What is the Christian take on movies? Can Hollywood be a part of Christian culture? And what about those “Christian movies”? Movie screenwriter Brian Godawa answers these questions.
In the first two parts of this series (part one & part two), we examined the Biblical call to dominion in Hollywood, and two approaches to this call: separation and infiltration. While there is a place for “Christian” arts, there are also dangers associated with our being a subculture, not the least of which is a consistent lack of excellence. But infiltration, though it has the goal of transformation and reform, also poses a risk to us. The world can influence us as much as we can influence it.
Drawing the Lines
Against infiltration, we often hear it said that by working on a secular movie that has a worldly worldview, we are supporting that godless message. I agree that we need to draw lines, but I do not believe this is a black and white area of decision. We live in a fallen world. Nothing is perfect. No movie is Scripture, and so we will not agree with everything a movie says. But that does not mean everything about a movie or television show is bad and therefore invalidating.
Once, on a radio talk show, I received a phone call from a woman who said it was sinful to support Schindler’s List because of an after-sex nude shot in the movie. The shot was inappropriate and unnecessary, but this woman threw away the entire 200 minutes of the most powerful, humane, educational, moral story about the Holocaust ever made because of a single two-second shot. Does she walk away from an unbeliever who is cussing rather than witness to him? Does she throw out the Bible because it contains descriptions of inappropriate sexual sins like adultery, incest, orgies, and gang rape?
We must decide how much agreement is required to warrant our involvement in a project. That line can be somewhat subjective (1 Cor. 8). I personally could not adapt the book The Da Vinci Code to a movie, because that would cross my line, but I could work on The Day After Tomorrow. Why? Because even though I don’t agree with the environmental extremism in the film, I recognize that it is an area of debate that is not absolute, and it is not an intrinsic violation of my faith. Even though the Bible gives man dominion, it also says we are responsible for pollution and our waste products as well as the environment (Ex. 22:5-6). So disagreeing on the degree of a claim is not the same as disagreeing on the essence of one.
Making a Difference in Hollywood
There are many Christians who have had this kind of salting or leavening influence in television shows like That 70s Show, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Judging Amy and others. They act as gatekeepers. They may not be able to change the entire show, but they are certainly positive influences that keep even worse stuff out. For instance, shows favoring abstinence were successfully championed to replace so-called responsible teen sex episodes by Christian writers and producers of Family Matters and Step By Step. On Touched By An Angel, a show approving of transvestite behavior as God-given was advocated by network executives but stopped short by the Christian producer and writers of the show. An American Detective TV show was turned from nihilistic criminal hopelessness into spiritual hope with the mere soundtrack addition of a Black Gospel rendition of the hymn “Softly and Tenderly.” And an insulting stereotype pastor character on That 70s Show was ultimately replaced by a more respectable one thanks to the diligent and persevering efforts of a Christian staff writer.
But much effect of Christians in entertainment cannot be measured because their influence is a day-to-day general influence on attitudes and subject matter, not merely specific incidents. If you think some television shows are bad, imagine how bad they would be without any Christian influence. Salt, light and leaven. And those Christians go on to higher positions of power and influence. In time, the salt seeps through the entire food and the leaven increases the whole lump of dough.
I have a Christian friend who is trying to get a job on the research team for the feature film adaptation of The Da Vinci Code. The research team investigates elements of movies to make sure they are accurate, like historical references or scientific and technological verity. That Christian could provide research that would show the elements of the book that are fallacious, which as we know, are manifold. In this case, her involvement in that godless project would be a way of working against the lies rather than supporting them.
A Comprehensive Dominion
Of course, restraining evil is only one aspect of cultural transformation. God wants us to do a whole lot more than stop a few dirty words or naughty behavior, He wants us to ultimately have dominion over Hollywood. But we have to start somewhere. If more of us were committed to infiltration, together we would have a greater influence. If one Christian can have only limited influence on the content of a television show or movie, imagine how much more influence a hundred Christians would have on that project. It’s the Rahab strategy: conquer the enemy’s city from within.
Ironically, this subversive tactic is how the homosexual community has operated for years in Hollywood. By infiltrating studios like Disney, they have been able to change studio benefits and policy on issues of domestic partnership. They have been able to take a studio that represented everything they were against (traditional mores) and subversively change the content so that now Disney’s definition of family values is more in line with their own. They infiltrated their enemy and took over.
There is a real lesson in all this for Christians. It’s not necessarily a compromise to infiltrate. And Christians are not necessarily responsible for the evil that exists in other parts of a system they may be working within.
Look at Daniel. He worked in a system that was idolatrous to its very core, with a king who demanded worship from his subjects. Not much different from the studio system in Hollywood. Yet Daniel was only responsible for his own actions, not those of others. He would not engage in actual sin, but he still did his job for a heathen evil government. It’s true that he was a slave, not a voluntary worker, but if it was entirely wrong to work for a godless government, then righteous Daniel would have done nothing at all and accepted death willingly. That was his character. We know he did not. We know he did his job.
Are we not aliens in this world, no matter where we work and live (1 Pet. 2:11)? Are we not citizens of another kingdom (Phil. 3:20), who, like Daniel, are trapped in a world that is under the power of the evil one (1 Jn. 5:19)?
But not forever. Let’s infiltrate. Let’s reform. Let’s transform. Let’s see Hollywood as a mission field to evangelize, not a Sodom to leave to judgment. Sometimes, we may have to take a stand and even lose our jobs for an unwillingness to cross a line of morality. It is not easy. But we must not continue to stagnate in our Christian ghetto of sub-standard subculture. We are under the New Covenant of cultural infiltration, not the Old Covenant of cultural separation.
- Brian Godawa
Brian Godawa is the screenwriter of the award-winning feature film, To End All Wars (www.toendallwarsmovie.com). Most recently, he has been hired to adapt best-selling author Frank Peretti’s supernatural thriller, The Visitation, for producer Ralph Winter. Mr. Godawa’s articles on movies and philosophy have been published in magazines around the world. His scripts have won multiple awards in screenplay competitions. He travels around the United States teaching on movies and culture to colleges, churches and community groups. His book, Hollywood Worldviews: Watching Films with Wisdom and Discernment (InterVarsity Press) is in its 7th printing. His website, www.godawa.com, contains more of his cinematic, theological and philosophical musings.