January 17, 2007

Adventists and Media

2007 1502 page12 capOMMUNICATION MEDIA CHANGE rapidly in our society. As followers of Christ, it is important to address how they impact our lives—positively and negatively. In the following discussion, assistant editor Bonita Joyner Shields dialogs with Lyndelle Chiomenti, Falvo Fowler, and Gary Swanson, from the General Conference Sabbath School and Personal Ministries Department. They talk, in particular, about media, entertainment, and how Christians should relate to them.
Why should Christians—especially Adventists—even discuss entertainment and media?
LC: It’s everywhere. You can’t get away from it.
GS: We’re swimming in it—whether we care to or not. The media’s delivery of entertainment has made exposure to it unavoidable.
FF: Entertainment and the celebrities’ involvement in it are more newsworthy in the media than actual current events. You’ll hear more about Ben and Jen, Paris Hilton, and Borat than you will about the prime minister of Israel, Saddam Hussein, or even George Bush. And that’s not just here in North America; that’s around the world.
It’s one thing to say we can’t get away from it, but should Christians pursue a career in this field?
GS: Many who choose to pursue this field see it as a mission field. It’s a little like learning another language, or immersing yourself in another culture so you can communicate. The participation of Christians in that part of culture—someone needs to be doing it. There are people who are called to it.
FF: I spoke recently to John Anthony, a producer in Hollywood. When he was an actor, he would get some roles on shows he wasn’t sure if as an Adventist he should be a part of. One particular time when he was praying for a job, he got a particular TV role. He couldn’t understand why he should be there. But he met three or four people on the set—who he witnessed to. Now they’ve been in his Adventist church for the past three or four years. There’s another guy who’s the youngest executive of any of the movie companies, who happens to be a Seventh-day Adventist. He’s also an elder in his church. He knows God has a purpose for him there.
LC: The editorial assistant for CQ [Collegiate Quarterly] has a nephew who is an actor in Hollywood. He gives more Bible studies to people on the sets where he’s performing than I’ve ever given.
GS: It also brings potential balance to the depiction of Christianity in the media. I have read about Christian producers, writers, and actors who said that when they first started working in the entertainment industry they would be sought out, and people would ask, “Where have you been? We’ve been looking for someone to represent the Christian viewpoint. Our culture is getting a real skewed view of Christianity. Things are being produced by those who aren’t Christians, and they don’t understand Christianity.” I’m convinced that there are people who are called to it.
2007 1502 page12Are media neutral?
FF: Media are neutral. The ones who produce it may not be. It all depends on what you use media for.
GS: Let’s not overlook the fact that media includes print—the older media! Nobody questions whether Christians should be involved in that medium. It’s the electronic media with which they have a problem. That’s an unfair dichotomy. Yes, I think media are neutral, until someone decides to take hold of them and communicate with them.
LC: Even something as diverse as the Internet is neutral until someone decides to communicate with it. It’s not unusual for me to go online to find sermon ideas, or ideas for the children’s stories to tell in church. Even research for dissertations is now done online. Yet one of the fastest growing problems in the Christian church today is male church members going online for pornography.
What value is there in the media for Christians?
FF: When God’s people fail to say what He needs to say, often we can hear echoes of what He wants to say through non-Christian media. I experience that frequently.
GS: We’ve got the story of Jonah on shipboard as an example of that. Jonah was God’s prophet, yet the truth about God and their situation came from the sailors. Jonah flat out got it wrong. That says to me that truth comes to us in many different ways. Millions of people are not churched, and a message from secular media has hit them, too. Now, as to whether that turns them around, that’s the Holy Spirit’s work.
LC: I think it softens their hearts for the next thing they hear. And the next thing they hear might be a Seventh-day Adventist Christian.
What principles can guide us in the use of media?
LC: This whole topic is begging to be looked at from the viewpoint of principles, rather than just Don’t do it!
GS: Media are potentially dangerous—as is anything. We can ruin our salvation through food. There’s nothing in the physical world that Satan can’t take to extremes and corrupt.
FF: This brings us back to Lyndelle’s point about principles. There are people who will not step into a movie theater, but who watch worse things on television. Or they rent the same movie from the video store that was shown in a movie theater.
GS: I want to go back to something that we said earlier—the change of emphasis in media, and what we define as news. I’m talking about the depiction of degraded personal relationships. If we say that there’s nothing valuable or beneficial in the entertainment media, then what do we do with the so-called nonentertainment media? The so-called factual media?
