Lifeway’s Blindside, Cultural Engagement, and Control

Blind sideA few weeks ago, Lifeway Christian Stores made the decision to pull the movie, The Blind Side, from its shelves because of the protestations of a Florida pastor over some crude language in the film in one of its scenes depicting the urban life that the main character, Michael Oher, was living in at the time that he was found by the Tuohy family. I saw the movie and understood the scene and what was being depicted. There were also warning labels on the movie at Lifeway. But, some people thought that a Christian book store should not be selling it, apparently believing that the depiction of rough urban life was stronger than the message of redemption, adoption, sacrifice, and faith that the entire movie was about. Interesting.

Eric Metaxas, author of Amazing Grace and Bonhoeffer took Lifeway to task for pulling the movie from its shelves saying,

The film’s offense, according to a Florida pastor who started the campaign to have LifeWay stores pull the DVD, is that the movie contains “explicit profanity, God's name in vain, and racial slurs.” It doesn’t seem to matter that the objectionable language is used to depict the palpably unpleasant world from which the young black man, Michael, was rescued by his adoptive family.

What seems to matter to this pastor is that if we “tolerate” the presence of this movie in Christian bookstores, our children and grandchildren will “embrace” this kind of behavior. I’m not making this up – this is the exact reason given by the pastor. And frankly, I think it’s insane. I saw the movie myself. I even let my 12-year old daughter see it. That’s because it is a great film and I recommend it highly.

But sadly, LifeWay caved in and removed the “offensive” discs from their shelves.

For outsiders looking in, the moral of the story is that “there is no pleasing Christians. They always seem to be looking for something to be mad about.”

We complain about the calumnies and caricatures of Christians on the big screen; and then, when an Academy-Award winning film shows us at our very best, we complain that scenes depicting harsh, inner-city reality are too true to life!

We are, in effect, making our participation contingent on all our possible objections being met beforehand. Since there are many people who would be happy if we stayed within our cultural and religious ghettos, it’s difficult to imagine how we Christians can hope to be taken seriously in cultural discussions and debates with this kind of an approach.

Concerns about the language in the film also miss the larger point: what made the Tuohys—the family depicted in the film—such great Christian exemplars wasn’t their non-use of profanity; it was their willingness to reach out and embrace someone in need.

If we Christians can’t get this, then maybe we really should refrain from commenting on culture in the first place.

I agree with Metaxas' critique. Movies like The Blind Side and Soul Surfer are exactly the kinds of movies that Christians need to embrace in the culture because they show how Christian families handle difficult circumstances in a Christ-like, redemptive way. They are also mostly true and therefore, realistic. They deal with difficult things and show how Christians can handle trouble in a different way from the world. I think that Lifeway made a mistake here.

But, I want to give another perspective on this.  While I don't think that Lifeway should have caved to the demands of this pastor, I also want to shed some light on the cultural situation among Southern Baptists. We were heading to a convention where all kinds of strange resolutions and arguments have the potential to be brought up on the floor. Lifeway leadership responded to the protest by saying that they did not want the focus of the convention to be on this and they were hoping to just avoid the controversy – so they pulled the movie ahead of time. Instead of being satisfied, Pastor Rodney Baker of Hopeful Baptist Church in Lake City, FL, decided he was going to bring the resolution anyway to make a statement about the future. Instead of being happy that his concerns were heard, he wanted more. What does this tell us? It tells me that there is an attitude of dissatisfaction within Southern Baptist life in particular, and Evangelicalism in general, that is almost impossible to appease. It is not enough that you listen to our demands. You also need to know the rules for the future and don't cross them.  Lifeway tried to head this off and it did not work. I seriously doubt that they will make the same mistake in the future. At least I hope they won't.

But, the larger issue is that a statement was made that this movie is somehow inappropriate for Christians to watch and Lifeway went along with that statement. That is the bigger problem. We have a lot of serious problems in our culture, but this movie actually tried to show Christians giving their lives away to help someone in need. After seeing the movie, I wanted to show it to every women's ministry in Alabama. We need Christian families to engage the problems in our culture, to take in neglected and abandoned kids, to give hope where there is little, and to help bring redemption instead of constantly separating from the pain and alienation around us. We need to stop running away and being cowards. The Tuohy's gave hope to Michael Oher by sacrificing their lives and comfort and entering into his situation. I am glad that Jesus was not afraid to enter into our pain, but incarnated Himself into our world. The Blind Side shows how Christians can do that and it is a message that all of us need to pay attention to, especially affluent Southern Baptists who like to get away from problems and have their churches support them in their flight by meeting their perceived "felt needs." What we need to do is get over ourselves and care more about the hurting and dying and hopeless than we care about ourselves and protecting our way of life.

I am not concerned if Lifeway carries this movie or not. There are a lot of things that Lifeway carries that I wish they wouldn't - starting with most of the "art" in their stores. But, that is beside the point. I think we need to consider the larger message that we are sending what what we protest and what we do not. The world is watching and we just told them that The Blind Side is not a movie that we approve of because it had a few bad words in it – nevermind that it was about a Christian family crossing racial and socioeconomic lines to change the life of a young man forever.  

Maybe I should bring a resolution next year asking Christians to stop running away from problems in our culture and be more like the Tuohy's. Or to stop straining at gnats and swallowing camels.  

3 Responses to Lifeway’s Blindside, Cultural Engagement, and Control

  1. While these sorts of protests may start off with good intentions, they end up paving a road for the individuals who instigate them to ride the swell of temporary fame, often using it as political capital in their denominations or within evangelicalism, as they parry and try to score points in an economy that is ultimately foreign to Christ and His plan for the church.

  2. ah, yeah the Mission of God Study Bible was just released by LifeWay and I recommend it. however, crude language is not as nearly as offensive as racist remarks . . . Baptists should not get pissed off so easily.