Thursday, April 17, 2008

Screens of Society (River Region's Journey ~ April 2008)

One of the things that I try to do with The Meeting House radio program and with my column in "River Region's Journey" magazine is to try to apply a Christian worldview perspective to cultural instances and trends. I was challenged by the recent Oscar awards to think about the nihilism that permeates society and potentially can negatively impact our minds. This was my submission for April's edition of the mag:

The images that penetrate our brains on a systematic basis can provide the building blocks for our worldview. I imagine that is why the movie theater has been described as the sanctuary for today’s culture. And the moviemakers are the ones who have the story to tell – with the endgame apparently being one of hopelessness and despair. Such was the case in the recent Academy Awards ceremony, as the Best Picture award went to the movie “No Country for Old Men”, which could be characterized as vile and violent, with little or no redemptive message. But, according to Dallas Jenkins, a filmmaker whose father is novelist Jerry Jenkins, this is generally the mindset of Hollywood – and he cites films such as his most recent, “Midnight Clear”, as a movie that shows real people in real situations, but also offers a theme of hope and redemption. In a recent interview on The Meeting House on Faith Radio, accessible at, he said that basically all the Best Picture nominees, with the exception of “Juno”, had a dark premise and a lack of a positive message. “Juno”, interestingly enough, was the best box office performer of all the nominees, featuring a look at some of the real consequences of teen pregnancy, not glorifying births outside of marriage, but dealing with some hard truths, but apparently, things turn out alright in the end.

The allure of the big screen…

And isn’t that why we used to go to movies, not only to be absorbed in the characters, but also to be uplifted in our lives? A trip to the theater can affect us in so many ways, and while life is not always full of happy endings, it does the soul good to not feel like taking an emotional shower when you leave the theater. But, as Dallas pointed out, the people voting on the Oscars are part of the Hollywood subculture, and become disconnected from the real consumers…this explains why some of the big box-office draws (such as, “Ratatouille”) didn’t come home with the awards. Furthermore, the big screen of the cineplex can reflect to the small screen of our heart, and that can have some dire implications on our culture as a whole.

…and the argument about a smaller screen…

Now on to a screen of a different size – a smaller screen, but highly significant. The second highest rated television program of all time was shown in homes and sports bars recently – but not many churches. Churches have seized an outreach opportunity by using a Super Bowl party to attract people to come into their buildings and perhaps hear the gospel. Resources have typically been made available as a tool to effectively share the gospel at an opportune moment before or during halftime of the game. Last year, it came to light that the National Football League had a policy that churches who hosted or sponsored viewings of the Super Bowl broadcasts on large-screen televisions infringed on the league’s copyright of the broadcast. NFL attorneys had reportedly warned officials at Falls Creek Baptist Church in Indianapolis against hosting a “Super Bowl Bash” to which church members and guests were invited to watch the game on a wall projector at the church.

According to media reports, NFL officials sent the church’s pastor John Newland a letter demanding that the party be cancelled. They objected to the church’s plan to charge partygoers a fee to attend, the use of the words “Super Bowl” in its promotions, the church’s plan to use a projector to show the game on a 12-foot-wide screen, and the church’s plan to show a video in conjunction with the game highlighting the Christian testimonies of coaches Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith. According to the legal organization The Rutherford Institute, which spoke out strongly against the NFL’s policy, a league spokesman defended the league’s actions, pointing to its longstanding policy against “mass out-of-home viewings” of the Super Bowl, even if they don’t charge admission, and requirement that hosts of parties only use one TV no bigger than 55 inches.

Well, the good news is that the NFL has revised its policy. In a Feb. 19 letter to Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has stated that the league will not object to live showings of the Super Bowl by religious organizations, regardless of screen size, as long as the viewings are free and are on premises that the church uses on a routine and customary basis. The NFL intends to implement the policy starting with next year’s Super Bowl. It’s good to know that there are organizations that speak out for our religious liberties, and in this instance, the voice of the people of faith was heard and heeded.

It’s important that Christians are strong and courageous, and allowing God’s word to show on the screen of our hearts so that we can be resolute in being an influence in the culture.

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