Monday, September 21, 2009

The Gospel, Children, and Movies

When I was growing up, like most people, I always judged a movie's suitability for viewing by looking at the rating it received (G, PG, PG-13, R, etc.). These ratings are provided by the Motion Picture Association of America and are intended to be guides for parents to use in evaluating whether or not to let their children view a certain film. You can read more about these ratings, how they are determined, and the like by clicking here and looking around their site.

It wasn't until recently that I started to rethink this. Why am I letting the MPAA determine what I think is appropriate or inappropriate to view? Here are the things they list on their website that help them determine a movie's rating: "sex, violence, nudity, language, adult topics and drug use." They have more specific guidelines of course. But, are these the only things to consider when evaluating the merit of a movie for our children's viewing? I think all of us would say no.

The MPAA ratings give us a quick reference point for movies we have never seen or heard of, but we need to be sure to do more investigating into the films we let our children watch. Beyond "sex, violence, nudity, language, adult topics and drug use," there are many other things that we should be wary of being portrayed in films. These include: lust, extramarital romance, jealousy, anger, lying, disrespecting parents/authorities, divorce, underage alcohol use, gossip, selfishness, vengeance, etc. (just to name a few)--all of which at one time or another are glorified, or at least shown in a neutral (rather than a negative) light, in films our children might view. This type of content might not raise the eyebrows of the raters at the MPAA, but surely they should raise ours as Christian parents. We are called to train our children in godliness, and it's a subtle but powerful temptation for children to adopt the world's view of these things when the movies they watch are depicting them neutrally or positively.

The example of extramarital romance is one that immediately comes to mind. How many times in movies do we see a spouse who is taken for granted by their spouse (and possibly who has split up with them) find "true love" with someone else who treats them well--almost as if it's courageous to leave their marriage partner for this person? And we almost root for the affair or the divorce if we're not careful. The movie "Definitely, Maybe" is a specific PG-13 example of this for those of you who have seen it...How many times (even if it's not depicted on the screen, but only implied in the storyline) is pre-marital sex depicted as normal, romantic, and even desirable? These are the types of things we must be careful of our children viewing--especially without conversation about them.

Lest I sound like some crazed fundamentalist who just touts what you should NOT let your children view, I want to turn to the flip side of the coin briefly...The positive upshot of this is that we need to teach our children to view and be entertained by what is godly and beautiful and good. Paul says to the Philippians, "whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things" (Phil. 4:8, ESV). These are the types of things we are to help our children set their mind--and their eyes--on. There is plenty of this in movies out there, as long as we are intentional. Children can see depictions of courage, love, forgiveness, grace, hard-work, purity, etc.--even in movies that are not explicitly Christian. Our goal should be to expose them to these true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent themes that are worthy of praise.

And the motivation behind our choice of entertainment should be the gospel.

We are sinful people who are naturally rebels and enemies of God. Our children (and us) instinctively think in worldly ways and crave worldly things--even in entertainment. We have all done everything we can to rebel against God and earn punishment for ourselves. Our minds are darkened. But God sent Christ to live perfectly and innocently and to ultimately take His wrath on the cross for the sins of people like you and me (sins that include the entertainment I selfishly choose for myself). And if we trust in Him, we are forgiven and made into new people--people with new hearts and new desires and new eyes to see the world for what it truly is. We are people who are called to serve our Savior in every aspect of our lives. There is no neutral ground. So even in our entertainment, we need to evaluate whether our choices are bringing honor to our Savior and leading us to greater obedience to Him--or whether they are subtly leading us and our children to continue down the path of disobedience and worldliness.

Here are a few resources you can use to help you evaluate movies from a biblical perspective:
Plugged In
Planet Wisdom
Reel Discernment

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