Why Christians Are Not Ready for a Mainstream Gay Film - Part 2

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,

In the first post (of a series of on this topic) I outlined 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 this post I will explain why I believe the foreseeable retreatist reaction from most Christians will unfortunately be disastrous, that this will be another lost opportunity for Christians to become constructive influencers of our culture – or in biblical terms, salt and light. When the headlines about the first major gay franchise film begin to show up, what will the reaction of Christianity be? Unfortunately, in our social media saturated environment where we are inundated with waves after wave of outrage and controversy, we don’t have to imagine much. I think the reaction of Christians will fall into the same two basic camps most people fall into when presented with a challenge: retreat or assimilation.

The Two Basic Reaction:
Let’s imagine the next James Bond film is confirmed to have a Bond identified as a gay man. The retreat camp will look something like Christians refusing to watch more Bond films, destroying their previous Bond films, calling vehemently for boycotts of the parent company of the franchise while others will retreat to making their own cottage industry of Christianized “James Bond” films (which is probably more of an oxymoron than Christians realize). The assimilation camp would look something like Christians applauding the milestone, changing their social media profile pics to whatever new logo supports the film, churches renting out showings of the film for “evangelistic” opportunities to show support, the purchase and proud display of the inevitable Funko Pop “Rainbow” Bond figurine, the denunciation of boycotting groups, or perhaps the most innocuous – just indifferent acceptance and viewing as if nothing has changed.

If I’m correct in my predictions, I think these reactions would reveal a deep intellectual naivete, monumental moral hypocrisy, and crippling capitulation within the wider Evangelical church. The camps “FOR” and “AGAINST” will emerge, lines will be drawn, and everyone will be forced to pick a side. Both camps, even though one seems more loving than another, will ultimately do great damage and are unfaithful as a Christian response. They both fail to honor the image of God within us, the call of Christ upon us, and the mission of the Church before us. How so? Let’s take a look at the retreat camp. 

The Failure of the Retreat Response:
The reaction of the retreat camp is in many ways understandable and relatable. For many who were outraged that the world of music and television have primarily been given over to better LGBT representation, “family-friendly” big budget franchises feel like one of the last secular “safe spaces” for those who hold to traditional Christian values. They might have stopped watching ABC due to shows like Modern Family, but Star Wars, Marvel, and Pixar films were areas they could enjoy with their friends and family. The introduction (or injection in their view) of homosexuality into this safe space will feel like the last straw breaking the camel’s back to them – and they will feel forced to retreat from one of the last spaces of secular culture they felt connected to. This impulse usually manifests as a retreat from the shared secular culture into a safer Christian subculture. We’ve seen this happen with music and have begun to see it happen with film – though I think it will grow exponentially when this cultural domino falls.

The retreat camp, though understandable, is intellectually naive about how culture fits into the call of Christ. I have found that the impulse to retreat from the secular world typically stems from a mistaken view that following in the footsteps of Christ is primarily about remaining holy, clean, and righteous. On this view, withdrawing is done with the intent of removing oneself from people and culture that could dirty them. Holiness and righteousness become focused more on what and whom you keep yourself from and less about being an active follower of Christ bringing the kingdom news to all peoples and all cultures.

To be fair, there’s some truth in the retreatist view – Christians are called to keep ourselves holy and not to mingle light with darkness. There certainly are practices in the secular culture we should entirely abstain from. However, these injunctions must be balanced by the commands to go into the world, to the poor, to the weary, to the widowed, to the children, to the cultures, to the kings, and preach the good news of Jesus Christ. The two greatest commandments are to love God and to love our neighbor – they are tied together because we cannot love God without loving our neighbor. It seems simple to say, but we cannot love our neighbor if we find ourselves continually cutting off connections with them – especially common cultural connections. Unrighteousness does not primarily come in mingling with people or culture that is not “Christian” – if it did then Christ would be a deeply unrighteous man.

Creating gospel centered subcultures and inviting outsiders into them is a valid strategy that Christians must employ (think creating a family unit or church community centered around the Gospel). However, it cannot be the only method we employ. Like Christ our Lord, we must ALSO (it’s not an either/or) be willing to meet and connect with people where they are at, with the culture they know. I have typically found that the creation of Christian subcultures has been less about creating true, beautiful, and good art – and more about just creating our own “Christian” versions of entertainment. Our reason for retreat is disordered. Let me be clear, there’s nothing inherently wrong with the creation of subcultures – we all enjoy being part of our own little bubbles within the wider culture. 

However, if we are to answer the call of Christ we must also engage with the wider culture. This means we will get dirty, there will be some negative influences on us – God understands this. As the Christian speaker Sy Rogers put it, “It doesn’t matter that you get dirty, what matters most is what you do with it. Run to God who washes you clean.” We need retreat.  Christ often retreated for peace, quiet, and filling. We also need cultural connection and engagement. Christ interacted with, healed, and befriended more than just those in his subculture. There is a balanced rhythm here that must inform our responses to secular culture.

It gets worse for the retreat camp though. Worse than intellectual naivete, the retreatist response reveals a monumental moral hypocrisy within evangelical Christianity. Let me illustrate by imagining the following conversation between two Christians:

Conversation #1
Bob: You love the Bond series right?
Tim: Oh yeah. Seen every one of them.
Bob: Okay, give me your top 5 bond girls then.
Tim: Easy, you have to start with....

Conversation #2
Bob: You love the Bond series right?
Tim: Oh yeah. Seen every one of them.
Bob: Did you hear that in the next one Bond is going to be a gay man?
Tim: That's ridiculous. Why would they go and ruin the series by injecting that kind of sex in it? I don't think I could watch a gay Bond...This ruins it.

Do you see the utter hypocrisy there? The James Bond series has always been about a man who is sexually active in a way that is clearly not supportive of historic Christian values. The Bond series over the years has been replete with the abuse and objectification of women. It revels in lust and in its rejection of sexuality as meant for a permanent, exclusive, one-flesh union. Yet, there's very few Christians who would bat an eye if I told them that Bond beds 4-5 different women in the next film. There's no way around it, it has to be said bluntly, to use the injection of a gay character in a major franchise as a pretense for cultural retreat would be a monumental act of hypocrisy.

The hypocrisy runs deep as the entertainment choices of evangelical Christians has made it clear that they are more than willing to accept characters that not just embody views outside of historic Christianity, but celebrate them. Disney animated films and Marvel superheroes are reflections of secular views of sexuality much more so than Christian ones. The biblical view of sexuality is not fixated on homosexuality (though it does speak on it). It is, however, fixated on following the good designs of God. The depiction of homosexuality in a major franchise becoming such a lightning rod for evangelical Christians demonstrates how so many Christians have accepted a warped and twisted view of biblical sexuality. American culture left the biblical view of sexuality a long time ago and to retreat now reveals not that you are protecting a biblical view of sexuality, it means you are protecting YOUR view of sexuality. Your retreat is not due to any offense to Christ, it's due to offending your own precious sense of morality.

In summary, there is certainly some truth to the retreat impulse - we are called to not love the "world", not to mingle with sin, and to be holy. However, this impulse must be rightly ordered and balanced or it becomes a position of deep naivete and monumental moral hypocrisy. I believe that as Christians we must engage with our culture, but does this mean we should just accept whatever the culture does? In the next post in this series I’ll explore the second type of response - assimilation - and why it's just as much a disaster for a faithful Christian response.