February 26, 2008

Positive Reinforcement

2008 1506 page24 capI BECAME A SEVENTH-DAY ADVENTIST AS a teen. I grew up in a non-Adventist culture, but in academy I learned to understand and embrace Seventh-day Adventist convictions. I received Christ as my Savior and was taught that the Bible was my guide for life. I became the only vegetarian in my family, didn’t pierce my ears when my neighborhood girlfriends did, wore my dresses a bit longer compared to the miniskirts of the 70s, didn’t read romance novels, and quit going to the movie theater (in the pre-DVD era, that meant I didn’t see any popular movies).
Twenty-five years later, I’m raising a teenager. I’ve tried to pass on the beliefs I learned—not just a set of rules about external behaviors, but ardently held convictions: love for God, acceptance of His Word as the final authority for my life, care for the temple of my body, simplicity of life, modesty, and purity of thought.
Yet I’ve found that rather than being helped by my church in my struggle to raise a godly child in an ungodly world, I’m fighting it. Rather than validating the beliefs it taught me decades ago, my church sometimes tells my teen those convictions no longer matter.
Healthful living has been replaced by a soda machine in the academy hallway; kids come to class with their lattes, and high-fat, sugar-loaded muffins stand in as breakfast at most overnighters.
2008 1506 page24Simplicity is drowned out by the wide acceptance of jewelry, rented limos for eighth-grade graduations, and expensive class trips. Modesty has gone the way of spaghetti straps and plunging necklines on banquet night. Those things annoy me, but I understand why some feel those externals don’t indicate the state of the heart.
But surely we can all agree that it is vitally important that we maintain purity of thought by being careful about what we read, see, and hear. Perhaps Scripture doesn’t directly address Twinkies, limos, or spaghetti straps, but God’s Word does say: “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Phil. 4:8).
Alas, it seems that purity of thought is joining those other “dinosaurs” of Adventist history: care for God’s temple, simplicity, and modesty. Adventist teens can put anything into their minds as long as they don’t swear, act out the violence they see, or become pregnant. As long as our kids look wholesome, we don’t seem to care how they feed their minds. After all, by their teen years they are watching movies with Mom and Dad. And apparently Mom and Dad feel less guilt about their own infatuation with Hollywood than they did a generation ago.
My main concern is not the sexual immorality, violence, or bad language in movies, though I deplore it all. There is little danger that our exposure to the media will cause us to become prostitutes, murderers, or blasphemers. The greater and more insidious danger is that we are developing a way of thinking that finds entertainment in the very sins for which Christ died.
Some say, “We need to know what’s ‘out there,’ so we can be relevant to our culture.” Unfortunately, our fascination with what’s “out there” has made it “in here.” It’s one thing to know your enemy; it’s a far different thing to cuddle up with him on the couch on Saturday nights.
This Film Is Rated
I’m not recommending media police in our churches. Each individual must apply God’s Word individually. But church functions should uphold the highest standards. That has not, however, been my experience. At home we’ve tried to judge our entertainment, although imperfectly, by Philippians 4:8. We watch some television and rent some DVDs, but we’ve found most of Hollywood’s offerings fail the biblical test.
We’ve tried to be careful about the music, books, and magazines we bring into our home. But as my child has grown and begun attending church functions, I’ve felt betrayed by the very organization that gave me my standards.
My child’s first PG-rated movie included a scene that mocked religion and was shown by his Pathfinder club. He saw his first PG-13 movie in a first-year academy class. And my teen’s first R-rated movie was shown in a Sabbath school class, which used segments of the movie to illustrate spiritual truths.
Why has there been such a mind-boggling change in 
the attitude of Seventh-day Adventists toward media in the past two decades? Has Hollywood cleaned itself up since 
I was warned to avoid theaters 25 years ago? If anything, Hollywood’s moral decay has only become more pronounced. Why then, as movies and television have become more ungodly, have God’s people become more accepting of them?
It’s a matter of perspective. If we judge ourselves by the world, we may look pretty good. But the world has taken a quantum leap away from the standards of God’s Word. When the world still embraced many of the values of the Bible—honesty, sexual purity, modesty, respect for authority, etc.—our distance from the world’s culture was noticeable, but not terribly painful. As the world moved away from those scriptural principles, the church kept its same comfort level—a noticeable but not painful distance from the world’s standards. Each step the world took away from Scripture, Christians followed at a comfortable distance. We can look at ourselves and say, “What we’re doing isn’t as bad as what the world’s doing,” never noticing how far we have strayed from the standard of God’s Word.
The Bible says we should be “blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life” (Phil. 2:15, 16). It exhorts us: “Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them” (Eph. 5:11).
We live in a depraved generation, and Hollywood specializes in darkness, not light. Why are we drinking from polluted wells, rather than placing warning signs around them?
Many church programs treat young people who have grown up Adventist as if they were unchurched; with activities heavy on entertainment and light on spiritual substance. In a youth group I led, it became almost a joke that we couldn’t maintain a spiritual conversation for five minutes without someone mentioning a movie he had seen. I suggested a one-week moratorium from talking about movies. The kids voted it down as impossible.
I have written this article with a pseudonym, not because I lack the courage to stand for my convictions, but rather to avoid pointing a finger at any specific school or congregation. I can only hope that each of us will hear God’s call to shine like stars as we raise a higher standard in this generation. Our world has never needed our light more than it does today.
Jane Smith is a pseudonym.