inaccurate light, my actions toward others—especially behind closed doors, when no one but my wife is present—are detrimentally affected. If I see myself as under God’s condemning gaze, I can be tempted to be unforgiving toward Shannon. If I see God as impatient toward my faults, I can be impatient toward Shannon’s. It’s not a pretty picture.

But as I’ve been slowly learning (specifically here and here), when I’m bulldozed over by God’s unrelenting, unconditional, and even joyous love for me, I am better enabled to pour out that same mercy and grace on Shannon. After all, if God’s disposition toward me is love, even though my sins against Him have been grievous, how much more can I show a loving disposition to Shannon, whose sins against me are exceedingly small in comparison? Yes, understanding and truly believing the good news of the gospel can radically change your marriage.

2. Your wife is the key to discerning the state of your relationship

There’s an almost foolproof way to test your marriage’s strength. How? By simply asking your wife how she thinks things are going. I’ve had to swallow my pride several times, but Shannon’s perspective has often led to course recalibrations that have served our marriage well.

Yeah, I know it’s easy to think your wife tends to overreact when talking about the problems in your relationship. It’s easy to dismiss many of her concerns as unrealistic or emotional. But I think God has given women the unique ability to feel a marriage’s pulse better than men.

If you really want to find out where your marriage is strong—and where it needs improvement—ask for your wife’s input. She might not always be able to explain it perfectly, but she has a valuable perspective that you would do well to consider. Otherwise, you’re basically shooting yourself in the foot. Yeah, you can still hop around, but where’s the dignity in that?

3. As time passes, good marriages only get better

When you hear older couples talk about how love, romance, and intimacy just get better and better, it’s tempting to think that’s just a quaint ruse. But even only after a handful of years behind us, we can see that those couples are right. Through God’s enabling power, we’ve seen that sowing faithfulness and devotion into your marriage reaps staggeringly good results.

Sure, there’s a sense in which our life is getting harder too, but as I’ve pointed out earlier, nothing truly worth holding onto is easy. The most rewarding things in life are those which require a lot of effort. Gold medals, financial stability, successful children—all of these things, while ultimately the result of God’s grace—come about through hard work and sacrifice.

So there you have it. Three lessons (among many more!) that God is helping me to learn in my marriage. They’ve served me well, and I hope they can serve someone else too.

photo credit: LollyKnit via photopin cc (edited for horizontal orientation)

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

It Doesn’t Matter If Actors Willingly Undress for the Camera

It’s true that some actors perform nude and/or sex scenes without any form of coercion. Indeed, there are those who almost seem to relish the opportunity to undress for the camera. As Christian patrons, that shouldn’t provide us with any comfort. When we financially support films with degrading sex and nudity, we support a subculture that abuses those actors who do have a problem with publicly disrobing and sexually acting out.

Maybe it would help to look at it in this way. Consider, if you will, two pertinent groups in this discussion. In the first group are plenty of actors—many of whom are not professing Christians—who experience serious reservations about exposing themselves to the public at large. It’s not because they are trying to glorify God with their bodies, their words, or their actions. It’s not necessarily because they subscribe to a Christian sexual ethic. Still, their consciences bother them when it comes to nudity and sex scenes.

That’s the first group of people. The second group consists of Christian patrons. These are people who are trying to glorify God with their bodies, their words, and their actions. As believers, they are bound by the Christian sexual ethic. And yet these people—those who have been delivered from darkness and transferred into God’s kingdom—are the ones saying their consciences are clear when they watch the consciences of others be violated. These Christians pay for actors to be abused and experience no qualms about it.

Brothers and sisters, this should not be!

And yet there’s more to consider than what we’ve already discussed. To continue my line of reasoning from last week: the second part of my nuanced answer to the argument that some actors do sex scenes and/or nudity willingly is this: it doesn’t matter. Not if we take seriously God’s command to love our neighbor as ourselves.

Whether or not actors agree with the nudity and sex acts required of them is actually beside the point. Why? Because it doesn’t negate the fact that they are being objectified and degraded as human beings in what is essentially a pornographic act. It is unloving of us as Christians to support such actions, even when they are free from coercion.

We see this principle at work in Romans 13, where Paul says loving your neighbor includes avoiding adultery. He’s not assuming that all adultery is rape. Some adultery—much of it, in fact—takes place by mutual consent. And in so-called “open marriages,” there are no parties objecting to adultery. Does that suddenly make the adultery excusable? Not according to Paul. By its nature, sexual perversion is sin, even if it’s consensual and socially acceptable.

All forms of immorality are inherently unloving. That’s the Bible’s stance. That should be the Christian’s stance. In contrast to this, the film industry has created a socially acceptable ménage à trois: two actors commit sexually intimate acts, and audiences sit in on the proceedings with complete approval.

It doesn’t matter if you watch a raunchy movie only for the “good parts” or the overall message. It doesn’t matter if you can watch, or ignore, a sex scene while keeping a completely pure heart. It doesn’t matter if you spend less by renting a DVD. If money travels from your account to the producer of that film, your patronage is supporting an unloving act.

The “law of love” (which we’ve talked about earlier) exhorts us to consider the spiritual, emotional, and physical needs of men and women in front of the camera. Is that restricting for a movie-going audience? I suppose so. It has definitely kept me from visiting the theater on several occasions where I otherwise would have willingly and excitedly done so.

But this law of love is not “restricting” in a lastingly negative sense any more than monogamy is a negative restriction for married couples. It’s a law that protects, not harms. It’s a law that governs for good, not evil. It’s a law that helps one cultivate the greatest motive known to humankind. In the end, what is truly more freeing: living a self-centered or an others-centered life? The Bible’s answer is the latter.

Think about the implications here. How would it affect you if you put the law of love into practice? What if you refused to financially support movies that objectified actors because you wanted to treat them as real people? Would you not start viewing the actors you encounter in the movies as real people and not just potential sources of eye candy or gratification? Would the law of love not help you fight sexual lust even more effectively with gospel power? Would it not help you keep from focusing on yourself (which is what lust does) and instead focus on the needs of others (which is what a healthy, Biblically-informed sexuality is all about)? Would that not be a gloriously countercultural way to demonstrate God’s love to your fellow human beings?

I think it would. In fact, my personal experience has been that it does. I dare you (in the most positive sense possible) to prove me wrong.

photo credit: Bob Bekian via photopin cc