Yes ... it's true. My son Alec and I recently watched the 'R' rated The Last Samurai together. But I won't let him watch the PG-13 rated Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist.
Nick & Norah's?
Sure, this was a really well done film. But think about it: hookups, non-stop sensuality, orgasms, graphic sexual references and crude humor... is this really what you want your kids watching? And more importantly, is PG-13 or R really the line you want to use when discerning what to let your kids watch?
So how do we know what films are appropriate to show to our families? What about our church youth group? Or what's appropriate for a married couple watching a film together?
WHAT LINE DO YOU USE?
First, let me warn you that I love movies. Any of my close friends know that if they go see a movie with me I usually give the run-down on who directed it, the director's past films, and the history of many of the actors. I studied film in college and I have even dinked around filming a few shorts. But it's difficult being a movie-lover in today's world. Films that the critics rave about like Sideways and Eyes Wide Shut are so often filled with graphic sex scenes and other superfluous garbage. Some people argue that it's okay to watch these films as "art." I won't judge these people, but I have trouble agreeing.
Most people would agree a line exists somewhere in the expanse between Michelangelo's "David" and pornography. But where is that line drawn? And more importantly, what standard do we use to draw that line?
Some people are upset about the violence in film. But can we "rubber stamp" a film as violent? Can you put films like Saving Private Ryan, Glory or even The Passion in the same category as Sin City or Kill Bill? Should we edit or avoid the violence in the Bible? (Matthew is fine, but avoid I and II Kings!)
Some like to use the MPAA rating system as a guide for what we can watch. Pardon my candor... but that's just ignorant. What about the raunchy, sexually explicit film Don't Mess With the Zohan? Are we to allow our kids to see PG-13 films like this, but not the R-rated Saving Private Ryan? I'm surprised how often Christians make the 'R' rating, a secular rating system based on secular morals, their line.
And what about TV? I'd rather my high school aged son watch the R-rated Gladiator than any 5 minutes of a rerun of TV's Two and a Half Men. And that is Sesame Street compared to the average programming on MTV. I watch MTV twice a year, their two award shows (when the kids are asleep), just to keep up with youth culture. Every year I think I'm prepared for the content I'll see… but it never ceases to shock me.
If you've never taken a peek at the channel for yourself, maybe you don't realize just how bad it is. The Parents Television Council (PTC) released a study, "MTV Smut Peddlers: Targeting Kids with Sex, Drugs and Alcohol," which examined the programming content of 171 hours of MTV "Spring Break" coverage between March 20-27, 2004. Overall, there were 1,548 sexual scenes (3,056 sex depictions or nudity and 2,881 verbal sexual references) and 1,518 unedited (3,127 bleeped) profanities. The PTC released a report four years later, in 2008, against MTV and BET claiming they were "assaulting children" with "offensive and adult content." According to their 21 page report, during their rap music programming there were 1,342 instances of offensive/adult content in a mere 14 hours of programming analyzed. (That's 95.8 instances per hour… one every 38 seconds.) Letting our kids watch this kind of TV is pimping them out to some of the lowest filth the world has to offer. (More about MTV shows here)
So how do we draw the line when discerning what to watch?
DRAWING THE LINE
So, if the MPAA isn't our guideline, what is? Scripture, like Ephesians 5, offers some great parameters.
Ephes. 5:1-9 (NLT)
Follow God's example in everything you do, because you are his dear children.  Live a life filled with love for others, following the example of Christ, who loved you and gave himself as a sacrifice to take away your sins. And God was pleased, because that sacrifice was like sweet perfume to him.
 Let there be no sexual immorality, impurity, or greed among you. Such sins have no place among God's people.  Obscene stories, foolish talk, and coarse jokes—these are not for you. Instead, let there be thankfulness to God.  You can be sure that no immoral, impure, or greedy person will inherit the Kingdom of Christ and of God. For a greedy person is really an idolater who worships the things of this world.  Don't be fooled by those who try to excuse these sins, for the terrible anger of God comes upon all those who disobey him.  Don't participate in the things these people do.  For though your hearts were once full of darkness, now you are full of light from the Lord, and your behavior should show it!  For this light within you produces only what is good and right and true.
If that scripture doesn't make you think ... I don't know what does. I admit, it's hard to excuse watching the 1995 Best Picture Nominee Pulp Fiction when you consider that passage.
