Recently, when I asked a friend for recommendations of a good movie to rent, he responded enthusiastically, “Have you seen The Hangover? It may be the funniest movie I’ve ever seen!” Excited about a potentially great comedy, I asked a couple of my staff members about the movie. They too had seen it and said it was a riot and must see.
Since I wasn’t sure what The Hangover was rated, my last check point involved doing a little research to see if this was a movie for the whole family or one just for me and my wife to watch together. What I discovered floored me.
According to www.screenit.com, this comedy has more than its fair share of non-family-friendly scenes, intense language, and sexual situations. The rough spots include 91 different variations of the f-bomb (apparently it can function as noun, verb, adjective — maybe even a conjunction for all I know), 41 excretory words, 14 references to a person’s behind, 13 “hells,” and nine slang terms for male anatomy. To top it all off, this hilarious movie has 31 different versions of taking God’s name in vain.
When I told my friends and staff members that the movie had 91 f-bombs, which averages out to approximately one version of the “f” word per minute, they were all shocked. “Really? I didn’t even notice” was the most common response.
Really… you didn’t notice one “f” word each minute?
Please understand that I’ve seen my share of The Hangover-ish movies. As a child of the ’80’s, I grew up on a diet of movies like Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Risky Business, and Porky’s. It’s not that I’m particularly proud of this cultural education, but I’m no tee-totaling separatist who only watches Veggie Tales.
You might be like a lot of people who say, “Profanity, violence, and sex in the movies don’t really bother me. If it doesn’t bother me, it must not be that big of a deal.” Remember — I used to think this way, too. If you’re a Christian, though, wouldn’t you agree that there has to be a boundary somewhere? A way to discern what pleases God and moves us closer to him instead of farther away? And can we trust our own sensibilities to know what’s truly best for us? Can you really endure an onslaught of “f-bombs” in a movie and not get wounded?
Consider, for example, if I dropped 91 “f-bombs” in my sermon this Sunday, do you think that no one in my church would care? Chances are good that I’d stir up a bit of controversy to say the least. So if you agree that 91 is too many f-words for a Sunday sermon, then how about 50? Or 23?
What’s the magic number? Most people in my church would say that even one f-bomb would be too many — much less taking God’s name in vain. Yet the majority of them paid good money to be entertained by some form of media containing the same language or much worse within the past thirty days.
So let’s wrestle with this subject. If it’s not okay for me or you to say certain words or make particular jokes or references in church, then why would it be right for Christians to pay their hard-earned money to be entertained by something similar?
I agree that context makes a difference. You attend church (I hope) to worship God, hear his Word preached, and fellowship with others — not to be entertained. Similarly, you go to the movies or download Netflix to escape and enjoy yourself, not to meet God and get spiritually nourished.
There’s only one problem with this line of reasoning. Our lives are not so neatly compartmentalized just because we’re in a different setting for a different purpose. We aren’t machines with software programs that can sort and file things away, separate from all the other parts of the system. It’s tempting to think that what we watch on TV, see at the movies, listen to on our iPod, play on our gaming systems, and read before bedtime doesn’t affect us.
But they do. Each image and message we ingest may be a germ that will make us gravely ill, especially when combined with the many other sensory germs we’re taking in. If we’re serious about our spiritual house cleaning, then there must be no exceptions. We must take the images, language, and stories we allow into our minds and hearts very seriously.
If you don’t think there’s a problem with all the cultural influences that invade your life daily, chances are that you’re interpreting right and wrong through a distorted lens. Our church shoots videos every week to use in different areas of ministry. Every time one of our team members videos me, we hold up a white piece of paper in front of the camera before starting. This shot is called a “white balance.”
We do this each time because the camera can’t interpret all the colors until it sees true white. Without a white balance, a blue shirt could look grey or a red flag could appear orange. Once the camera sees true white, then it knows how to discern all the other colors.
Our approach to movies, TV shows, and the culture around us should follow the same pattern. Once you see pure white — or truth — suddenly you can see clearly that so much of what we take in is hurtful to us and displeasing to God. Instead of blindly absorbing whatever media you encounter, allow God’s Word and the guidance of his Holy Spirit to reset your white balance, to re-adjust your standard of right and wrong, and to live in a manner that brings glory and honor to God.
Craig Groeschel is the founder and senior pastor of Lifechurch.tv, the second largest church in the United States and the creator of the YouVersion Bible App. He and his wife Amy reside in Oklahoma with their six children. A bestselling author, this essay is an adaptation from Craig’s new book, Soul Detox: Clean Living in a Contaminated World, launching May 7th.
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