What hath male ballet dancing in church to do with Christians enjoying fantasy stories?
Answer: Both ballet dancing and fantasy fandoms are seen as weird, and misunderstood. Christians can slander both of these as if they’re automatically sinful. Yet both can be ways to glorify God—though not necessarily in a local church service.
So who actually did ballet dancing in church? Last November, Redeemer Presbyterian Church did, at one of its locations in New York City. Its video from last November is simply titled “Life Together.” It features three male ballet dancers clad in white (thank God they don’t have those tights) who portray a three-part, interwoven relationship.
But without further explanation, you can’t tell for certain what the performance is about.
One biblical pastor, who posted the video nearly eight months later, said that its theme confused him. Then he said he read this excerpt from the church’s pastor, Tim Keller:
If God was unipersonal, there would have been no love until he created the world. However, if the world was created by a triune God, then relationships of love are what life is all about. The Godhead is characterized by mutual self-giving love as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit orbit around one another in a dance. It is impossible for us to join in if we focus on ourselves, but through Jesus Christ and his sacrificial death on the cross, we can be brought into the dance.
So far, I haven’t found if the performers meant to portray the Trinity’s relationship of harmony. (If they only meant to portray something more human, such as members of the Church working together, it’s interesting that viewers compared this to the Trinity!)
It’s easier to see that people thought the performance was really, really “gay.”
A few of the comments:
Is the Trinity gay?
I always thought Tim Keller was effeminate. No respect for him at all.
Too effeminate….men shouldn’t be moving and dancing like this…it’s gross…
Add this to the dung Hill of heresy that attempts to feminize God.
There are dance moves that are masculine and feminine. And clearly, this entire dance routine was feminine.
Then one Christian leader got into the “effeminate” accusation. He claimed the performance was “gayer than the kiwi queen of the fire island fruit festival.” (I don’t even know what this means, though it must have felt really awesome to put that phrase on the screen.)
All this is nonsense.
You can’t call men dancing, with classical ballet moves, and even touching or lifting each other (this is part of ballet!), “gay.” Or “effeminate.” Such a slander is not based in biblical discernment. The point is worth a quick exploration before we move on.
Nothing in Scripture supports any kind of “everyone knows” definition, of which speech patterns, colors, gestures, or interests count as “masculine” or “feminine”—meaning that if a man likes or does “women’s” things, he counts as sinfully “effeminate.” There is no single, advanced culture that “fixes” biblical masculinity as denoted by muscular bodies, trucks, tools, sports, blue instead of pink, nonfiction over drama, or no-dancing over dancing.1
As one commentator rightly noted:
I’ve been all over the world and grew up in different cultures. And, yes, I have seen plenty of male/male kissing and hand-holding and dancing that would be considered effeminate by men here. I’m quite familiar with the American fundamentalists’ conception that anything uncomfortable to them is necessarily an abomination. … I get weary of any kind of less-than-American-cowboy machismo being decried as effeminate, as if that is what the biblical conception of effeminate actually meant.
Indeed, this is a very modern, Western notion. It skews what Paul meant by “effeminate” in 1 Cor. 6:9 (NASB). Other translations combine this word into the phrase “men who practice homosexuality (1 Cor. 6:9, ESV). Instead, this judgment of what counts as “effeminate actions” is based in cultural assumptions, and very, very strong feelings. This may include some strong feelings of men, who may feel personally threatened by other men who do not act or behave in “traditional” masculine ways, or share “traditional” male interests.
No, Christians can’t discount those feelings. We can’t just say, “No, that’s just your feelings talking. So shut up and let them do their thing.” Instead, let’s keep talking! Ask, “How did you feel about that?” Or, “What did that thing they did mean to you personally?” Or even, “Yes, there are people intentionally trying to blur the differences between sexes. This is absolutely wrong. But do you think ballet has been, or can be, only done to do this?”
But we must see that the discussion is based on strong feelings either way. It is not a matter of “firm biblical conviction against the thing, versus worldly compromiser for the thing.”
For my part, I don’t get ballet. It’s an alien language to me. Watching it feels like repeated attempts to make first contact with an alien civilization. I don’t get why we “need” ballet. I don’t get why people would need to dance out their emotions. After all, we have perfectly great words, images, and even music to reflect those feelings?
Yet these are just my feelings. They are my preferences. Other people watch and perform dances, including ballet, and they are strongly moved.
But I do know fantasy fiction.
I know why we need it and why God has used it so powerfully in my life to glorify Himself.
And I know that many other people don’t understand this. They may even think fantasy suspicious, or sinful. Or else they justify some fantasy, such as A Christmas Carol, but dislike other fantasy for subjective reasons (e.g., “that picture of that one creature creeps me out”).
They’re wrong, of course. But we can work with that, based in love. God does command His people to work with these issues in love (Romans 14, 1 Cor. 8-10, Gal. 5:13). If you feel a thing is sinful for you to do, don’t do it. If you feel a thing is not sinful for you, but you also know someone who knows you do it is tempted to sin, then in love, avoid that thing.2
However, the question remains: could ballet performances be included in a church service?
My strong inclination is to say no. I don’t say this because I personally don’t get ballet. It’s because I can compare this to my enjoyment instead. Then I can ask, “What would I think of someone reading a great fantasy novel excerpt in church?” That wouldn’t seem right. It would distract from the central purpose of the local church service: to teach and sing about Jesus’s gospel teaching among the people of God in fellowship.3
Dancing can glorify God. It can even do this with behaviors certain Christians would call “effeminate” (because it makes them feel weird). Fantasy novels can also glorify God. But at least for now, let’s not try to force either thing into local church services. Anyway, whoever said you can’t really, super-glorify God with a thing unless you do it on Sunday mornings?
- In fact, as several friends of mine pointed out, many men practice overt masculine “trappings” that Christians would not find “effeminate,” and yet also sinfully practice homosexuality. ↩
- Note that the apostle Paul always assumes actual, present scenarios when Christians try to keep other Christians from stumbling. Sometimes people turn this into “try to head off any hypothetical stumble situations, ever.” But that is a legalistic application of the text. It’s also absurd: you can’t head off every potential stumble situation in the universe. ↩
- For those of you who do doctrine by names, I haven’t been entirely sold on the “regulative principle of worship.” This is the idea that church worship services ought only to include elements that the New Testament mentions occurring in these services. I haven’t been sold on it, mainly because it seems to fail its own test. But you’re welcome to persuade me in the comments! Anyway, I’ve seen little error come from this concept. Whereas we see many errors when people disregard this concept and decide that the “church service” can include anything. (Even from a creative view, making any “genre” include anything weakens its distinction.) If we do that, church service quits serving its own unique purpose: to train God’s people in the gospel. If the “regulative principle of worship” focuses on this training aspect, rather than portraying the fixed-form church worship service as a means to itself, I can get behind it. This doesn’t mean that dancing or novel-reading can’t ever be done in a church building. ↩