Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Fortress on a Hill? (thoughts by Leslie Foster)

I have a problem with the idea of a Christian media industry. I believe the industry, as it is today, is beneficial to a few people, but for the most part has become an inward-looking venture driven by capital as much as any other industry. Instead of creating media that was competitive with anything generated by the so-called secular music, film, and book industries, Christian media withdrew. It withdrew into the comfortable confines of the Church community to make imitations of secular work with a thin veil of Christian morality pulled over the surface. One could spend gallons of digital ink on the various aspects of this industry, but I'd like to just focus on film.

The danger of retreating from the scrutiny of "secular" critique is that religious people and thus media can become a bit self-congratulatory. This back slapping happens too much in the films created by those of us within this industry. It's very easy to create stories about wayward sons and daughters venturing into a wild world where they indulge in (insert favorite vice) but are drawn back to the right path. It's easy viewing, feels good, and reminds us that we are the comfortable guardians of absolute truth and right. Since when were we supposed to be pulling out our proverbial cigars and puffing away in smug security in our hilltop mansions? We may have built a city on a hill, but we've reinforced our walls so much that it's hard for light to escape.

In his book Jesus in the Margins, Rick McKinley talks about a church that has become an enclave of well-dressed people rejecting those who don't always cover up their struggles with pretty masks. He is afraid that those who seek will not only see people who reject them, but a God that rejects them as well. This is my fear for much of what we produce in Christian media.

Our visions of perfection are driving our fellow travelers away from the God they seek. Our shallow and cozy films don't encourage those who search. God's message has never been comfortable...that's always been the job of false prophets. Our films tend to skim the surface of the problems we face in life. Anybody can talk about symptoms, let's start digging into the underlying issues. Maybe if we stopped gloating about how good we are at pulling people out of their heathen wretchedness and started talking about our struggles we'd find more common ground with those outside the church. We aren't perfect or even close to perfect, nor do we have all the truth. These are not things of which to be ashamed. These struggles are all part of our journey towards the mystery of God.

Jesus' messages, from the Old Testament to the New have never been comfortable. They have that irritating ability to make everyone squirm a bit, and yet He could draw those considered the lowest in society to Himself. Maybe we should follow His example and stop feeding the media of mutual admiration and start challenging ourselves and those around us. Let's start pulling our masks off...before God does it Himself in His surprising way, and make films not for us and by us in a Christian sense, but for us and by us in the human sense...warts and all.

Image Credit: James Christensen


  1. agreed! authentic Christian media, in any form, ought to make you squirm - and then urge you to do something about it. if there's no "ouch" factor, it's a waste...

  2. You have a good point and I agree however I do disagree that SDA media just goes to adventists because it doesn't. My roomate and her brother became adventist as a result to christian media. During my time in Sweden our TV station can reach 4 million people where the vast majority of people in Sweden are Athiest.

  3. The "Christian sense" and the "human sense"--I think you've hit with insight on an important distinction. Jesus calls us to be a certain kind of human, not a certain kind of Christian. Neither Jew, Greek, Slave, Free, Male, Female calls us to a world where we do not see Hindu, Muslim, Protestant, Catholic, Adventist, Presbyterian ... the Jesus Movement is a human movement, without border or boundaries. Acts reveals a highly adaptable and radically inclusive movement that "thinks human" rather than "a new religious sect."

    This has huge implications for how we see Adventism in specific and Christianity in general.