What factors play into Christian cultural engagement?
Obviously, there are theological and biblical considerations to be made. While Scripture should serve as the foundation for the discussion, I don’t think it stops there.
Recently, several writers have published intelligent pieces on what it means for Christians to engage in culture and how far is too far.
Trevin Wax began much of the discussion by asking, “At what point does our cultural engagement become just a sophisticated way of being worldly?”
At Christianity Today, Alissa Wilkinson responded – in part – to Wax’s piece by asserting that viewing and understanding movies, even those that depict graphic immorality, is a way we “love our neighbors as we love ourselves.” [Wilkinson graciously responded that her suggestion is that we do this not by necessarily watching the films, but by reading critiques and being knowledgable about the films. It is an important distinction, but someone still has to watch in order to critique.]
Trevin continued the discussion by questioning whether “we are failing our neighbor [more] because of our compromise than because we’ve failed to contextualize.”
Fellow CT movie reviewer Brett McCracken staked somewhat of a middle ground between Wax and Wilkinson, but eventually concluded that there are movies that one should not see, despite their excellent acting or subtle condemnation of the evils portrayed.
Douglas Wilson asks if our film criticism is fulfilling its purpose if after 50 years more of our daughters and sons are engaging in the types of activities depicted in the film and not learning from the supposed cultural critiques.
This broader debate about cultural engagement has spilled over into the Grammys, where Christian singer Natalie Grant left the ceremonies. Laura Turner penned a piece at RNS that criticized Grant for giving off “self-righteousness.”
At Christ and Pop Culture, Amy Lepine Peterson agreed saying it was not “wise” for Grant to leave and post about it on Facebook.
After reading those posts and thinking through the points made, I was struck by something that may seem a bit surface-level, but may help explain some of the disagreements – all three of the pieces above that advocated increased involvement were written by women, while men wrote those that called for more caution.
First, let me establish that my point is not that either gender is incapable of writing on this topic. I am perpetually annoyed at the insinuation that somehow my being a male negates any point I may make in defense of unborn life. As I have previously written, and I believe it holds true in this discussion as well, “Reason is no respecter of gender.”
And yes, before you point out the obvious, I realize that Natalie Grant is a woman. But if Turner is allowed to read negatively into the motives of Grant, asserting the musician was motivated by “moral superiority,” perhaps I will be allowed to argue that she may have left for the sake of her husband.
Also, I realize that several men have publicly agreed with the positions staked out by the female writers and vice versa. I’m acknowledging from the start that this is a much more complicated issue than just one of men versus women.
Having said that, I do believe we often unintentionally overlook the psychologically and physiological differences between a man and a woman when it comes to what types of material should be avoided and what we can safely interact with.
Just as it is difficult for a man to recognize the effect the unattainable standard of beauty perpetuated by the entertainment industry can potentially have on a woman, I’m not sure a woman can truly grasp how difficult it is for a man to remain pure while living and breathing in our sex-saturated culture.
The overtly sexualized Grammy performance may do nothing for the female viewer, but the male may find it difficult to not have his sexual curiosity piqued. A woman’s mind may not react the same to seeing graphic sex scenes in a film.
When she sees those things, does it tempt her to go to her smartphone or computer and search for similar images? Does it cause her to struggle in seeing the opposite sex in their proper light – as one worthy of respect, created in God’s image?
Unfortunately, women increasingly are tempted by this – as I wrote about it 50 Shades of Magic Mike: The Pornification of Women – but there are still distinctions between men and women that need to play a part in this broader discussion of cultural engagement.
This is not advocating an abandonment of culture because bad things exist out there. If you’ve read anything I’ve written here previously, that should be clear. The fall out of the fundamentalist withdrawal should make it obvious to everyone that the strategy does nothing but expedites the decay of culture and pharisaical tendencies of isolated Christians.
We are to be salt and light, which cannot be effective unless they are in places of decay and darkness. No, sin is not caught from being around non-Christians, as a cold from a sick friend. Yet, at the same time, we are called to be holy and set apart.
This begs the question – where’s the line? When is it OK to walk out of the Grammys? At what point is a movie no longer redeemable? How exactly does that take shape in the life of the individual? Does gender impact that?
I’m entirely comfortable with it falling in different places for individuals. But I’m extremely worried that in our rush to defend Christian liberty for all, we cause a libertine attitude to flourish among those it will endanger.
By all means, let’s engage culture (even better, let’s create culture). But let us not attempt to institute a reverse legalism, in which we shame those who feel it best to avoid certain situations and establish our more lax standard as the only Christian possibility.
One of the influences on the acceptability of varying shades of gray on our moral spectrum will undoubtedly be our gender. Ladies, enjoy the freedom you may have in Christ, but do not demand us men follow.