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Going to the Movies?

By Joshua Harris
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #19, 1997.

Joshua Harris tackles this controversial subject.

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Joshua Harris

I must be crazy. Of all the topics to write about I'm tackling one that's sure to get me into trouble: movie watching. Half of those reading will brand me a legalist for my standards - the other half will be mortified that I'd ever set foot in a theater or pop a video into the VCR.

This tension - appearing rigid to those with more lax standards or offending those with more conservative ones - is something we've probably all experienced. Have you ever mentioned in polite conversation that you saw a certain film, only to be met by stunned silence and horrified looks? "You watched what?!!" The temptation is to quickly add that you did this before your conversion. Gulp!

Or how about this situation: a friend recommends a film to your family, assuring you that it's clean and full of virtue. You watch it and find it has an immoral scene that your "movie reviewer" missed while getting popcorn. Thanks a lot!

One of the saddest stories of miscommunication I've heard took place over the number of swear words in one of this summer's blockbuster films. An 18-year-old I know who had seen the movie was asked by a father in his church how many profanities it contained. The young man told him there were five. When the dad took his kids to see it he found it had almost eighty! Irate, he went back to the 18-year-old and said "I thought you told me it only had five!" The boy replied, "It does only have five - it just uses those five about eighty times!" Figuring out what you're going to watch and who you're going to listen to for advice can be difficult. With the expansion of cable television and the explosion of home videos the need for discernment and wisdom among Christian families is greater than ever. Here are a few principles you might find helpful as you evaluate what your personal and family policy toward movie-viewing will be.

1. Don't react to other people, react to God.

God's standard of holiness never changes. The standards of people around us, even other Christians, will vary and shift. Without being judgmental towards others, we have to recognize that it is God and God alone that we will each answer to. Just because all our Christian friends are going to a certain film doesn't mean we should. We need to be careful that our convictions are not merely a conformity to the standards of the people around us. Instead they should be the result of careful, prayerful evaluation of God's word and come, not from legalism, but from a heart that desires to please and glorify God. Who cares whether some guy's thumbs are up or down? It's God we need to be concerned about.

Read the story of Phinehas in Number 25. This is the story of one man who stood against ungodliness. God was pleased with Phinehas because he was "zealous for the honor of his God." Could God say that about us? Do we view the sin portrayed in many films as an attack against the honor of our God? When we look at it in this light, we won't put up with films that openly mock godliness and exalt sinfulness.

2. Find other ways to spend your leisure time.

One of the surest ways to cut out seeing bad movies is to cut back on movie watching altogether. Read a book. Do something outside. Get a group of friends together and play a board game. Hollywood is kept in business by the notion that free time should be spent watching the latest flick, and if you haven't seen it you're somehow less than complete. We should know better.

One of the excuses I've heard (and used myself) for watching something less than appropriate is, "Well there just wasn't anything good. This is the best we could do." I think if we're honest we'll see how ridiculous this statement is. It assumes that movie watching is a necessity on the level of eating and breathing. It isn't. We don't have to go to the theaters or rent a film whenever there's a free evening. There are other ways to relax and have fun with others.

I'm not against movies. I love a good film. But I've found that limiting the amount I watch and holding out for the good ones (these are rare, anyway) is a wiser approach than watching a large number and regretting having seen most of them.

3. Get the opinion of several trusted sources.

I've learned the hard way that getting the opinion of only one person about a film just isn't enough. I'm learning to take my time in deciding whether or not to watch something. If I feel rushed to see a movie, chances are I'm being motivated more by the marketing of Hollywood than by wisdom. I try to read reviews and talk to others I know who have seen it. Recently I've discovered a great website called "Screen It!" (http://www.screenit.com) that gives invaluable information about new movies as well as videos. Listing categories ranging from "violence" and "language" to "bad attitudes" and "imitative behavior" this site tells you everything, and I mean everything, that is offensive in a film. (Parents, please note that because it details the violence and sexual content of movies this isn't a website to let your kids browse by themselves.)

Good films, though few and far between, can be an enjoyable way to spend an evening. But as Christians we have a higher calling than the world's pursuit of entertainment. Let's commit to guard our eyes and use our time in ways that we'll be unashamed to present before God.

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