Disclaimer: This post is written from and assumes the historic Christian position on sexuality. It is not primarily interested in discussing validity of the position (for a decent overview of that position, see my summary of the book Mere Sexuality.) Rather, the focus is on how that historic position should interact with a wider culture that is increasingly challenging the historic Christian position from from outside and inside the Christian church.
Dear Christian Brothers and Sisters,
Imagine that you log into your social media account tomorrow and see the following headline, “Confirmed: James Bond to be gay in the next film entry.” How would you react? What would you think? What if the headline was about the next animated Disney princess, Marvel superhero, or lead Star Wars character instead of James Bond? Would you be shocked? Upset? Happy? Would you immediately retweet it with an angry comment? Would you share it with a rainbow emoji and #lovehasnolabels hashtag? This cultural development is going to happen. I think it’s going to happen sooner than you think, and I’m certain we’re not ready for it.
This will be the first post in a series that will seek to share with my fellow Christian brothers and sisters why I’m worried about our inability to be cultural consumers that are faithfully Christian will be devastating for the coming cultural challenge of a mainstream franchise featuring a gay character and story. In this first post I will outline why I think a major blockbuster film franchise featuring a gay character and story line is not only inevitable, but will be a major cultural challenge for Christianity. In following posts I will explain why I believe the reaction from most Christians will unfortunately be disastrous. The reaction will be tragically stuck playing out the same two responses to every major cultural challenge:
1. A stance of moral outrage coupled with a withdrawal from secular culture2. A stance of accommodation that inevitably leads to assimilation with secular culture.
Neither of these reactions are helpful, neither live up to the calling Christ puts on us. In fact, I believe these reactions will do great damage to our churches, our communities, and ultimately, the name of Christ. In the final post I will give my own suggestions on how I think Christians can react well to this inevitable cultural development and become consumers of culture that are Christ-like.
Why write these posts now? I realize these cultural wars are not new – they are just the most current in a long line of dominoes that began way before the artistic medium of film was even created. However, I think this particular milestone, more so than others, will be a domino of great importance. Why? Because in our culture, the big budget blockbuster franchise acts as one of our great unifying cultural forces. More so than novels, songs, and even television shows (though they all play a large role too), it’s the major franchise films that provide our contemporary culture with shared stories and values we identify and define ourselves by. They give us the heroes we put on our wall, the figures on our cereal boxes, the costumes our sons and daughters dress up as, and the common experiences we pass down to future generations. Imagine our culture without franchises like the Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Marvel, Harry Potter, Fast and the Furious, Disney/Pixar animated films, etc. That’s not just a few movies come and gone, that’s an enormous cultural black hole.
|Dressing up as Goose and Maverick from Top Gun at a costume party
The 18th century Scottish writer and politician Andrew Fletcher is often quoted as saying, “Let me make the songs of a nation, and I care not who makes its laws.” I think Fletcher is hitting on something really insightful here – it will be the arts, more so than legislative rulings, that will have the greater influence on the hearts and minds of a people. Why? Because people do not just long for truth stated in propositions and legislation, but we seek for our hearts to be captured by truth that is beautiful and good. The arts have a unique way of delivering truth, beauty, and goodness that can be seen with the eyes, heard with the ears, touched with the hands, and felt in the soul. That shouldn’t be a surprise, Christians believe this is a part of being created as an image of God - in the likeness of our creator who himself is a grand artist. No other artistic medium brings together the arts like film: writers, photographers, animators, sculptors, builders, designers, musicians, composers, actors, etc.
In the movie business these major franchises are sometimes referred to as four quadrant films because they are made appeal to all four major demographics of our society – males under 25, females under 25, males over 25, and females over 25. One of the reasons they need to appeal to such a wide demographic is because they cost so much money to make and market – hundreds of millions of dollars. With that much money on the line, these franchises aren’t just expected to be good, they are expected to reflect the commonly shared values of moviegoers. This is one of the major reasons why there really hasn’t been much LGBTQ+ representation in big budget franchises so far. This is why smaller budget films that are targeting smaller demographics for financial success are able to more prominently feature gay characters and story lines.
However, the secular culture has changed and continues to change. Our commonly shared values have changed. Same-sex marriage is the law of the land and all the other mediums of art now more prominently feature LGBTQ+ representation. We should not be shocked that our big budget franchises will begin reflecting those shared franchises. This means that Disney will have gay and lesbian relationships in their animated films and in their young teen programming. In the same way that the representation of women and minorities in major franchises has become an issue that has led major franchises like Star Wars and Marvel to change (even if it's been slow and incremental), we should expect LGBTQ+ characters to follow. Let me be clear, in as much as this reflects our wider culture, I am expecting this, understanding of this, and welcoming of this. This is the world we live in now.
Brothers and sisters, the change is coming. This won’t be as easy as when Ellen came out in her 90’s sitcom, or Britney and Madonna kissed at the MTV Music Awards in the 2000’s – it’s easy to brush those off as just niche or just switch off a television station. It won’t be so easy when the change comes to our precious and unifying mythologies. What will you do then? Will you respond with Christ-likeness? In truth and love? How you respond to this will have a greater impact on you and the world than you think. Don't take this lightly.
In the next post in this series I’ll explore the two types of responses I foresee most Christians making and I'll outline how those responses reveal a deep intellectual naivete, monumental moral hypocrisy, and crippling capitulation within the wider Evangelical church.