December 14, 2017

Our Christian Movie Rating System

Cynthia Blake Simmons

Scripture instructs us that our time is valuable and given to us for a purpose. The minutes and hours entrusted to us upon this earth require faithful stewardship as do our talents and financial resources. If we are guiding our lives with an eternal view, then we will not be haphazard in the way that we spend this valuable commodity. The activities that we choose to occupy our time should have eternal merit—they should contribute to the overall goals we have established for our lives and should not violate Scriptural command or have a detrimental effect upon our character. With this in mind, consider an area that is robbing vital time from Christians of all ages while influencing them greatly.

When my mother’s aunt went to Wheaton College in the 1950s she signed a statement saying she would not attend movies. I signed a similar promise when I entered a fundamental Christian university in 1972. In these earlier days when movie censors were more select in what they allowed to be seen and heard, it was an accepted fact that Christians did not watch movies.

When did this change and how?

When movie viewing was confined to theaters, Christians had many reasons that they did not attend. The Hollywood industry was considered to be wicked and corrupt, and the lives and philosophies of those involved were deemed immoral. The pulpits of fundamental churches thundered with messages denouncing the evils of the theaters, and no God-fearing believer considered associating in any way with this questionable area.

Before television sets were commonplace in homes, the only place you could view a movie was in the theater, so most Christians never saw them. As people began to acquire TV sets for personal use, the barriers began to be broken down. Now all people had access to Hollywood entertainment in the privacy of their own homes. They could watch whatever was available, and no one else would be able to check up on them. At this time programs were still subject to conservative cultural mores. The philosophies were definitely of the world, but traditional American values prohibited the questionable language, violence, or sexual scenes.

Then came the time when the VCR was available to the common household, and the viewing habits of Christians began to change drastically. Christians had been gradually anesthetized and were now accepting programs on the screen they would have previously decried. The thirst for entertainment began to breed a new type of rationalization. Christians began to change the criteria with which they had previously evaluated movies. Before, movies were judged by an absolute principle. That principle stated that movies were made in Hollywood and portrayed the world’s view and the ungodly lifestyle that went with that philosophy; therefore, movies were wrong for separated and holy believers to support either with their money or their time. Although sex and violence were not pictured as graphically as they are in today’s movies and TV programs, they were major themes of the “old” movies. Drinking, adultery, lawlessness, violence, and immorality were presented over and over again, and there was no debate at that time: the movies were an unacceptable form of entertainment for believers.

As Christians began to enjoy and accept this new form of entertainment, they began to change the rules. Now movies were evaluated by comparison, not by absolute principle. This pragmatic code rated movies into “good” movies and “bad” movies. The “good” movies were ones that represented traditional values, for the most part, or animated films, of which Walt Disney films were the most popular. The “bad” movies had profanity or blatantly sexual themes. The problem with this new system is that it is subjective and vague. Often the criterion that merits acceptability is if “everyone else has seen it.” Some believers seem to be skilled at combing through the old movies and finding ones that can be considered acceptable for Christian viewing. But be careful! Just because a movie is older or comes in the form of a musical does not mean that it is void of questionable elements. Many of these films that make the “Christian circuit” contain drinking, suggestive dance scenes and songs, and characters clothed in ways that should offend a sensitive believer. Hollywood has a way of making that which Scripture says is wrong seem right and acceptable, and many times sincere believers are fooled. Just because the old movies are tame in comparison to what is seen on the screen today does not mean that they measure up to God’s standard of purity and holiness. Fundamental Christians living in the days of these “old movies” did not think so.

In the beginning years of Hollywood, there were strict guidelines governing what could and could not be shown on the screen. As the years went on, directors pushed repeatedly at the boundaries, and little by little, under the cry of “creativity” and “artistry,” the taboos and restrictions were stretched and eliminated, until today there is very little that cannot be said or displayed in a movie or on the television. The emergence of cable and satellite TV has broken down the last barriers to the corruption that can be brought into a home with the turn of a dial. As these barriers were eliminated, even the “good” movies began to contain questionable words and elements. Christians again changed their “rating” system. It was still a “good” movie if it only had a “few” words of profanity or only one or two “bad” scenes. We applaud ourselves as we are always careful to explain that we fast-forwarded past the offensive parts or turned down the rock music.

Even Walt Disney films have changed drastically in the last several years as they strive to appeal to older audiences and to present material that is “politically correct.” Christians should remember that every time they contribute money to rent or purchase a Walt Disney film, no matter what vintage, they are helping to support one of the major champions today of homosexual rights.

Even as large numbers of Christians began to purchase and rent movies to view in their homes, it was still taboo to enter a movie theater. The younger generation quickly saw the inconsistency of this. Why were movie theaters wrong, they asked? Adults quickly rattled off their pat list of reasons. They mentioned that it was wrong to give money that would support Hollywood by purchasing your ticket, and it could hurt your testimony if you were seen entering a movie theater. (After all, who would know if you were watching G-rated or R-rated films when they saw you enter?) And then any honest and thinking teenager would ask: what was the difference between those reasons and entering a video store? No one had a good answer, so many Christian teens became cynical at the obvious hypocrisy and began sneaking off to theaters. Eventually Christian adults began to rationalize that if they were just going to rent the video later, they might as well see it on the big screen.

And this is where we are today. We have changed the standards by which we judge whether or not a movie is acceptable, and those standards vary greatly from individual to individual. To many the only criteria for evaluating a movie are the amount of profanity and sex. Some people add violence to this list, although everyone seems to differ greatly as to what constitutes acceptable violence. And very few people seem to consider philosophy or agreement with Biblical principles when they determine the appropriateness of a film. Many believers are amazingly naive when it comes to recognizing the agenda behind certain movie plots or the “statement” that the producers are trying to make. The main qualifying point, even for Christians, seems to be the degree of entertainment achieved. If the movie scores a high rating in this area, then most people will rationalize their right to a viewing.

Even if TV or movie viewing could be justified from the standpoint of content, what about the time it involves? Can a believer who is obedient to the instructions in the Word of God concerning worldly associations and the preciousness of our time honestly invest much of his life in this activity? Many Christians who desire God’s best are now coming to the conclusion that total abstinence from TV and movie viewing is the desirable choice for them and their children. Often these believers are looked upon as being extreme and fanatical, but we have come to a sad place in our fundamental churches when those who choose to exercise a sensitive conscience and develop convictions they believe to be true to the Word of God are ridiculed for their stand by other believers. One of the signs of being addicted to a habit or pastime is the inability to give it up at will. Many people are so addicted to their viewing habits that they get very emotional and even hostile when challenged in this area. If you find yourself in this category, or if you begin to come up with extensive rationalizations to justify your viewing of those things that violate Scripture, then you should seriously consider whether you are addicted to this entertainment. Those who choose to watch must be very selective and prayerfully discerning. Consider the admonition of these passages from God’s Word as you make your choice:

I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes: I hate the work of them that turn aside; it shall not cleave to me” (Ps. 101:3). “Depart ye, depart ye, go ye out from thence, touch no unclean thing; go ye out of the midst of her; be ye clean, that bear the vessels of the Lord (Isa. 52:11).

Cynthia Blake Simmons is a freelance writer living in Troy, Michigan.

(Originally published in FrontLine • January/February 2002. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.)

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