Christians and the Media:
Steeling vs. Stealing the Mindby Dr. Ted Baehr
To educate a man in mind and not in morals is to
educate a danger to society.
The most recent 1997 Los Angeles Times Poll finds that a wide majority of Americans believes that TV language, sex and violence is getting worse.1 Four of every five parents think popular culture such as music, television and movies negatively affects children.2
Most parents are concerned about popular culture because their children are being conformed in dress, actions and ideas to the images of Hollywood idols such as Madonna, Michael Jackson and Beavis & Butthead, rather than to positive, moral images of virtuous men and women and, in particular, to the image of Jesus Christ.
Parents should be concerned because the mass media of entertainment are among the most influential teachers of our children. In the United States of America the average child sees 15,000 to 30,000 hours of television3 by the time he or she is 17 years old. During this same period a child spends only 11,000 to 16,000 hours in school,4 and 2,000 hours or less of quality interaction with their parents.5 Many American children spend more time with a television set before the age of 6 than they will spend with their fathers during their lifetime.
Most parents want their children to be able to discern between good and evil so they can choose the good and thus grow and mature into adults of integrity and good character. With the power of the mass media to confuse and even to undermine their teaching, these parents often have difficulty teaching their children the basics of discernment.
When I started teaching discernment to concerned parents and children in the late-70s, a significant number of people did not understand the magnitude of the problem and many others did not think that there was a problem. I began my lectures with startling information about the depth, breadth and seriousness of the problem.
Most people today have become very concerned and a few are at the point of hysteria. So it has become more important to keep in mind the good news before exploring the nature of the problem and the solutions. Many people have fallen for the negative fallacies spewing from the entertainment media. As a result, they have a growing fear of crime, politics or whatever other institution or problem the media choose as the villain of the day. This growing fear is the result of the program content decisions of people working in the news media, who think that"if it bleeds, it leads." This emphasis on bad news rather than good news presents a very distorted picture of reality.
However, the truth is that there are signs of revival across the country and there is great news in that neither television, movies, the Internet, or the entire mass media are the most powerful force in the world today; instead, God is! Consequently, the fear of the Lord (Proverbs 9:10), not the fear of the mass media, is the beginning of all wisdom, while the knowledge of the Holy One, who loved the world so much that he gave his only begotten son to pay the penalty for our transgressions and free us from the fallacies of our age, is true understanding.
Many people recognize that God is the real sovereign. Therefore, contrary to dire predictions of its demise and consistently negative images in the mass media, the church is alive and well in the United States of America.
The disparity between the strength of the church in America and the strength of the entertainment media, which many financial analysts call our leading industry and our leading export, is astounding. Despite film director Ingmar Bergman's claim that movies are the church of the 20th Century, the church in the U.S. is doing much better than its upstart rival.
A 1995 American Bible Society survey reported in USA Today found that going to church is the most popular leisure activity of Americans (55% say that it is their favorite activity), much more popular than going to movies (a mere 9% choose movies as their favorite leisure time activity).
In 1995, Americans went to church five times more often (5.3 billion times) than they went to movies (1.26 billion tickets sold), and individual Americans gave 21 times more to church and charity ($116 billion) than they spent at the box office ($5.51 billion).
The healthy state of the church in the USA is somewhat surprising, considering almost 30 years of pointed media attacks on Christianity on television and in movies: attacks so blatant that for many years the most acceptable villains in Hollywood movies and television programs appeared to be Christians.
In spite of these well documented attacks, the church is not only attracting the vast majority of Americans but the faith of America may be in the first stage of revival, according to the National and International Religion Report and the Gallup Organization.
Furthermore, after years of denying the power of the mass media, more and more people are aware of and opposed to the mass media's ungodly enchantments. A USA Today poll found that more than 80% of the American people think the biggest problem facing society today is the breakdown of morality. A vast majority of people think the mass media are responsible for this breakdown. For many years, children and teenagers claimed that movies and television programs did not affect them, but according to recent surveys children no longer want to be abandoned to the television set and subject to the ritual worship of sex and violence on television and in movies. A 1992 MTV poll found that 92% of MTV's audience wanted less sex and violence in the mass media of entertainment.
Even entertainment industry leaders have changed their attitudes about the mass media. A UCLA Center for Communication Policy/U.S. News and World Report survey found that:87% of media decision-makers think violence in the mass media contributes to violence in society. 76% of media decision-makers say they have prevented or discouraged their children from watching a violent show. 63% of media decision-makers say the industry glorifies violence. 58% of media decision-makers avoid movies because of violence.
A revival has even started to impact the entertainment industry. There has been a tremendous growth in the number of Christians taking the top production positions in the entertainment industry.
For example, the number one rated television program and the biggest box office hit of 1994 were produced by evangelical Christians. The biggest box office hit of the summer of 1995 was also written by evangelical Christians. Of the more than 45 executive producers of the 60 prime time entertainment television programs, 21 of them were professing Christians in 1994, up from 1 professing evangelical Christian twelve years earlier.
Married with Children
How do these signs of revival impact the box office? For many years, family movies have made much more money at the box office than R-rated fare. For instance, in 1996 family friendly movies grossed on average 300% better than movies aimed at the adult marketplace.6
Long term studies of the box office have shown that R-rated movies have a maximum earnings ceiling which is at most 50% of the earnings ceiling for G-rated and PG-rated movies.
Be of Good Cheer
Signs of revival and the changes in the attitudes of the American people are encouraging. Knowing this good news should help you help others to take a stand for righteousness. By taking a stand for the good, the true and the beautiful, you will be making a difference by influencing Hollywood decision-makers to produce more good entertainment and less immoral and amoral entertainment. Part of the reason for the breakdown of morality in America is that the church retreated from being salt and light in the culture. Over the last few years, the church has started to again stand for righteousness, so the tide is turning. The key to taking a stand is to think clearly in the midst of the babble of the mass media which so easily distracts us and tempts us to be manipulated and changed by things.
An Action Plan
You can help to clean the movie and TV screens by supporting the Christian Film & Television Commission. Although there are many Christian prayer groups, fellowship groups and watchdog groups, it is clear from talking with the insiders that the key is advocacy. During the Golden Age of Hollywood, the church was the leading advocacy group.
Now, we are reinstating that work. As a result, in part, of our work the number of family films released by the entertainment industry has increased from 6% to 40% over the fourteen years that we have been working behind the scenes and the number of R-rated movies has decreased from 81% to 54%.
Right now, we have an opportunity to accelerate the positive trend which has developed in Hollywood over the most recent years and even months; however, the support of godly people is critical to our success.
For God hath not given us the spirit of fear;
but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.
2 Timothy 1:7