While Brian Godawa is giving us an excellent apologetic for what many consider the opposite of “family friendly” films — horror — we have also been discussing the movie Courageous which released September 30 in a limited number of theaters. Interestingly this movie experienced, according to CBN News, startling success (Hollywood starts paying attention when something earns money against all odds) and it is “family friendly.”
What makes fiction “family friendly”?
Not many people seem interested in defining the term, perhaps because it seems self-evident: the whole family can watch the film or read the book. That would suggest there is no sexual innuendo, no graphic violence, no language inappropriate for the youngest members of the family. Undoubtedly there isn’t any drinking or smoking or gambling, either. I’d imagine there is no drug activity, and certainly no physical abuse. The list could go on.
But what about ideas? Are anti-God ideas family friendly? How about idol worship? Or humanism? Who exactly is to say what ideas are family friendly and which are not?
My thinking is that the ideas are much more significant, probably more subtle, but more lasting than the externals some people apparently use to judge whether or not a movie or book is family friendly.
Paul Jankowski, author of How to Speak American: Building Brands in the New Heartland, recently published “Family Friendly Movies Make Big Money: Hollywood Noticing” on the subject. In his article he references movies with Christian subject matter, others that “are sneaking faith-based messaging and values into films,” and still others he called “family friendly.”
Unfortunately, the term “family friendly” has become entwined with the idea of “safe.” But safe from what? What is it that can do eternal damage to a soul?
I just read, for example, a review of The Lion King at Focus on the Family’s Plugged In Online movie review site. While I consider this film a gateway into New Age thought or neo-Hinduism, Focus found “insightful spiritual components.” In addition, the review gave no warning that there might be ideas in the movie — apart from those that are rejected or defeated — that contradict Biblical truth. Apparently, then, this movie, according to this evaluation, is “family friendly,” and presumably “safe.”
The value of “family friendly” stories.
While I think we would be wise to divorce the idea of “family friendly” with the idea of “safe,” I think we could — and probably should — categorize family friendly stories as “clean.”
There are any number of moral values that Christians share with others in our culture, and it’s right for us to encourage the propagation of those values — not as a means of salvation or as a primary focus over proclaiming Christ, but as a part of “soil preparation.” I wonder if Christians have been so focused in the last fifty years in sowing seed — the word of God — that we’ve neglected the main point of Jesus’s parable. The critical factor that insured much fruit was what kind of soil the seed fell on.
Anyone who knows the smallest bit about gardening knows that best results come from first spending time preparing the ground. Why, then, would we assume that in Jesus’s parable (Luke 8:5-8) we stand in the position of the sower with the responsibility of scattering seed, but not preparing soil?
Family friendly stories are not inherently Christian.
Buddhists can write clean fiction. So can Muslims, Mormons, and Jehovah’s Witnesses. There is nothing uniquely Christian about “Little Red Riding Hood” or “The Three Little Pigs.” There are values in both fairy tales, ones that Christians undoubtedly adhere to and might say have Scriptural justification. Nevertheless, those values are not uniquely Christian.
Only one thing is uniquely Christian — Jesus Christ and the reconciliation with God which His sacrifice provides for the believing sinner. That’s the Christian message. Stories that show the Christian message, whether overtly, symbolically, or allegorically, are Christian stories.
Should Christian publishers produce fiction that is family friendly but not Christian?
Should farmers prepare the soil before they plant?
We should probably ask the question about Christian bookstores too, but they’ve already answered it for us — they sell clean DVDs that are not produced by Christian companies and do not include the Christian message.
Why then, do they not sell good fiction, clean fiction, that similarly does not come from a Christian publisher or include a Christian message?
Some writers decry the divide between Christian fiction and secular fiction, desiring to see Christians with books on the same shelves as their unbelieving counterparts. I’d like to see that too, but I can’t help but think this issue will never get squared away until we stop calling clean fiction or family friendly fiction, Christian.
When I explain who a Christian is, I don’t start with a list of behaviors. It is untrue to say that a Christian is someone who goes to church, who believes in the sanctity of marriage, who shuns violence.
Why then should fiction bearing the name of Christ be defined by those kinds of things?
Family friendly, sure. There are things I think most of us agree should be excluded from the consumption of children, so stories that are appropriate for them and that adults can enjoy are correctly identified as for everyone in the family.
But safe or Christian? Not necessarily, and definitely not by definition.