But what about the films that aren't so extreme. The 2005 "date flick" Hitch with Will Smith, for example. Even though this film is fairly clean, it does follow the lives of unbelievers with secular morals. And even though the character Hitch seems like a good, moral guy, he makes comments in the film that lead us to believe that he has no moral objection to sleeping with a girl before marriage. So does this make Hitch a no-no? Do we also need to go back and tear up our Shakespeare and our Hemingway collections?
Let's look for the answer from some of the truths from the above passage.
- Verse 1 and 2 say that, as believers, we are to follow Christ's example of love and purity. Jesus not only forgave our sins, he set an example to follow. We can definitely learn from his example of love—we see many examples of this in the scriptures.
But we don't see much about what "influences" Jesus allowed in his life. That's okay—because the next verses talk about what to avoid.
- In verses 3 and 4, Paul actually lists things we are to have no part of:
- sexual immorality
- obscene stories
- foolish talk
- coarse jokes
Paul tells us that there should be none of these things in our lives. These aren't the only things we need to avoid... these are just examples. We see Paul list examples in many of his books. These lists vary a little, depending on who he's writing to. But certain topics seem to be a common denominator of discussion. For example: there should be no sexual immorality among us.
And "just thinking or talking about sexual immorality" ignores what Jesus said about the subject in His Sermon on the Mount (Matthew chapters 5-7). It is not just "doing it" that makes us guilty—thinking about it is also sinful. Lusting with our eyes is equally wrong. Jesus even went as far as to say that it would be better to pluck our eye out if it caused us to sin.
Maybe some of us need to pluck out our cable or satellite connections?
Some people may try to argue that we just shouldn't ‘be' sexually immoral, claiming ‘it's okay to talk about it or watch it.' I have to disagree. In I Corinthians 6:18, Paul tells us to "flee" sexual immorality. Notice that he doesn't say "try your best to avoid ..." He says "RUN AWAY!" That's because he knows how powerful a sexual desire can be.
I've never seen one stumbling block so devastating to families, so destructive to leaders—one that blackens the reputations of churches and ministries like no other—as sexual immorality. I've personally known numerous pastors whose ministries fell apart because of their own sexual sin. Addictions to pornography, affairs, sexual misconduct... you name it. Sex is a powerful desire, one not to be messed with outside of the context of marriage.
Even King David, "a man after God's own heart," wasn't immune to the lure of sexual immorality. David saw a beautiful woman bathing, which led him to lusting, wanting... and eventually murdering. His first peek at Bathsheba bathing opened the door to a destructive momentum of sin in his life.
GOOD SEXUAL CONTENT (YES, YOU READ THAT CORRECT)
Don't misunderstand me. Sex is not a bad thing. God created sex for us to enjoy in the context of marriage. God also included a pretty graphic book of the Bible (Song of Songs) about the love and sex between a man and wife. The Bible doesn't seem apprehensive to talk openly, even graphically about sex.
Proverbs 5:18 and 19 reads:
Let thy fountain be blessed: and rejoice with the wife of thy youth. 19 Let her be as the loving hind and pleasant roe; let her breasts satisfy thee at all times; and be thou ravished always with her love.
Song of Solomon 7:6-8 reads:
6 How beautiful you are and how pleasing,
O love, with your delights!
7 Your stature is like that of the palm,
and your breasts like clusters of fruit.
8 I said, "I will climb the palm tree;
I will take hold of its fruit."
What rating is that?
The fact is, God created sex for us to enjoy within our marriage. And the Bible isn't scared to talk about the pure and exciting truth of a young man excited about the beauty of his wife or the concept of her "breasts" being satisfying to him. That's good sexual content.
Some of us might have been raised in churches where sex is a hush-hush subject. These paragraphs above might seem a little taboo. If that's the case, I encourage you to ponder the truth of Scripture, not some list of rules that you were taught as a child.
Sex God's way is nothing to be embarrassed about. But God's plan for sex is one man and one woman enjoying love and sex together for the rest of their lives. Media tends to warp that perfect plan with subtle lies. TV and movies present an accepted "norm" to our kids that is not only unbiblical, but often dangerous (a world where sex is recreational and consequences are rare).
The Bible lays out God's plan for sex and shows the consequences of what happens when people stray from God's plan. The Bible isn't afraid to tell stories of sexual immorality, such as the story of David's sin with Bathsheba. In II Samuel chapters 11 and 12 we read all about David's sin and the consequences.