LC: You couldn’t even listen to the hearings of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas when he was up for Senate confirmation without hearing certain words.
FF: In this case, we’re talking sex. But what happens to the other moral values such as lying that you see so blatantly on the news? You hear someone say one thing, then six months later they deny it. They happen to be leaders of the free world. How do you deal with that?
GS: These are the currents we are swimming in, that I was referring to earlier. It’s the entertainment, but it’s also the entertainment passed off as fact.
LC: As I listen to the news, sometimes I think, Isn’t there anyone out there thinking about what this politician just said, the ramifications, the logical conclusion about where this line of thinking is going to take us? If we were taught to think critically, then teaching principles would be a lot easier on some of these issues.
I hear you saying that we need to think critically about everything we feed our brains.
FF: I love the way Christ told parables. He explained some of them, but others He basically said, “Here’s the pattern to think through these parables. If you learn to think through this one, let Me give you one to think through yourself.” We like it when someone delivers a point of view that we can follow, rather than think through the issues ourselves. Critical thinking is very important for a Christian. Jesus was helping us do that through His parables.
LC: Take the Garden of Eden for example. God told them not to eat of the tree [of good and evil]. It involves free will. Without free will we are robots, and we don’t have to think critically. But the fact that we have free will means that we were created to think critically. By critical, of course, we’re not talking about negative thinking, but thinking things through logically.
2007 1502 page12To what extent, if any, should a Christian expend his/her resources on entertainment?
FF: It’s not only the concept of money, but of time. I know people who watched every single match of the World Cup. They even recorded them so they could watch them again. The question applies not only to entertainment, but to a proper understanding of stewardship.
LC: I had a friend who, whenever she went out to eat, took that same amount and donated it to charity. It made her stop and think, “Do I really need to go out to eat?” I thought that was a unique way of being a steward. Again, it boils down to principles. If I’m spending a lot of money on DVDs, CDs, or whatever, and I can’t afford to put food on my table or clothes on my back, or to send my kids to church school, then I’ve got a problem. I don’t think being a good steward excludes being involved in some of these things; it’s just how involved are you going to be. Another consideration is that much of entertainment is so artificial. It keeps you from the real world.
GS: It’s a matter of stewardship that affects any way we expend our resources: what’s between our ears to what we have in our pockets. It’s a shame that we don’t use the term temperance anymore. Where temperance and stewardship cross is where we should try to be. If entertainment is taken to intemperate extremes, or beyond appropriate Christian stewardship, it can be destructive.
How can we prevent media from controlling us?
GS: We must be informed about it. To respond just because I’ve seen a cool ad or trailer on TV isn’t enough. I should know more about what that ad or trailer is selling. I need to do a little homework.
FF: I love The Edge magazine, a publication for youth and young adults published by the South Pacific Division, because they have reviews from a Christian perspective of things in the media. Because of that, young people are helped to make informed decisions.
LC: Being informed is the greatest way we can be in control. Media tries to manipulate us. If we’re informed, we’re not going to be so easily manipulated. We do more research to buy a car than to feed our brain.
FF: Discuss it with others. I’ll also go to iTunes and listen to the tunes online. Or I’ll read the lyrics and say, “Am I glad I didn’t buy that CD!” There are so many ways these days to find out about a media product.
GS: Be informed about the scriptural principles. All of us should be able to articulate what we believe is appropriate, based on our study of Scripture—not just because something looks or sounds cool. What critical thinking do I bring to bear on that, based on Scripture? Some helpful study has been given to that—evaluating the substance of any given message from the media.*
LC: Asking questions such as, “Do I have time for this right now? Do I have the money? How could I better be spending my time and money?”
FF: Our local congregations and conferences should make information packages available about media and ministry, and how to make choices. There seems to be no foundation for critical thinking. People misquote Scripture and Mrs. White to prove a point that doesn’t really exist.
GS: Most of us will not always make the same choices. And because I’ve drawn my line here, doesn’t mean that the rest of you are bad because you haven’t drawn the same line.
*See, for example, Infuze magazine, www.infuzemag.com; Todd Hahn and David Verhaagen, GenXers After God: Helping a Generation Pursue Jesus (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998), pp. 195-198; and Spencer Lewerenz and Barbara Nicolosi, Behind the Screen: Hollywood Insiders on Faith, Film, and Culture (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2005).