The past two weeks have seen a spike in controversy surrounding the upcoming live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast, both from Christians at home and Russians abroad. The controversy relates to the director stating in an interview that the film will have a gay character and a “nice, exclusively gay moment” towards the end of the film.
Since this statement, Franklin Graham and many others in the evangelical community have called for a boycott of Disney for pushing an LGBT agenda, and at least one theater has announced it will not be showing the film.
Over in Russia, the film has been given a 16+ rating. The Russian Culture Ministry gave the film this rating after Russian MP Vitaly Milonov petitioned them, writing in a letter to the ministry, “In this case, society cannot be silent about what film distributors are offering under the guise of a children’s tale…The obvious, blatant, shameless propaganda of sin, of perverted sexual relations.”
One left-leaning pastor named John Pavlovitz called the reaction in the Christian community “unprovoked jerkery,” and many news outlets are quick to point out the perceived hypocrisy of people who enjoy the central plot of romance between a girl and a beast but object to a homosexual subplot.
I don’t think it is entirely fair to term, as Pastor John Pavlovitz did, the call for a boycott as “unprovoked jerkery,” After all, the boycotters weren’t the ones who took the film and made it political–the filmmakers did that. So we can debate whether it’s “jerkery” to boycott the film, but it was hardly unprovoked.
But with all this controversy swirling in the air, I thought I would take a stab at some of the arguments from Christians on both sides of the issue and seek to find a viewpoint that communicates love to our homosexual neighbors, integrity and consistency in our living, and commitment to the truth of the gospel.
Why Christians Should Boycott
“If I can’t sit through a movie with God or Jesus sitting by me then we have no business showing it,” – statement from the drive-in theater in Alabama when announcing they would not be showing Beauty and the Beast.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things – Philippians 4:8
- Watching the film would be an implicit show of support to an opposing worldview. In some ways, censoring culture might be compared to “baking the cake.” Some Christian bakers may not have a problem baking a cake for a homosexual wedding, but others may feel that baking the cake is an implicit show of support for beliefs that run counter to their own, as much as they may love and care about their homosexual friends. In the same way, going to watch a film after the creators deliberately state it is advancing an LGBT agenda may seem to be a violation of conscience to some.
- Consider portrayal. Some might say, “Well, we watch other movies with depictions of characters transgressing God’s law all the time, so isn’t it hypocritical to treat this film differently?” While I do agree that sometimes Christians put homosexuality on its own pedestal as if it’s some sort of super-sin compared to others, I do think it’s important to consider portrayal–are these issues portrayed in a positive or negative light? One other difference here is that we know in advance what the movie’s perspective is.
- Consider the weaker brother. Paul says with reference to food offered to idols:
“Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak. For if someone with a weak conscience sees you, with all your knowledge, eating in an idol’s temple, won’t that person be emboldened to eat what is sacrificed to idols? So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. – 1 Corinthians 8:9-11
There’s definitely a discernment aspect to the culture we take in, and we need to ask the question: even if I can be edified by what I am doing (or at least not harmed, although that begs another question: if the best we can hope for is to not be harmed, should we really be doing that thing?), what about the people who are looking at my life? If I listen to a song that in its lyrics objectifies women but mostly just enjoy the beat and the sound (as I sometimes do), I’m enjoying the music and not being consciously influenced by the negative message, but what about a brother or sister who comes along and hears me listening to the song and is harmed by the song’s worldview?
Here’s another passage to chew on:
If an unbeliever invites you to a meal and you want to go, eat whatever is put before you without raising questions of conscience. But if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, both for the sake of the one who told you and for the sake of conscience. I am referring to the other person’s conscience, not yours. For why is my freedom being judged by another’s conscience? If I take part in the meal with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of something I thank God for?” – 1 Cor. 10:27-30
Why Christians Shouldn’t Boycott
- It will probably be a fun, entertaining movie. This point is a bit of a non-sequitor but something I can’t help but bring up as a lover of the cinema.
- Wasn’t LeFou always gay? Since the announcement and ensuing controversy, the director noted that his statement has been exaggerated and that subplot is really just that–a minor, subtle subplot in the larger story. Why let a political kerfuffle stop me from going to see a movie I’ve been waiting for for a while?
- It’s inevitable in culture to get some bad with the good. As Christians, we need to have discernment. This might be a good opportunity to have a discussion (with children, friends, family, etc.) about worldview and God’s design for sexuality.
- What message does a boycott send? For the discerning Christian, this film won’t be harmful, and it’s important to cultivate an attitude of love towards the gay community, even if we believe their lifestyle runs counter to Scripture. What message are they hearing if we deliberately boycott this film for the explicit reason that it contains a depiction of a gay character?
- Wouldn’t this be (for many) a double standard? Following on the previous point, many Christians watch movies that have positive portayals of sin in them all the time–adultery, theft (*cough* Logan *cough*), rebellion against parents, and more. What makes this movie so special that it deserves to be boycotted? There’s a double standard here, and I believe that we’d consume a lot less media if we limited ourselves to only that which exclusively conveyed a Christian worldview.
So which side do I come down on? I’m still deciding, but I lean towards the latter viewpoint. Thinking through the different arguments has made me conscious of the fact that I don’t think as often as I should about the effect watching certain movies or shows may be having on me, and that they might indeed be harmful.
And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these. – Mark 12:28-31
If you love me, you will keep my commandments. – John 14:15
Jesus commanded his followers to love him above all else, and if they do love them, they are to keep his commandments. We are also commanded to love our neighbors as ourselves. Even our gay neighbors. There might be a tension for some between these two statements–showing our love for God through obedience him (even if that means using our voices in the public square to decry positive displays of what we consider wrong), and showing love to our neighbors.
In the Phil Vischer Podcast last year, the hosts talked about the idea of “proxy wars.” In the Cold War, the US and the USSR didn’t fight one another directly (MAD and all that); instead, they fought a series of “proxy wars,” conflicts in Asia and the Middle East where each superpower would arm opposing sides in smaller conflicts. They were miniaturized conflicts that represented an underlying larger conflict between America and the Soviet Union. In a similar way, some of these current controversies–transgender bathrooms, cake-baking, and now Beauty and the Beast, are proxy wars between competing worldviews. The deception, of course, is thinking that winning an individual conflict (or even several) will solve culture’s problems. Truthfully, only when a people is convicted of sin by the power of the Holy Spirit and brought into relationship with God can there be an end to this conflict.
In the meantime, faithful Christians must use discernment as they seek to love and obey God above all else, love their neighbors as themselves, and speak the timeless truths of Scripture to society.