This is interesting if you think about it. Media sometimes offers us tales of sin and its consequences. In the 1980's, Fatal Attraction showed a terrifying story of an affair and its consequences. In the 1990's, the same director brought us another film about sexual misconduct and its consequences in the film Indecent Proposal. These films tell the truth (unlike so many films that tell subtle lies). Is it bad to watch these films showing the reality of sin and its consequences?
I wish I had a black and white answer for you. Personally, I don't think I should watch those specific films because of the nudity. Even though the stories are true, I don't want to look at another woman naked or listen to overtly sexual dialogue that might cause me to lust. Everything I read in the Bible points to the fact that I should enjoy my wife's body only. So I am careful about content that will tempt me to lust after another woman.
In my movie reviews I will often comment about a film's sexual content. That's because many of us need to be aware of sexual content in advance and not set ourselves up for failure. Part of successful "fleeing" is becoming aware of what films to avoid before you sit down to watch them. Web sites like my movie review page, and www.screenit.com can help us be aware of the content of films so we can "flee" sexual immorality. (Click Here for an interesting link to a Christianity Today article about reviewing these kinds of films)
But Paul lists more than just sexual sin in that I Corinthians passage mentioned earlier. In this particular list he also includes impurity, greed, obscene stories, foolish talk, and course joking. That pretty well covers Meet the Fockers, Click, The Love Guru and other films that might not have on screen sex or nudity, but definitely rate high in sexual and perverse joking.
THINKING TWICE ABOUT WATCHING JUNK
The passages above aren't the only ones that advise us how to respond to the temptations that the world has to offer. I Peter 2:11 tells us to "watch out" for evil desires. Not only because they battle against our very souls, but also because we're being watched by our unbelieving neighbors. We might be the only glimpse of Christ that they see.
This doesn't mean we should be pious or condemning to unbelievers for their movie choices. The Bible doesn't say that. But this passage should make us think twice about watching junk.
As a youth minister, kids have asked me numerous times if I have seen the American Pie films or films of the like. I'm glad I can tell them I haven't seen those, but I have to be honest, my batting average hasn't always been so good. And it's just not very convincing to respond, "Yes, and I hated every moment of that filth!" Maybe we should consider missing this kind of junk in the first place.
Let's revisit the film Hitch. Personally, I didn't show this to my own kids when it was released because it dealt with the secular dating world. Frankly, young kids just wouldn't understand it. And some of the comments made in the film hint at sexual promiscuity as if it's a good thing. Subtle lies. But I had no problem seeing it with my wife. There was no sex, nudity or coarse joking. And it didn't preach or glorify the inappropriate. It was a fun date flick for a married couple. (Click here for my detailed review.)
What about the popular romance The Notebook?
That's a tough one. I've heard numerous Christians talking about this film in the last decade. Recently, in an interview on our THE SOURCE Podcast, C.S. Lewis' stepson Douglas Gresham told me that this film was one of his favorites. My wife and I saw it together and we loved the film, a brilliant love story. But it reflects typical morals of the world with elements like premarital sex, even showing us a sex scene with a quick glimpse of nudity. I have to admit, I don't think I need to be watching other people making love. Can you imagine if we did that in real life? Would you want a couple pulling up chairs next to your bed and watching you? Then why is it okay to watch it on a screen?
The Notebook is one of those films I watched with my wife and ended up fast-forwarding the "love scene." But, in all honesty, I don't know if that choice would meet my own standard of "fleeing" sexual temptation. I can let my wife tempt me all I want- that's a good thing. But I don't need the temptation of watching others make love.
I hope my honesty about the situation helps. You'll have to use the truth of the scriptures to make these decisions for yourself.
God doesn't print out an annual list for us of acceptable and unacceptable movies. He's given us His Word and He's equipped us with discernment. And when it comes to that discernment, the scriptures are pretty clear about not flirting with disaster. We need to be careful of what we see and listen to, not only for our own sake—but for the sake of others.
You have the information... now it's your choice.
, president of The Source for Youth
Ministry, is the author of over a dozen books including the new
Get Your Teenager Talking,
The Guy's Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket,
The Zombie Apocalypse Survival Guide for Teenager
, and youth ministry
Ministry By Teenagers
Connect: Real Relationships in a World of Isolation
, and the
speaks and trains
at conferences, churches and events across
North America, all while providing free resources for youth workers and parents
on his websites, TheSource4YM.com
. You can follow
Jonathan on his blog
, getting a
regular dose of youth culture and parenting help. Jonathan and his wife Lori, and
their three teenagers Alec, Alyssa and Ashley live in California.
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